“Vivacious…fun…energetic” were the words used by longtime fan Shanay Kemp of Brooklyn to describe one of America’s hottest up and coming singing sensations Janelle Monae. Other onlookers described her as “fabulous”…“amazing”…“timeless”.
It is no coincidence that Janelle Monae was selected to open BRIC’s 2014 Celebrate Brooklyn Performing Arts Festival. On its 36th year, the festival’s mission is to bring joyous, welcoming, high-quality, multi-cultural talent to the Brooklyn community. On Wednesdays June 4th, a standing room only crowd of roughly twelve thousand—including NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio–blanketed the Prospect Park bandshell lawn in one of this year’s most electrifying concerts given by all-star performer Janelle Monae. Her performance was attended by an audience of all ages– ranging from small children to senior citizens.
Underneath a humid night sky the stage illuminated with a firework of bright lights, a dazzling band and energetic dancers as Monae captivated onlookers with a raw vitality and dazzling stage antics. Sidesteps, slides, James Brown foot twists, playing dead were included in the evening’s main course. “Energy!!” was the only word actor and Brooklyn resident Reginald Barnes used to describe her performance. Hypnotizing was her engagement of the audience. During instrumental breakouts she, at times, ran through the crowd shaking the hands of her fans. She stopped to pose and dance with some without stunting the momentum of a song. At one point she invited a female fan up on stage to have a dance contest.
All performers dressed in thematic black and white futuristic attire. Janelle’s women background singer/dancers arrayed themselves in black and white striped bodycon dresses, white platforms and black tights. The male performers sported all-white suits and white navy shoes, later adding white lab jackets. Monae herself donned a white pants-blouse combination and later changed into black tights, a white button-down blouse, black knee high boots and a black and white horizontal-striped fitted leather jacket. Her signature smooth curled-over hair roll was replaced later in the concert by a let-it-be blowout that bounced along with her on the stage.
Commanding the stage, this Queen of the Night entertained the audience through mostly upbeat originals such as the appropriately titled “Q.U.E.E.N.”, “Dance Apocalyptic”, “Tightrope” and “Electric Lady”…And oh, was she electric. Whether dancing or pacing the stage, jumping up to different levels of the stage to visit the drummer or brass section, Janelle simply “worked it”. Her lyric soprano contained a light brilliancy of tone that resonated through the night air in the guise of a finely-tuned brass instrument. She came complete with stunning high trills and vocal runs to give the term “head voice” a completely new meaning; Incredibly she was still able to retain a natural vibrancy of vocal tone.
Though some singers are not always successful in adjusting their tones to a variety of styles they attempt to perform, Monae successfully made the adjustments required to effectively provide renditions of song styles ranging from 80s Prince, The Jackson 5, Duke Ellington and the sound of the new millennium. Though several covers were included in the song line-up, she turned those moments into displays of her skillful ability to transform herself into an icon of an era—whether it was shuffling to Michael Jackson’s “ABC”, side stepping to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”, or scatting to “Coming Alive”. Kimberly Brigitte, 25, of Brooklyn had seen Monae perform live 4 times prior to Wednesday night. Of Monae she says, “She never ceases to amaze me.”
Perhaps Monae represents the performer of the future. Her ability to retain a distinctness amidst her stylistic blends make her incomparable by any woman headliner–heck, any male headliner of the present day, save Bruno Mars. Akeem Thompson, 26, of Brooklyn praised Monae as a “Black woman with a [really] good vibe…catchy but not lost in the soul style.” Simply put– Janelle displayed to Brooklyn stellar quality as a timeless performer. History was made. Hats off to Brooklyn as it lived up to its reputation of knowing how to celebrate for the universe. Hats off to BRIC. Hats off to Janelle…or hair rolled. 😉