Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Janelle Monáe and Jidenna Played for Free & Freedom

The Wondaland crew led a protest in the Mission District and then performed a free concert at The Independent on Sunday.

By Natasha Mmonatau
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 4:55 PM

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Globe-topped cane swinging in his left hand, mic gripped in the right, “Classic Man” rapper Jidenna strolled onstage at The Independent on Sunday night. Gazing calmly at the crowd convened to witness the Wondaland SF stop of Janelle Monáe’s Eephus Tour, he said softly, “I sure hope nobody anywhere dies tonight.” By “nobody anywhere,” the audience understood him to mean nobody Black in America. “Long live!” he declared, as the opening beat to his new song “Long Live the Chief” rang out.

Earlier that day, Monáe, famous for her fugitive alter ego on afrofuturist albums The Electric Lady and The ArchAndroid, hosted a protest in San Francisco's Mission District. Along with Jidenna and the Wondaland crew, the six-time Grammy Award nominee rallied around three hundred people Sunday afternoon to march against police violence and to honor the lives of slain Black people. The event followed Wondaland’s recent release, “Hell You Talmbout,” a protest song devoted to highlighting the names of the victims. Since the song’s debut, Monáe and her team have hosted protests from Philly to LA as part of the Eephus Tour, a free series of covert concerts promoting Wondaland’s newest EP.

“Long Live the Chief” stood out as one of the few distinctly hip-hop tracks during the show, as Jidenna pointed to the very real fear of sudden death that many Black people are grappling with: Now they say “Jidenna why you dressing so classic?”/I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket. Yet through an array of styles and genres the all-Black Wondaland crew gave the audience at The Independent a dynamic depiction of their music. Invoking punk rock, country, and classic R&B sounds, the artists led by business savvy Monáe demonstrated the new world imagination that they've been incubating for the past few years, and recently cemented in a partnership with Epic Records. Roman GianArthur sang shirtless with a scarf bearing the American flag slung around his neck; Jidenna, ever the Naija gentleman in a royal blue suit, busted out a slick two step; and Deep Cotton duo Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder tore up the stage with their self-described “funk n’roll” antics. St. Beauty, a sweetheart twosome comprising Alex Belle and guitarist Isis Valentino, delivered a stand-out ballad and “Going Nowhere,” their summer ode to a lover.

Together with the audience, Wondaland chanted the lyrics to “Hell You Talmbout” for the finale. Most people raised a fist or two in the air for an urgent recalling of the names of the dead. Though Monáe’s shows usually end after two or three rounds of audience calls for an encore, this time none was needed.   

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