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Janelle Monáe Gets Ottawa JazzFest Grooving

By Stephan Telka on June 25, 2012

On Saturday night, Janelle Monáe’s spaceship landed in Confederation Park, bringing her high-powered, genre-bending, get-off-your-tush-and-groove show to the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

I’ve long been a fan of Monáe’s, with our relationship stretching back to the winter of 2011. Shuffling my boots through Hartman’s on a snowy Sunday afternoon in January listening to The Monocle podcast, I got her toe-taping hit single “Tightrope” stuck in my head. I quickly found her album The ArchAndroid on iTunes, and was treated to a journey through a range of genres: neo-soul, jazz, funk, and art-rock.

In Ottawa’s overflowing festival line-up, her scheduled performance certainly caught my attention, curious about how the story of the “Arch Android” would play out on stage, and wondering how Monáe, once described as a “a super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, Andre 3000 and Steve Jobs” would deliver.

And deliver she did. Monáe’s show got the Festival’s usually chair-bound crowd dancing in their spots (as at least one concert-goer commented), joining the hundreds of fans grooving on either side of the stage. Festival-goers who weren’t quite familiar with Monáe were tipped off that this wouldn’t be your run-of-the-mill jazz concert at the festival gates, where The Ten Droid Commandments were handed out (luckily no one around me followed V).

The show opened with a high-powered medley from The ArchAndroid, including “Dance or Die”, “Faster” and “Locked Inside”, performed with spunk by her 10-piece band plus fellow Android singers in 1950s garb. She proved her membership in the “jazz” genre through a beautiful rendition of “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, which she has often dedicated to Michael Jackson. She channelled the rest of the Jackson clan through a cover of “Want You Back” (just after one of my fellow concert-goers had remarked on her Jackson-esque stage presence).

She belted out chart-toppers “Cold War” and “Tightrope”, as well as Prince’s “Sincerely, Jane”. Shortly after my date suggested that Monáe could easily be the next in line to sing a theme song for the next James Bond movie, she broke into “Goldfinger” as the crowd went crazy.

Monáe is truly a gifted singer and entertainer, as yesterday’s performance showed Ottawa, with a talented creative director behind the scenes to pull the show together.

In her standard uniform of a pampadour and tuxedo, Monáe ended her show telling us that she’d be back. This is one ship that I’d love to see touch down in Ottawa again.


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