Psychedelic soul superstar Janelle Monáe came to Moogfest April 24 for a wide ranging talk on everything from the evolution of the music business and community building to what kind of music aliens might enjoy.
She was joined at the panel discussion by a pair of colorful musical collaborators from the Wondaland Art Society record label: Nate Rocket Wonder and Chuck Lightning.
Monáe credited her rising fame to technology that allows artists to get their music into the ears of fans without major recording contracts. “It’s good for the independent artists, that’s how I started,” she said, recalling the days she used to package her own CDs in her basement. “It’s really cool that artists can speak directly to their fans, and cut out the middle man.”
But Wonder worried that although technology helps distribute music, “it’s not good for the consumption of music.” With so many diverse sounds readily available online all the time, he said he thinks people tend to take the artistry of it for granted. “Human life is about having experiences and really being able to enjoy them,” he said. “Having music on tap like water makes people disvalue it.”
Economics aside, Monáe emphasized to the local artists in attendance that they should try to stay conscious of the importance of their work – even as they face the inevitable challenges that come with embarking on creative enterprises.
“As artists and musicians we can never minimize the influence we have on people,” she said. “We have the ability to shape their ideas. … that’s a powerful thing.”
She also told attendees packing the Diana Wortham Theater that it takes a thriving community to cultivate artistic success.
“Community is very important, collaboration … it takes the igniting of certain energies, ”she said. “You can’t segregate yourself – it’s really important to have a community of artists as you go through the highs and lows of your journey.”
The discussion steered clear of politics, but Monáe said that one of the things she loves most about music is its ability to create a metaphorical “purple state” that brings people of all types and viewpoints together.
“Music brings people together. It connects us,” she said. “Music is a language we all understand.”
It’s important as we evolve as a species to be sensitive to each other,” Wonder added.
Lightning emphasized that the goal of his artistic work, ultimately, “is spreading peace on planet Earth.” And Wonder raised the idea that music, one day, could even help spread peace beyond our own solar system. If he could chose any musical ambassador to greet aliens and introduce them to our sounds, he’d go with Stevie Wonder, he said.