“We have created our own state, our own republic”, he announces. âThere is grass here. Grass grows toilet seats, shelves, ceilings and floors. Grass makes us feel good. In this state there are no laws, it’s all music, funk rules the mind, and punk rules the courtrooms and the market.
In this state, there is no food. We eat books and season them with wine and cotton candy. When you want news, you read a comic. “
Monae hosted the Cover Girl Superlounge lineup for the entire Essence Fest this year, and the roster included a review of company members, many of whom also performed with her or worked with her in the studio. The Wondaland acting trio, which opened the show Friday and Saturday, were a funky gang of talented genre-benders who performed, in various ways, from folk-pop to R&B flavors, trippy soul and rock. explosive n’roll.
Sainte-Beaute, a charming soul-folk duo (one guitar, two singers) opened the show; I only caught their last song, the politicized but dreamy “Americlone”. Deep cotton, a band who bill themselves as “haunted funk n’roll” performed next, starting with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, sung to a slow burn by guitarist Nate “Rocket” Wonder , an intense performer of a sharp tailor who seemed to do everything with deliberation and precision – even, as the show got crazier, the careful unbuttoning of his collar and loosening of his tie.
Chuck Lightning, the co-leader of Deep Cotton, is a Tigger-like tinsel for Wonder’s cool containment. Dashing on stage with the ardor and animation of a punk band leader, he leaps, he bounces, he brandishes the microphone stand with zeal. It seemed that at any moment he could go for it.
The room, sparsely packed, seemed to be largely populated by friends, colleagues, and perhaps a few relatives of the musicians of Wondaland: much of the crowd’s screams clearly came from people who knew the performers. A voice, laughing, kept screaming for the high octane Deep Cotton to “go up”. It was probably a joke from the inside out, but the band responded to the demand with a very good feedback: a cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, interspersed with the chorus “bang bang” from their own cosmic funk-rock track and splashing “We’re far enough from heaven now we can panic. “There was no mosh pit, but it was surely the first time that the idea that there could be one crossed my mind at Essence Fest. As the group ended with the rocker live “Runaway Radio”, a guitarist seemed to break all his strings.
Deep Cotton staged a coup for punk rock chaos in the Superlounge: the singer Romain GianArthur (pronounced John-Arthur: Monae had everyone say several times to make sure we had it) brought back the polish. The guitarist, who has a killer voice with the power and clarity of any Motown lead tenor, composed the openings for Ms. Monae’s 2010 afro-futuristic sci-fi epic “ArchAndroid“(which was produced by Mr. Wonder and Mr. Lightning, with Monae.) On his own, he’s an authoritative artist who writes soulful love jams reminiscent of Prince, D’Angelo, a bit Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill (in Essence, GianArthur covered Badu’s “Bag Lady” and quoted Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing” and, at times, the lush, vintage jazz-vocal phrasing of singers like Johnny Hartman. What appears to be his song. the best known, “I-69“, is an extended and layered slice of psychedelic soul that the Fifth dimension would immediately tear up their repertoire of covers, if they were informed.
Monae served as the emcee during the show, praising each act and repeating her social media contact details between sets, making sure the crowd was attentive. The relaxed and effortless group production had the most DIY vibe I have ever experienced at Essence, which fully embraces its corporate sponsorship (although, of course, it’s Cover Girl’s endorsement that made the show of underground solidarity possible.) In the center of the crowd, as Mr. GianArthur closed his set with a quirky mashup – a Radiohead cover married to a song by D’Angelo, performed with a classic vocals from southern soul – Nate “Rocket” Wonder raised his glass. Monae watched from the front row. Once the last song was over, all the performers took to the stage together, arms around their shoulders, for a collective salute.