When Janelle Monáe blazes onto the stage at the Michigan Theater for the 2009 MLK Symposium Student Concert on Friday, the audience won’t know what hit them. “Expect to see lots of elephants making out, baby zebras snoring and spirits in the crowd,” the 23-year-old Grammy nominee explained in a recent phone interview with the Daily. “They also will see fire. Lots of fire.”

Fiery passion and relentless enthusiasm drive Monáe to create music that thrives on creativity and produce a genre-defying sound with a highly conceptualized subject matter. Her music translates flawlessly onto the stage, where it acts as a vehicle for Monáe’s impulsive and untamed dance moves. Whether it’s being channeled through headphones or boogied to on stage, one thing is undeniable: Janelle Monáe’s music makes a lasting impression.

Her performance will mark the only concert of the MLK Symposium, a four-day observance of the Monday holiday that includes lectures, speeches and films.

Monáe’s progressive mindset parallels the philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., making her an ideal fit for the gig. Just as Dr. King used his words to change the future of race relations, Monáe plans to do the same with her music.

“I believe that it’s important that art help redefine stereotypes and help redefine what it means for people like myself, who look like me, to create art … it’s important to erase those boundaries and those lines and those divisive ways that are set up to conquer and divide,” Monáe said.

Social justice might be an underlying theme in Janelle Monáe’s music, but her imagination is what truly sets her apart. “Imagination Inspires Nations” is a pseudo-campaign slogan in Monáe’s movement to change lives through music.

“I strongly believe in my imagination and I believe it is very powerful. I believe in art, which is a cousin and a mother to your imagination. With that being said, I just believe that once you think of something and you truly believe in it, you can have the power to absolutely inspire this entire nation to believe in their imagination and get people all across the world to believe in wonder and magic,” Monáe explained.

Promotion of the ideas of wonder and magic is happening on a daily basis at the Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society. Essentially, W.A.S. is a record label and a group of forward-thinking individuals who share Monáe’s vision for the future.

“I don’t let a lot of people in, but they come with great energy, good tidings and food for thought,” she said.

In August, W.A.S. released Monáe‘s Metropolis: The Chase Suite, which received a positive reception from critics and fans alike.

The disc was not intended to be a traditional album, but the first installment of a suite, with a full cast of characters and a continuous storyline.

“I think it’s very important to release a lot of music,” she said. “By breaking it up we thought it’d be very important for others to process the story and not be too overwhelmed,” Monáe continued.

W.A.S. also produced a coinciding short film, rather than a conventional music video, reinforcing the concept of not confining oneself to a single form of art.

Presenting imaginative concepts, preaching a positive message and putting on an energetic live show are all important for Monáe, but it’s her undeniable vocal talent that brings these goals to life. Her musical influences are infinitely far-reaching: She possesses the soul of James Brown, the voice of Judy Garland, the attitude of Mick Jagger, the style of Outkast, the spunk of Elvis Presley and the creativity of Björk. To say that Janelle Monáe is an anomaly when it comes to music would be a definite understatement. Regardless, her aggressive approach to the creation and presentation of her art is something that the current musical landscape seriously needs.

“It’s all about knowing your art … throwing your colors on a canvas and seeing what comes out,” she explained.

When asked about what she wants her audience to take away from her art, Monáe referred back to her incendiary metaphor, and said, “I just want them to feel fire within their hearts.” Specifically referencing her upcoming performance, Monáe added, “I want (the audience) to want to start a revolution after seeing the show … hopefully they figure out how they can start that revolution with the great gift that they were given, in a positive way.”

These stimulating words should resonate with a crowd that believes in both King’s teachings and the unexplainable power of music. On Friday night, Janelle Monáe hopes to burn this message of unmatched hope and limitless opportunity into the hearts of a new generation of revolutionaries.

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