As uplifting and important a collective moment as Saturday’s (Jan. 21) global Women’s Marches were, and as much as they may have ignited a cultural and political movement, there may have been no more poignant and powerful a moment than when Janelle Monae took the stage with the mothers of slain African Americans whose lives were unjustly taken by police to perform her powerful anthem “Hell You Talmbout” (full video below).
In her speech at the main Women’s March in Washington, D.C., Monae acknowledged a debt to both her grandmother, a sharecropper from Aberdeen, Miss. and her mother, a janitor, while saying how honored she felt to be there. Monae, who most recently gave two award-worthy performances in critically-acclaimed films, Hidden Figures and Moonlight, said she was here to march against the abuse of power. And then her band took the stage (at the 5:30 mark in the clip) and seemed to light it on fire.
With a booming, all-female drum and percussionist group and backup singers that included her Wandaland label mate Jedenna (of “Classic Man” fame), Monae explained the call-and-response rhythm of her police brutality anthem “Hell You Talmbout.” Here, she began bu repeating the name Sandra Bland, a a 28-year-old black woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July, 13 2015, while the crowd and back up singers responded with “Say my name!”
“So we’re gonna improv this and the we’re gonna jump back in,” Monae said as she walked stage left to where five mothers who lost their children stood. “Say your baby’s name,” she instructed First came the mother of Jordan Davis, who was murdered on Nov. 23, 2012 at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., following an argument over loud music. Eric Garner’s mother was next. Her son was killed by police in Staten Island on July 17, 2014 on the suspicion of selling “loosies” (individual cigarettes). Trayvon Martin’s mother, whose son was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Fla., came after
They were followed by the mothers of Mohamed Bah, whose son was killed by New York City police in Sept. 2012, and Dontre Hamilton, shot in April 2014 by Milwaukee police officers.
“This is for my trans brothers and sisters, you are not forgotten. We will continue to fight with you,” Monae said as she handed the mic to #BlackTransLivesMatter co-founder Cherno Biko, who called out the names of Mya Hall and Deonna Mason, two trans-women killed by police.
Monae noted during her set that an injustice done to anybody is an injustice to everyone. At her set’s end, she implored everyone to “Choose freedom over fear.” And don’t be scared, she said, “we are watching!”