Wondaland Arts Society

Seven years ago, before she rocked the BET Awards and became a Covergirl, Janelle Monáe released "Many Moons," a psychedelic song and short film that took Harriet Tubman's legacy and turned it into an Afrofuturist work of art.

Monáe's first EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), introduces us to her alter ego Cindi Mayweather, a time-traveling android who, after breaking the law by falling in love with a human, goes on the run from the Metropolis Ministry of Droids.

Captain 6ix Savage, of the Metropolis Polis and his team.

Metropolis opens with "March of the Wolfmasters," a militaristic PSA explaining that there's a bounty out on Cindi's head. The hunt, the announcer says, is open to everyone, provided they abide by a few murderous rules: "No phasers! Only chainsaws and electro-daggers!"

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"March of the Wolfmasters" blends into the EP's second track, "Violet Stars, Happy Hunting!!!," a bass-heavy, alt-rock narration of Cindi's desperate attempt to evade her would-be captors. Just as the droid hunters are about to catch her, Cindi leaps from a window and the EP's third song, "Many Moons," begins.

"Many Moons" works perfectly fine as a song on its own, but to get the full effect of how it is a tribute to Harriet Tubman, you have to watch the short film. In this telling, Cindi Mayweather is a famous performance android putting on a concert at an android auction.

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Mayweather's unique for her singing and dancing, but her particular model (Alpha Platinum) is mass produced and in high-demand. Other Alpha Platinums, like all androids, are fully sentient, but live as second class citizens on "the wired side of town." As she sings on stage, other Alpha Platinums stride down a runway decked out in couture as members of the elite bid millions to own them.

The event is a fashion show just as much as it is a concert, but the film's visuals take on a different meaning when factoring in the song's lyrics.

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We march all around 'til the sun goes down night children
Broken dreams, no sunshine, endless crimes, we long for
Freedom
You're free but in your mind, your freedom's in a bind

A group of other Alpha Platinum androids being prepared to be auctioned off.

That androids might become the future's "other" is a recurring idea in Monáe's work and she often pulls directly from the history of black people living in America.

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"I love speaking about the android because they are the new 'other,' Monáe told MTV in 2010. "People are afraid of the other and I believe we’re going to live in a world with androids because of technology and the way it advances."

In the same way that "Violet Stars, Happy Hunting!!!" is a reflection on laws that once made interracial relationships illegal, "Many Moons" is a story about blackness, American slavery, and Harriet Tubman's legacy.

In Monáe's mythos, Cindi Mayweather isn't just a fugitive android, she's the ArchAndroid, the android messiah destined to free her kind from oppression.

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"She finds out that she is indeed the one and is the mediator between the haves and have not," Monáe told MTV. "She’s the one who can get rid of all the discrimination within the android community."

Tubman's navigation of the Underground Railroad is reimagined as Cindi's traveling through time, searching for moments in the past and the future to bring about the android revolution. While more of her sisters are sold off, Cindi's performance intensifies and the song's sample of Sesame Street's "Pinball Number Count" morphs into something that sounds more like a negro spiritual.

As Cindi levitates and short circuits, Tubman's influence on "Many Moons" becomes explicit and the android's future becomes unclear.

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And when the world just treats you wrong
Just come with me and I'll take you home 
No need to pack a bag
And when the world just treats you wrong 
Just come with us and you'll take you home 
Shan, shan shan shan-gri la