PaviElle French knows that when an African-American musician takes the stage, many people expect an entertaining show that will make them move.
But French, a neo soul singer and composer who is attracting a wide following in the Twin Cities, has a different goal in mind. She aims to honor her black heritage, in ways that may not please anyone with that one-dimensional vision of African-Americans.
"The black aesthetic, for me, is James Brown — 'I'm black and I'm proud,'" she said. "It is Marcus Garvey. Whether it was music or art or entertainment, it was always in protest. It was being real about our world as black Americans in this country."
On Saturday, the singer will perform at First Avenue in Minneapolis during the club's Best New Bands of 2014 showcase.
Although French also is a writer, actor, teacher and dancer, there's one descriptor she prefers above all others: Pro-black.
It's a phrase that she said has prompted questions from whites and blacks alike. Some have asked her why she is "so angry." Others ask if she is a racist.
Some have told her that they think her views are extreme, and that she could try to find more of a middle ground, less separation between whites and blacks.
French has a simple explanation.
"Pro-black is black love and concern for my people," she said. "I'm concerned about pulling us together as a black community. We need to get ourselves together first and do what we need to do as a people before we can do anything else."
The 30-year-old is a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of nationwide protests that occurred after grand juries decided not to charge white police officers who killed unarmed black men. Her Facebook posts are a running commentary on equality and civil rights. She remains baffled by the very existence of white supremacy.
"What happened historically?" she asked. "Why, when people were starting to explore different places and set sail to other lands, did they think the people they encountered were beneath them?"
French's parents always encouraged conversations about race and racism. By age 10, she was reading books like "100 Years of Lynching" and never missed an episode of "Eyes on the Prize," the acclaimed documentary on the civil rights movement. She was obsessed with the writings of activist Stokely Carmichael, who in the 1960s chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and popularized the phase "Black Power."
"My whole life was about black history," said French, a St. Paul native. "My whole life was about learning who we were so I could understand who I am."
That history runs through French's debut album "Fear Not." French said her mission was to create music that "represents a black aesthetic."
"It's not about partying. It's not about me being at the bar and seeing this guy, you know. I'm not gonna sing no songs like that," she said with a laugh. "To uphold the black aesthetic is to talk knowledge. I can't even imagine not paying homage to my ancestors and my predecessors for the work, the tears, the blood. That is the black aesthetic."
French's music is written with a black audience in mind. Her lyrics, she said, aren't entirely in sync with white fans.
"You can cognitively get what it is I'm saying to you, but you'll never feel it," she said. "When it comes to black American slave descent people, we have a thing of our own.
"I love locking eyes with my brothers and sisters in the audience and going, 'Yep, I know. I go through what you go through every day.' It's the same way I felt listening to Marvin (Gaye). 'Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong. Who are they to judge us simply because we wear our hair long?' As a kid, I remember my mom going, 'Yes!' Just sitting in the dining room listening to that and going, 'Yes, Lord, yes!' Because somebody got the platform to tell the truth."
French's music may reflect the experiences of African-Americans, but it's also drawn lots of white fans.
"I'm a 39-year-old white man from Mendota Heights and it moves me," said David Campbell, a DJ for The Current who knows her music and plays it on the air. "Maybe her intention wasn't to write it for me, but it's touched me.
"PaviElle's music, the instrumentation and the feel, it's just laid back and kind of, well, lava lamp. It's like a lava lamp," Campbell said. "It's just beautiful and bubbling away. But it's powerful, too."
Over the last six months, French released a full-length album and performed a one-woman show — in addition to her monthly music gig and teaching job.
She expects a lot from herself — and from her audiences. She wants people to go beyond tapping their toes and clapping when she sings about inequality and civil rights.
Doing the right thing, French said, means standing up against racism and brutality.
"My music is not escapism," she said emphatically. "When I'm up there hollering, 'One light, one love, one spirit, make some noise so the ancestors hear it,' I'm saying make some noise so the ancestors and the predecessors know that we are going to continue and carry this torch. I'm not just saying make some 'wooo' sound, like, 'We're having a good time. We're drunk.' It's not that. It's about making noise outside of the club, in your life."