Jan. 29, 2018 | Suraya Mohamed — Singer, songwriter, poet, educator and community organizer Jamila Woods is also a freedom fighter: a voice that celebrates black ancestry, black feminism and black identity. “Look at what they did to my sisters last century, last week,” goes a line from “Blk Girl Soldier,” her powerful opening number at the Tiny Desk.
“Traumatic things … happen to black people, but then you still have to go to work the next day, or you still have to wake up and teach a class, or go take care of your family,” Woods told NPR in September. “I had just been bottling up all my feelings about these things … so I remember this song being a way for me to cry about a lot of those things and just feel them and sit with them.”
Woods followed “Blk Girl Soldier” with “Giovanni,” another anthem of black female pride, inspired by the Nikki Giovanni poem “Ego Tripping.” The original text includes no punctuation, not a single comma or period, and reveals a liberated prosody that is also illustrated in the song. Listen how her lyricism interplays with the rhythm section’s syncopated groove to create a captivating state of emotional buoyancy.
There is much to savor in Woods’ music, rich with philosophical meaning and striking musicality. Of particular note is her recurring theme of self-love, as heard in “Holy,” the last song in this set: “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” (What a refreshing affirmation to hear “loving me,” instead of the predictable “loving you.”)
“My mission as an artist is always to create art that’s useful,” Woods told NPR. “I want my music to feel like it has a tangible effect on people, like it allows them to check in with themselves, feel affirmed, feel able to continue into their day or into their path with renewed energy and a renewed sense of self, because … that’s what I hope to manifest in myself.”
“Blk Girl Soldier”
Jamila Woods, Erik Hunter, Justin Canavan, Ralph Schaefer, Aminata Burton
Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri, CJ Riculan, Alyse Young; Production Assistant: Salvatore Maicki; Photo: Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR
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