Jamila Woods on being a black woman in Chicago
January 18th 2018
Photo by Zoe Rain
- Jamila Woods :: Interview with Tanya Ali
Jamila Woods’ debut album HEAVN landed in 2016 and turned her into a bold new figure in R&B. Tanya Ali got the chance to unpack what it means to be a black woman in Chicago, and how she is working on the ground to inspire a new generation of young artists.
Struggling to piece together the songs she’d written for the album, Woods wanted spoken word interludes to thread HEAVN together, she just didn’t know where to start. The classic R&B record ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ helped lead the way. “The introvert in me thought it would be nice to ask black women in my life questions and have them call me and leave an answer on my voicemail…What’s the story of how you got your name? What kind of love do you think we black women deserve? Who is someone you miss right now?”
Some of the answers they gave let Woods see connections in her own songs that she hadn’t realised were there, working as perfect transitions throughout the record.
Outside her stunning debut record and captivating live shows, Woods pours energy into Chicago’s young people. She started off teaching poetry on weekends. She went on to become a teaching artist with the non-profit Young Chicago Authors, going into schools and starting poetry clubs. “I remember as a young person,” Woods says. “Having poetry mentors outside school” blew her mind. It changed her whole prospective. For the first time she looked at poetry and music and thought, “Wow. That can be a job?”
Now, it is her job. As Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, she is creating “alternative education spaces outside of schools.” Places that bring people together. “I could grow up on the south side and never meet someone from the north side,” Woods says. Running Young Chicago Authors’ poetry festival “allows young people and artists to meet each other. It provides a space of desegregation in a really very segregated city like Chicago.”
Tanya teased a few dream collaborators out of Woods, hot off her previous work with Chance the Rapper and Noname. Who does Woods dream about one day working with? Frank Ocean and Erykah Badu, she confesses. Could it have been anyone else?