On the Rise: Jamila Woods Sings the Heart of Chicago

Chicago is in the midst of a musical explosion and Jamila Woods is definitely one to watch as a new generation rises in the wake of Kanye West and Common. Perhaps Chance the Rapper led the charge, along with friends Vic Mensa and producers such as King Louie, but poet/singers such as Woods are pushing it to the next level.

I talked to Woods about her new release and what it means to deliver her messages of black power merged with memories of the innocence of youth gone by. The story, Jamila Woods: Soul of a Protestor, appeared in Pitchfork.

I asked Jamila where she wanted to meet up and she offered a coffee shop in Pilsen, which is on the city’s south and west sides. It’s a Mexican neighborhood trying hard to hold on to its roots despite gentrification. This coffee shop, owned by Mexican-Americans, was the perfect place to have a conversation about struggle, beauty and staying true to your roots.

Some might call her sound “protest music,” but I wondered aloud if that’s accurate. She has hints of her gospel roots strewn throughout her message, but then she hits you hard with discussions that are necessary yet nerve-wracking.

In part, she says:

When you hear the term “protest music,” it might feel like it’s supposed to sound one way, like maybe super militant or super strong, or with chants. I definitely do that, but I also think of “protest music” [differently] because I was in the Chicago Children’s Choir. We sang a lot of gospel music, because the founder was a preacher and believed in bringing together kids from around the city to sing. We always sang “Precious Lord” and [artistic director] Josephine [Lee] would be like, “This was Martin Luther King’s favorite song, and so whenever he got tired of marching, he would sit down and ask the choir to sing this song so that he could keep going.” So, in that sense, my music is protest music—not just the music that you march to, but also the music that you rest and refuel to.

Author: Adriennewrites

Adrienne Gibbs is an award-winning writer, journalist and editor. Need some help writing? Just ask.