Jamila Woods The Garrison, Toronto ON, July 21
Published Jul 22, 2017If you weren't up with Jamila Woods before, best of luck trying to find her debut album now. It appears that the R&B artist's amazing HEAVN project, released last year, has vanished from streaming sites of late. It's apparently part of a renewed marketing push and re-introduction for the Chicago creative — touted as one of the Windy City's best kept secrets — who has been riding high on a crest of critical acclaim and grassroots support. Presumably a refreshed HEAVN will be relaunched sometime this year; thanks to high profile appearances on fellow hometown auteur Chance the Rapper's album Coloring Book and single "Blessings" she's been exposed to a wider audience, something that's been overdue. Making her first Toronto appearance on last night (July 21), Woods demonstrated to a cozy but energetic crowd that her rise to wider recognition will bear fruit.
The phrase "black girl magic" — centering around the often unheralded achievements of black women — has gained a lot of online traction in recent months. HEAVN is about "black girlhood," the poet-singer has stated in interviews, and she both lives it and refers to it in her breakout track "Blk Girl Soldier" — delivered live with a soulful urgency. Her approach to music is graceful, strident, enabling. It speaks to mindsets of being alone in a hostile, hard-hearted world, while exploring the mental and emotional ramifications of this reality. As such, she riffs on themes of healing self-care, trumping oppression, laying the boots to inequality. She's not militant but mindful about it; coupled with her calming vocal ability and her soul, rock and pop influences, she has a lot to say, in a loving way.
It's a specificity that serves Woods well: her precise phrasings, revolutionary energy, and impeccable timing from her four-piece backing band put the crowd at ease over the course of a 50-minute set. A short medley of pop covers, bookended in the musical framework of Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" added a breezy vibe to the overall proceedings. But it's tracks like the incisive "LSD" ("Even though you break my heart/ The water's gonna save me") along with the thoughtful "Breadcrumbs" and spiritual "Holy" ("Woke up this morning with my mind/ Set on loving me") that serve as poetic justice, proof that the next time she makes a Canadian appearance, it will be on an even grander scale.