Acclaimed Poet, Musician Jamila Woods to Perform at Cat
The first time College junior Athena Matsil heard Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s song “Sunday Candy,” she remembers being struck by the track’s lead vocalist, Jamila Woods.
“I was really moved by the beauty, quality, and purity of the timbre of Woods’ voice,” Matsil wrote in an email to the Review.
Woods, a Chicago-based musician and poet who has worked alongside popular artists such as Kweku Collins, Noname and Chance the Rapper, will perform at the Cat in the Cream at 8 p.m. tonight. Many of Woods’ fans first came across her extraordinary voice on “Sunday Candy,” one of 2014’s biggest hits, which prompted listeners and publications, such as music website Pitchfork, to take a closer look. Woods’ provocative and soulful debut album, HEAVN, was released last June via Closed Sessions to critical acclaim, and was featured on Pichfork’s “Best Albums of 2016” list.
College senior and Cat in the Cream manager Annika Hansteen Izora organized Woods’ visit. A senior member of Oberlin’s slam poetry team, OSlam, Izora initially discovered Woods through her written material.
“Being able to have a Black femme artist on campus is just really incredible,” Izora said. “A lot of white, masculine music is really upheld and is the center of attention in all music spaces here. To be able to have an empowered, incredible force [like her] on campus is going to be really amazing.”
Much of Woods’ work is centered around embracing intersectional strength and beauty, something that led Izora to fall in love with HEAVN.
“It was so big and so beautiful,” Izora added. “A ton of people were talking about it, and a ton of Black people were talking about it. [The album] was just such an uplifting piece of artwork.”
College junior Sky Davis echoed Matsil’s appreciation for Woods’ performance skill and artistry.
“Everyone that knows her loves her, and if they don’t, they will,” Davis said, adding that Woods’ show will be a performance the whole campus can enjoy. “I think [her work] touches enough of the campus that people will either get to know her or vibe with her because they know her stuff so well.”
Woods expresses herself in a variety of ways, not limited to song. While she’s made a splash in the music world, Woods is also well known as an inspirational poet. Her writing talent is evident in her flowing, expressive lyrics and poetry. She also serves as the associate artistic director at Young Chicago Authors, an organization dedicated to providing a safe place for youth expression, where she helps young people hone creative skills as tools to engage with issues of race and discrimination.
Like Izora, College senior Misael Syldor was first exposed to Woods’ artistry through her poetry. Syldor described Woods’ music as “weird, Black-girl music,” adding that her work draws from a wide variety of influences and transcends genre.
“One of the first poems I saw from her was called ‘Thirst Behavior,’ in which she called out Drake for his sad-boy music and mistreatment of women,” Syldor said. “She doesn’t feel confined by her identities and expectations of expression in her art. … Her music is as free as she is, and it feels more inclusive that way. … I often feel like her lyrics are talking to me as a Black woman, so I’m excited to get that in person. … Her art is more closely tied to the Black and non-white communities on campus.”
The bulk of HEAVN’s lyrical material concerns modern Black womanhood. In an interview with The FADER, Woods said that she is inspired by Black women writers like Toni Morrison and classic soul singers like Stevie Wonder.
“If a Black girl hears my music, I hope it would sound affirming and soothing — whether that’s traditionally soothing like a lullaby, or the kind of soothing that comes from, ‘Wow, you just said that thing that is talking to me,’” Woods said in an interview with the publication.
Woods’ focus was something Davis also underscored. “[Her music is] focused on the power and confidence of the Black girl,” Davis said. “What she’s said in the past about her art — that’s who she wants to uphold with her music.”
These influences are evident throughout the album, especially in the empowering “Blk Girl Soldier,” which Izora said is the song that she’s most excited to hear Woods perform.
“It will be a really important moment for myself and for others,” Izora said.
In the same interview with The FADER, Woods said that “Blk Girl Soldier” is her rendition of a freedom song.
The far-reaching quality of the album is evident in Woods’ overall appeal to people from a wide range of backgrounds on campus. Izora said she believes that Woods’ concert will be important for the community and will help begin to diversify the long-standing pattern of booking mostly white male artists at Oberlin.
Davis is also looking forward to seeing the joy that Woods will bring to the Cat in the Cream. “I’m honestly excited to see all the Black people, the brown people, all the women and queer people … really enjoy this artist,” she said.
But Davis had some advice for people planning on attending the show: “Black Lives Matter,” she said. “I hope that people in there respect that and see that, respect the space, respect the people, respect the POC and respect the artist.”
Syldor encouraged those wanting to attend the show to listen to Woods’ music beforehand. “There is a tendency for white people to come to Black artists’ shows with their own expectations and take up space while not giving the performer the respect they deserve,” she said. “Do not do that to Jamila.”
The Cat in the Cream staff expect the venue to be packed to capacity.
“It’s going to be one of our biggest shows of the year,” Izora said.
Jamila Woods performs tonight at the Cat in the Cream. Doors open at 7:50 p.m. and admission is free.