This show was exactly what a stressed, academically-inclined, spiritual woman of color needed before finals. It was full of sweetness and love — enrichment to my soul. The Great American Music Hall’s small venue made this concert intimate and personal, and to my surprise, there were a variety of individuals attending — white hipster boys, queer men and women, women of color, young and not-so-young. But, what’s new? This is San Francisco. Even with this array of people, it seemed that we were all there for the same atmosphere.
To set the mood for Jamila Woods was Vagabon, a multi-instrumentalist and producer from New York. Although she has been making music for some time — with her first album, Persian Garden, having come out in 2014 — she is now finally getting the recognition she deserves. I hadn’t heard much of Vagabon’s music previously, but her soft, deep voice presented through her moody folk/indie rock pseudo genre was a calming, soothing, down-to-earth blend. She controlled her own set up, incorporating a sampler and guitar that added complexities to her unique solo performance.
There was a slight break in the show which built up my energy for Jamila Woods, the woman we all came here for. I grabbed another beer and patiently waited for her to grace the stage. Jamila Woods is a soul/R&B artist with songs focused on individual self-love in the greater context of this world. Despite being a new musical artist, she is also the Associate Artistic Director of the Young Chicago Authors, so she’s not new to the lyrical game. Her set started out slow with a song full of roots and blues. Her personable nature and the small venue made it feel like she was speaking to each of us individually.
Following up, she played “Stellar,” a song with a touch of reggae; something that isn’t heard much on Jamila’s EP HEAVN (2016) After playing a few songs, including “Emerald Street” which she proclaimed Diana Ross was the inspiration for, she took a break to introduce herself to the crowd. Her first words, “My name is Jamila; it rhymes with tequila,” sent laughter through the crowd. The communal vibe of this concert continued as she added “Say my name” by TLC and “Hello” by Erykah Badu to her setlist.
The part of the concert that really enveloped me was her performance of “Blk Girl Soldier.” Although Woods has a soft voice, she is not afraid to present a strong and important message in its warmth. Holding up the black power fist, she sang, “See she’s telepathic/ Call it black girl magic/ Yeah she scares the government/ Deja Vu of Tubman.” She continues with lyrics like, “They want us in the kitchen/Kill our sons with lynchings/We get loud about it/Oh now we’re the bitches.” Her commitment to social justice surrounding black bodies and lives is what makes Jamila Woods’ music even more powerful and relevant in this current political shithole. It presents black love as a revolution in and of itself. Woods’ show showed the importance of community, love, and awareness. Before I knew it, the concert had ended, and I walked back out onto the streets of the Tenderloin feeling anew in this body.
Written by Devyn White