Last year, Jamila Woods took the stage at Harold Washington Cultural Center performed her phenomenal debut album Heavn in it’s entirety for the final time. The performance, which we were lucky enough to cover, was loving farewell to the album and loving representation of a unique culture and it’s bright future. With Heavn laid to rest, Woods arrived at Thalia Hall with her brand new album Legacy! Legacy! in tow, ready to reignite the idea that idea of a bright future, a hard but gorgeous past, and the grand beauty it can represent now, in the preset.
The entire evening felt like a community gather to hold what they love high and represent it in the best way they could. I often make comment about how some shows are just people standing in place, almost too full of reverence. While some shows call for that sort of atmosphere, this one completely pushed it aside. There was dancing, paining, jumps of joy throughout the night no matter who was on stage. Of course it was due to the talents of the performers, but also to the messages they exalted.
Take Nitty Scott, whose entire opening set drifted from topic to topic, shedding light on biracial identity, diaspora, mental and cultural appreciation.”Negrita” holds her Puerto Rican roots up high while marrying her African American heritage right along side it. “La Diaspora” keeps that Every song and talk with the crowd felt important; wanting to spread love and inspiration on top of the downright insane tracks they were performed on. Towards the end of her set she played a newer song “No Toques Mi Pelo”, another song to join the anthems that celebrate women’s hair. Honestly every moment of this set was a jam and perfectly warmed up the crowd.
Jasmine Barber, curator/founder of the Brown Skin Lady Show, came out between sets to deliver what could easily been a comedy set, but whose message was so direct and powerful, it couldn’t be anything but a rally call of support. Shouting out Pilsen Alliance who set up a both in the back of the venue, calling out gentrification and those who blindly/unknowingly encourage it, and a declaration of being proud who you are.
Jamila Woods followed that riotous performance with one of her one. Wood’s mere presence was enough to get the crowd excited, gracefully made her way to center stage. Pillars of light decorated the stage, a few filled with handwritten lyrics of Legacy! Leagcy! (“You can’t police my joy” being a line that immediately jumped out at me). She immediately jumped into “BETTY”, the opening track of that new album. Unsurprisingly, the song felt like a classic, the one everyone seemed to be waiting to her. Woods exudes that quality in her work, songs that are as familiar and comfortable as they are new and unique. They speak to the listener so directly, so affectionately, that you can’t help but be immersed in their presentation.
Legacy! Leagcy! was the clear star of the evening as it was played in it’s entirety. There is something incredibly powerful about listing to such a clear and purposeful album in full. Every song evokes an icon from across multiple arts, letting their own history and story impart even more to the songs than just the name. On top of that obvious connection, many of the songs were preceded by recordings of the cultural behemoths speaking about subject that had been on display that night. If their wasn’t a recording, woods herself would explain their importance and meaning.
“FRIDA”, which details the need for self love and private space in a relationship, was prefaced with Woods speaking on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s homes, separate but connected by a bridge. “SUN RA” too had Woods poetically referencing Sun Ra’s cosmic origins and finding solace in them. Whether it was the short huff that introduced the jazzy “BASQUIAT” that sees Woods mindfully and angrily sneering against at pressure of expectations placed on her or the much needed dose of Earth Kitt’s laugh before “EARTHA”, these incredible introductions let the songs leave an impression on the sold out crowd.
Woods’ presentation of the new material was on point the entire night. From her incredible backing band who held up every song with a strong musical backbone to the special guests including Nitty Scott assisting for for “SONIA” and Nico Segal’s trumpet blaring for “BALDWIN”, Woods was determined to give Thalia hall a night to remember.
Even with her new album taking the spotlight, a few choice tracks from Heavn found there way to her audience’s ears. The new songs were loved, but the older tracks were adored by the crowd beyond belief. “Stellar”, “Lonely, Lonely” and a few other highlights got the crowd excited. Throughout the performances of songs new and old, Woods’ inherent gentleness was readily apparent, bolstered by her her poise even when she’s at her most heated like on “Blk Girl Soldier”. Woods’ talent to make the crowd feel every nuanced emotion found in her songs is unparalleled.
For her encore, Jamila Woods continue to spread her much needed message. “VRY BLK” and it’s unrelenting passages about art, police brutality, and identity flowed into “LSD”, her complicated ode to Lake Shore Drive and the the our very city. the two songs played off each other wonderfully before she ended the night with “BETTY (for Boogie)”, leaving the crowd just like she met them: dancing, clapping, and jumping with joy.
All photos by Julian Ramirez