It’s a mean feat to introduce unapologetically political and personal material to a festival crowd on a Sunday afternoon, so mark Jamila Woods down as an artist able to strike a balance between coffee house soul poetry and unmistakable issue statements.
It helped that the Chicago arts activist’s 45 minutes at the Tito’s tent was a stylistic journey, modulating between easy grooves and occasional funk rave ups to offer many flavors and ways for her poetic musings to go down.
As smooth as the band’s instrumental work and Woods’ velvet-smooth vocals that bring to mind Erykah Badu worked as a musical backdrop, putting an ear to the singer’s lyrics made the message hard to ignore.
On unreleased track “Giovanni” – which she debuted at South By Southwest in March – she railed against energy vampires and that “100 (expletives) can’t tell me how to look when I’m angry.” Or there were the moments from “Stellar” where she takes a long look in the mirror: “I’ve been complacent with the stories/And the lies you tell my heart.”
The most arresting offering came on set closer “Blk Girl Soldier” with lines like Look at what they did to my sisters/They make her hate her own skin/Treat her like a sin coming off honey smooth when for most singers they’d catch in the throat and provoke tears.
So it says a lot that Woods can pull off both material both opaque and edgy with equal aplomb. Artists of that versatility are a rare breed, and needed more than ever.