Jamila Woods' second album, LEGACY! LEGACY! is an ode to self-love, rooted in the struggles of yesterday and today. It is comprised of twelve portraits of her personal heroes, offering a musical perspective on her racial and gendered struggle.
Of poetry and education
When she had just published her new essay, Un féminisme décolonial, political scientist Françoise Vergès took a critical look at the bourgeois character of Western feminism: “I sometimes feel tired of having to always educate white women about their own history. Books and films exist. Self-education is possible. But perhaps, indeed, we are not didactic enough. Jamila Woods wholeheartedly agrees with this: “Been readin’ the books, readin’ the books you ain’t read” she notes with regret on “BALDWIN.” Nonetheless, the Chicago native adopts a resolutely educational approach by sharing her insights on the characters presented.
An occupational habit? Nothing could be clearer. For a time strongly involved in the Young Chicago Authors association, Jamila has made poetry her own as a tool for empowerment. Driven by this same calling, the association also developed talents such as Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Saba and Noname. There, Jamila could only have been reinforced in this educational approach. While Heavn, her first album, already mentioned “protest music,” the trend is even more pronounced on LEGACY! LEGACY! which stands out as a real family gallery – held together by segregation rather than by blood ties. Being a black woman means risking exposure to racial and gender discrimination. Through studying Frida Kahlo, we can better understand the quest for women’s emancipation, just as we can shed light on racism by letting Miles Davis speak.
It doesn’t follow that inspirational people will also be well-known. Faithful to her love of poetry, Jamila calls on Zora Neale Hurston and Sonia Sanchez, illustrious but discreet literary figures. The first approached notions of race and identity through her poem “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.” From the second, Jamila remembers the emotions suggested by the recitation of a poem. More than the literary content, it was the author’s scansion that moved her: specifically her manner of delivering a message as short and powerful as “it was bad.” It shows how poetry is also a performative art. This refrain marks “SONIA,” a track whose irony is only equalled by its drama: “My great, great granny was born a slave / She found liberation before the grave / Who you tellin’ how to behave?”
There is no sense of surprise in James Baldwin’s presence in this indictment. Though the simplification of his thinking could have steered the track towards cliché, Jamila’s usual refinement ensures that the pitfall is avoided. It is through musical emulation that the message is delivered. The choir and brass sections deliver themselves with a gospel resonance on the chorus, a key identifier of a Chicagoan, one who attended an African-American church in a white-majority neighborhood.
Above and beyond the cotton fields, however, Jamila’s struggle also has an avant-garde dimension. Long before Black Panther’s global advent, Sun Ra and Octavia Butler were already proposing an Afro-futurist imagination. Denying the agency of Blacks has been commonplace in the artistic world, but it has often resulted in a new creative impetus. Blaxploitation, jazz and hip hop are three convincing examples of this, even if the black population’s reclamation of narratives has been mostly male.
For an individualist fight
Indeed, one discrimination may hide another. Referencing Betty Davis is a surefire way to denounce male hypocrisy. The funk musician evolved for a while in the shadow of her husband Miles, who is also present as a leading figure on the album. “What is it with you independent men? It’s always something / Threatening your masculine energy” (“BETTY”). Here, we can’t help but think of Ike and Tina as well.
But feminism can have many faces. “Beyonce’s feminism is not my feminism,” explained Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, who advocates a more liberating philosophy. Jamila takes a similar stance and urges women to define themselves for who they are: “I am the Kingdom, I am not your Queen / I am not your rib, I am not your Eve” (“GIOVANNI”). It is Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Ego Tripping” that is being is interpolated, here. More than a nod to the American poetess, it’s a snub to male domination. Jamila’s own ego trip is introduced by “EARTHA”: she will not compromise and will assume her strength with conviction.
However, the same song makes a more saddening observation: “Who gonna share my love for me with me?” This is where it becomes clear that Jamila’s struggle must be seen as an ode to self-love. Just as a person’s identity is not compartmentalized, the artist’s anger is global. And on “BASQUIAT,” the main track of the album, that anger really shines through. For nearly seven minutes, Jamila and Saba engage in a painful musical dialogue. It is the latter who brings the complex message to an extreme degree of conciseness: “(Are you mad?) Yes, I’m mad / Yes, I’m Black.”
The rhythmic break at the end of the song sounds like a liberation, and the hip hop beat feels welcome in an album that is imbued with neo-soul. While Jamila’s writing skills are clear, the same level of care has been taken to ensure the musical significance of the pieces. The distortion of the guitar on “MUDDY” is as meaningful as several passages on black history. It proved a great way to capture the attention of whites in audiences at the time when Mr. Waters was revolutionizing the blues. Why? Because the “Motherfuckers won’t shut up.” Jamila won’t shut up either.
Watch now on Qwest TV:
Jamila Woods, LEGACY! LEGACY!