Jamila Woods: ‘I want to pass down the power to speak on how you should be treated’

On her new album, Jamila Woods namechecks everyone from Sun Ra to Zora Neale Hurston to champion black artistry – and to give her the strength to confront violence in her home city of Chicago

Jamila Woods is a thoughtful soul. Not just in her music and poetry – with its emphasis on black ancestry and feminism – but in the way she acknowledges those that came before her, her native Chicago, and the young people there that she teaches. Part of a poetic and soulful local sound alongside Chance the Rapper and Noname (she’s worked with both), her mission is to champion forgotten voices in black art by building on the legacies they left behind. Woods is not just a poet, musician or youth worker but a beacon for self-empowerment in a city that gets a bad rep for violence.

We meet in the Tate Modern, and her face brightens when she refers to singer Betty Davis, poet Sonia Sanchez and other women she feels have guided her artistically and spiritually. Continuing the theme from BLK Girl Soldier, a song on her 2016 debut album where she pays homage to freedom-fighting women such as Assata Shakur and Rosa Parks, each song on her new album Legacy! Legacy! is named after a black luminary, such as Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia Butler or Sun Ra.

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Jamila Woods: ‘I want to pass down the power to speak on how you should be treated’