12th November | Exchange
Cute, cosy and casual in her on-stage get-up, Jamila Woods beams as she climbs onto the stage at Old Market’s Exchange. Already magnetic, she beckons to be watched and, as she launches into the first melodies of her set, the audience is transfixed. As she sings, her face lights up animatedly and she exudes a natural on-stage charm that requires little effort to be beguiling. She is accompanied by a talented backing band (who, between songs, engage in a joyfully natural two-step) and a special shout-out extends to her bassist who sonically illuminates the stage with the jazzy pluck and pick of his instrument, veering off into soulful solos that could be made of moonbeams.
Her set focuses heavily on her most recent album, the critically acclaimed Legacy! Legacy! – a meditation on black history and genealogy that received many a glowing review and is steadily making its way into end-of-year lists by a multitude of music publications. The songs are entrenched in history, with words like ‘ancestors;, ‘liberation’ and ‘ideologies’ cropping up often. But it’s not all a history lesson; her songs have groove: “Bristol, let me see you move!” she calls, leading the audience in carefree dance, moving way more effortlessly than the clumsy, beer-hued crowd. There’s also no austerity in her use of “motherfucker”; her songs have wit and bite.
Yet, it’s the songs from her first album which elicit the cheers. She clearly gained a lot of fans in the West Country when she released her debut, HEAVN in 2016. Though this is a somewhat unfair comparison: sadly, the sound levels are off in the first half of her set – you sometimes miss her lyrics and Woods herself even leaps back from the mic’s screeching reverb. Once the sound is returned to equilibrium, however, it is easier to lose oneself in her sweeter-than-sugar vocals and modern blues backing music.
Woods dedicates ‘Lonely Lonely’ to “everybody who came to the show by themselves tonight – shout-out to you,” reaffirming the experience of her making music and us absorbing it as a form of self-care. Her meditations are insightful and thought-provoking, allowing even those in the largest of groups to return to themselves and become introspective. It could be presumptive to even guess, but she has the characteristics of an introvert and, at least from the perspective of one of some sort, she uncovers the beauty in being one.
See the video for ‘Zora’ here: