On May 2, Chicago-based artist Jamila Woods filled the University Union Undergrounds with her soulful lyrics at the final Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP) show of the spring semester.
Backed by a full band, Woods performed an assortment of her older music and previewed new songs from her upcoming album “LEGACY! LEGACY!” which comes out on May 10. Mika Itkin-Weinstein, BUMP chair and a senior majoring in English, cited songs like “VRY BLK” and “Blk Girl Soldier” as evidence that Woods’ appeal goes beyond her vocal talent.
“I think she’s just an extremely powerful artist and poet and activist,” Itkin-Weinstein said. “To share her artwork with all of these students is really exciting.”
Each song on Woods’ new album is named after an influential person of color, with tracks inspired by author James Baldwin, artist Frida Kahlo and writer Zora Neale Hurston. During her set, Woods performed the album’s first single, ”GIOVANNI.” Named after poet Nikki Giovanni, the song is inspired by Giovanni’s 1972 poem “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)” and borrows its title for the song’s chorus, which repeats, “There must be a reason why.”
“After I realized I had a couple songs named after people, I was just like, ‘Oh, let me make a list and try to write these songs that are still about me,’” Woods said. “Like autobiographical self-portraits, but through the lenses of these other people.”
The crowd’s positive reception to Woods’ music was palpable as students belted along to a mashup of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” and Woods’ “In My Name” off her 2017 album, “HEAVN.”
Much of Woods’ music addresses her experiences as a black woman and the systems of power that people of color face in the United States. As an undergraduate at Brown University, Woods double-majored in Africana studies and theatre and performance studies and met many of the current members of her poetry collective, Dark Noise.
“I think my time at Brown was important in helping me find my artist community and then also just giving me a language to describe certain things … things that I had experienced my whole life, but didn’t really know that lots of people of color or marginalized people experienced these things,” Woods said.
During her set, Woods took a moment to recognize the black people who came out to the event. Danielle Christian, a senior majoring in business administration, said that she appreciated the gesture.
“I love how she shouted out the black people in the audience,” Christian said. “I love when people are appreciative of the crowd. Like, I love you, but I love that you love me.”
When she’s not performing, Woods serves as the associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, a youth literary nonprofit. Woods said the creative practices she uses with her students are the same ones she uses when she struggles with writer’s block.
“I try to make a prompt or give myself some kind of limitation, which I think helps me be a better teaching artist and also a better artist myself,” Woods said. “There’s never nothing to write. It’s either that I’m thinking too hard and wanting everything to be perfect and have to let go of that or that I’m not reading enough, I’m not taking in enough.”
The crowd was warmed up by opener Triathalon, a bedroom-pop group based in New York. The group released its most recent album, “Online,” last year, blending hip-hop beats into their mellow sound.
While many previous BUMP shows have featured a contrasting lineup — past shows this year have included pairings such as experimental rapper JPEGMAFIA and Priests, a post-punk band — Itkin-Weinstein said she thinks the two performances fit together well.
“I think there’s a cohesive rhythm to both artists,” Itkin-Weinstein said. “[They] create a very warm and cozy vibe.”
Maya Kallman, a sophomore double-majoring in art and design and business administration, said while she had already listened to Woods’ music, the show made her a fan of Triathalon.
“Jamila is like an angel,” Kallman said. “Triathalon, I’ve never heard them before, but I thought they were incredible.”