With 'HEAVN,' Jamila Woods Writes A Love Letter To Her City The Slingshot artist talks about her love for Chicago, why she sees staying in the city as "an act of resistance" and the renewal she wants listeners to find in her music.

With 'HEAVN,' Jamila Woods Writes A Love Letter To Her City

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Here's a musician who stays pretty busy.

JAMILA WOODS: My name is Jamila Woods. And I'm a singer, songwriter and poet and educator from Chicago.

SIMON: She's one of three artists selected for Slingshot, the new emerging artist project by public radio stations and NPR Music. An exceptional artist for sure, Jamila Woods is also a community organizer. She works with young artists in Chicago. And her debut album, "HEAVN," reflects that. It's about her personal experience, but it's also a delicate love letter to her hometown.


WOODS: (Singing) Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick, the one that makes you love someone. The world wants us so numb and alone.

To me, "HEAVN" was about expanding the notion of love to include self-love and love of the city where I come from, which is often talked down upon in media. And I wanted to kind of create a space where love could be possible.


WOODS: (Singing) My great, great, great, great, great, great grandma...

Because I was thinking about my ancestors. And from the time of slavery there have been these barriers put up against black people being able to love themselves or love each other. And I was kind of connecting that to how I feel sometimes now living in Chicago, where there's so much violence being enacted on my community by the government or, you know, just the climate that we live in. And how can love be made possible in that environment?


WOODS: (Singing) I don't want to run away...

The line, I don't want to run away with you...


WOODS: (Singing) I want to live our life...

...I just want to live our lives right here. I'm thinking about staying as an act of resistance or choosing to stay in Chicago, a city where a lot of people would say, oh, that's not really a city you can be successful in.


WOODS: (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da...

I went to school on the East Coast. And I studied theater and black studies. I didn't study music. But I remember I got a really good piece of advice. I was asking one of the mentors, like, should I go to New York or LA? Like, I'm an artist. That's where everyone's going. And they asked me where I was from. And I just talked about Chicago and young Chicago authors and the artistic community that I'd come from. And the mentor was just like, obviously, I think you should go back to Chicago. It just seems like you have such a community there. And it's a place where you can grow your wings. I remember that always stuck with me because I didn't necessarily appreciate or see how unique and rare the community here that I had. I didn't see it for what it was until I kind of went away and came back.


WOODS: (Singing) My city like my skin. It's so pretty. If you don't like it, just leave it alone.

My ars poetica or my mission as an artist, I think, is always to create art that is useful, that is, you know, very utilitarian. So I want my music - this album - to feel like it has a tangible effect on people, like it allows them to check in with themselves, feel affirmed feel able to continue into their day or into their path with renewed energy and a renewed sense of self because that's what - through this writing. That's what I hope to manifest in myself.

SIMON: Jamila Woods talking about her new album, "HEAVN," She's one of the new Slingshot artists, emerging talent handpicked by public radio music stations. And you can see videos from her new album on our website, npr.org/slingshot.


WOODS: (Singing) The water's going to save me.

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