Chicago’s Jamila Woods is a writer and a recording artist, and as such she’s able to sing eloquently about racial issues. Her second album, 2019’s Legacy! Legacy!, was a neo-soul masterpiece, so recently I’ve gone back to her 2016 debut Heavn. The standout track is ‘Blk Girl Soldier’, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter has taken the spotlight following the reprehensible death of George Floyd, so it’s appropriate to revisit this track.
‘Blk Girl Soldier’ was the first song of the project that I wrote.” That track, written in January 2015 as the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement were swelling in tenor to protest police brutality, serves as its own protest music where she references strong women and civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, Assata Shakur, Audre Lorde and Angela Davis. “I had been to a protest recently, and the whole bridge in the song is a chant that protesters sang there,” she explains of that part’s origins.https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/redeye-jamila-woods-interview-heavn-chicago-20160619-story.html
In three and a half minutes, ‘Blk Grl Soldier’ is a mini-epic that channels frustration into resolve. The opening verses are fraught with tension, as Woods complains that:
They want us in kitchen
Kill our sons with lynchings
We get loud about it
Oh now we’re the bitches
The bridge is taken from an actual protest chant at Black Lives Matter rallies – “Rosa was a freedom fighter/And she taught us how to fight”. The reverberating synth bass that dominates the track drops out and is replaced by piano, a lovely piece of arrangement.
‘Blk Girl Soldier’ concludes in defiant triumph, repeating the refrain “she don’t give up”. There have been many great American protest songs around race over the years, from Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is to Come’ to the militancy of N.W.A.’s ‘F*** tha Police’, and Jamila Woods’ Blk Girl Soldier’ is another great, but somewhat overlooked, addition to the canon.
Even though racism is a systemic issue with a long history, it’s certainly not helping that America’s leader is stoking division. His refusal to condemn neo-nazis in the Charlottesville incident in 2017, instead claiming that there were “very fine people, on both sides”, is indicative of someone playing for the far-right vote.
In New Zealand we’re fortunate to have our political mainstream dominated by two moderate parties, and open racism from politicians isn’t tolerated. But we still have a long way to go towards racial harmony, and extreme right wing voices only make things worse. An Auckland teacher made the news this week after he attended a NZ Black Lives Matter rally wearing a MAGA hat and claimed that the BLM movement is “toxic and dangerous” – thankfully he’s been met by a storm of justified outrage. This morning an item popped into my Facebook feed from an obscure NZ political party stating that “far left gangs like BLM…your murderous ideas will never belong here” – they need to be quashed too. A little over a year since the Christchurch mosque shootings, there’s simply no room for extremist views – we already have enough work to do in reconciling centuries of oppression and land confiscation.
- Jamila Woods Album Reviews