the inspiration behind jamila woods’ new ‘giovanni’

October 17, 2018

Leave it to AFROPUNK favorite and “modern-day Renaissance woman” Jamila Woods to use the roll-out of a new song as a platform for not only bringing together numerous aspects of her creativity, but making a few salient points about how she sees the world. First and foremost, the track “Giovanni” is a wonderful homage to the poet Nikki Giovanni, reflecting Woods’ work as a singer/songwriter, as well as a critically acclaimed poet and teacher/education activist. (Bonus points for giving the exclusive premiere to the wonderful Poetry Foundation site.)

“I wrote it after I had been teaching Nikki Giovanni’s poem ‘Ego Tripping,’” Woods told interviewer Fatima Ashgar in the great conversation that accompanies the premiere. “I thought, ‘what would it be like to write a cover poem that’s a song?’ The lyric ‘there must be a reason why,’ I interpreted that like, there must be a reason why I am the way I am. I thought about the women in my life who make it possible for me to believe in myself, and have faith in myself, that I’m doing right by the people who’ve poured so much love and time and energy into me.

“I watched this interview where [Giovanni] interviewed Muhammad Ali, and at the end she reads from her book Gemini (1971). There’s this part where she’s like, I guess I do want to be famous because my mother deserves for the world to know her name. That’s the whole spirit of my song, because I wanted to include my mom and my grandmother, and other women in my life who inspire me. I believe that they deserve everyone to know their names.”

To further honor her family roots, Woods placed both her mother and her grandmother in the short documentary film about powerful Black women that she co-directed with Vincent Martell. The collage film features short interview profiles of women around Chicago, Woods’ hometown, while also doubling as the music video for “Giovanni,” and bringing a visual context to the song’s ideas.

This new engagement with video opens up a whole new creative route for Woods, one, she told Ashgar, she’s keen to explore further: “I’m trying to lean into a collage aesthetic and push what that means for me. I was originally inspired by Arthur Jafa’s films. I saw one that’s just stitched together from viral YouTube videos that have Black people in them, footage of people in church, footage of a burning star, just all this stuff. It was very poetic, the way each clip connected. That was one of my inspirations of wanting the video to feel like a collage.”

Listen to the song, watch the film and read the whole interview. Jamila Woods is a young multi-disciplinary artist, and we can’t wait to see which way she will shine her light next.