Jamila Woods is present. It's often the most difficult yet ultimately paramount place to be. But she tries to show up as much as possible.

"I'm not lonely, I'm alone," she sings in the sweeping chorus of her universal single 'Holy,' off her debut album HEAVN, which was re-released this summer. It's how the Chicago-based artist, activist and poet needs things. By this point in her life, she's prioritized what many of us forget - that no love can flourish without putting self-love first. And despite societal expectation of women especially, there's nothing selfish about that.

In Jamila Woods' case, attention to self has been an investment. An invaluable one that she's then returned directly to her community and the city of Chicago.

You recently celebrated a birthday. How was celebrating Libra gang?

It was good. We had the first weekend in ATL right before so I had a party kind of thing in Chicago right before, which is cool because I hadn't tried to do a birthday party in a while.

On Instagram, you posted that you were one year closer to being a wise black granny so what lessons did you learn this past year?

I think I'm continuing to learn that it's really important to carve out time to just be present with myself. I started to notice it, because I catch myself going through cycles and when I'm in a bad place or feeling stress, it's usually because I haven't carved out that time. People always say it's important, but it's just hard to remember that. Or like, actually do it. It's one of those things that it's easier to say than to do. I was thinking of it like, when I fall out of touch with a friend, or if I haven't talked to a friend for a while, I might start wondering, "are we still cool? Do they still fuck with me?" It's kind of a natural thing that happens and when you talk to them, you're like, of course we're still good. So, I think it's the same with myself. I can start feeling selfconcious or start having negative thoughts or building up these narratives. But when I check in with myself, it can help dissolve that.

Jamila Woods

That makes so much sense and that's why your track 'Holy' is such a timeless anthem in so many ways. The concept of loneliness and the balance between being alone. When it comes to spending that time, what do you do in terms of being able to find peace within that fine line?

Maybe one of the first steps is being okay with saying no with things or not going to things. I think because I do dabble a lot and I have a really busy schedule, if there is a show or a social event happening, to really ask myself, is that what I want to do or is that something that I feel like I should do? And then being okay with admitting that I would actually prefer to be at home by myself and not feeling bad about that. I read this book called The Artist's Way a couple years ago. It's a book about maintaining your creative practice and she talks about taking yourself on an artist date to something that's going to inspire you. And doing it for yourself, because a lot of times we double up on that sort of thing. Like, I can hang out with this person, while we go and do this thing. And making it just about treating your artist. So, I try and go to museums or go and see a film. Also, just cleaning my house works.

This is obviously a good conversation to be having year round, but in the summer, the nice weather almost forces you to go out and do these things, but in the colder months, it's important to have these self-care routines already in motion to prevent things like seasonal depression.

Yeah that's so true.

Jamila Woods

Now when it comes to your project HEAVN, which was released earlier this year, you mentioned to that you had thoughts of leaving Chicago while putting it together but decided to stay as an act of resistance. How has that resistance evolved now that you've taken the project on the road through shows?

When I was considering not going back to Chicago, it was when I was graduating school and then, when I got back to Chicago, just seeing other friends leave, it was something that I considered. But I think, with the act of resistance, it also references the way that it feels like gentrification and the schools closing, they're ways of not so subtly trying to push colour to the margins and out of the neighbourhoods and taking arts programs out of schools. All these things are working against the youth culture and art culture that young people and the communities I work in, which are like the heart of creativity in Chicago. It's these systems set up against that that make me want to be a part of the community and a part of rebuilding it. So it is about my projects and Heavn and my art, but it's also about what I do in the community that I feel is part of my resistance. I think that, similar to self love, the process of not internalizing negative narratives that are said about Chicago is important. Things like, "I need to get out of here, because there's no way I can do what I want to do here." So hearing something like that and not internalizing it but finding the counter-narrative to that or manifesting something different.

Jamila Woods

I'm from Toronto and we have the same narrative here. Basically, if you want to make it in any creative capacity, you have to leave. I get that as well, the fight is currently to battle that and create something here in the face of all the factors fighting against us.

Yeah, that makes sense about Toronto too. I have friends who visit there and they say there are a lot of similarities.

But when you released your project, you must have seen change manifest from it, because of the response. You must have had people reach out who connected with that message. So how has that breathed new life into your purpose?

I think the process of putting out the project with the digital release and the more recent re-release, in between that time, it has been an affirmation for me to focus and allow myself to focus and prioritize on music more. Although, I hate it when people say, what is your dayjob and that stuff you do with poetry and teaching and organizing? Because I don't think of it that way. Teaching will always be a part of what I do. But sometimes, I notice that because I'm confident of the work I do in that realm, I can almost use it as a blanket. Like, "If only I wasn't working fulltime, I could do more with my music but I only have so much time and that's why I can't really take a leap like that." So, I recently went part-time at the non-profit where I work and it's not necessarily that my responsibilities are any different, it's just more of a motivation for myself to allow time to practice and explore new things and learn instruments and learn more about the production side of things. I think that's one of the things that, seeing the response of how the first thing that I put together with the help of friends and collaborators and seeing how that has grown and affected people, has inpired me to push myself further in that way out of my comfort zone.

Jamila Woods

Yes and regardless of how much time you are putting in daily, you're still giving back to your community by being a leader and creating through example. You've mentioned that HEAVN was expanding the definition of love to include self-love and love for your city and where you came from. Now that you've expanded this notion of love, what is the most important exchange of love you've had in your life recently that's made this mantra a timeless representation of your journey?

I've been noticing the longevity of relationships in my life. From my partner, we've been together a long time, to my best friend from college. We do trips for our anniversaries and we just went on our ten year trip. Just realizing how long i've known certain people and how we are able to evolve and still love each other and not do this toxic thing where you fall in love with a person as they are when they're 21 and then you hold them to that and don't allow them to evolve or change or don't push them to grow and I think that's been, in addition to all the things you said, I think I'm learning that love is an active thing that evolves and how to hold that and notice when I'm not doing a good job at that.

Jamila Woods

Where do you go from here? What's next for you creatively?

From here, I'm going to be touring more and going to different places. I'm going to be going to Australia and Japan this year and my first Europe tour in a few weeks. I'm also writing and I'm trying to write as much as I can, because I like to build up a bunch of stuff and flip through it and see what collections come out of it. I used to play a little guitar and a little piano, but I never really got super proficient at it so I'm trying to go back and hone those skills so I can also be a part of the production process more actively.

Listen to Jamila's debut album HEAVN here.