Jamila Woods / duendita Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, June 27

Jamila Woods / duendita Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, June 27
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
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Legacy, lineage, and spirituality — these are topics Jamila Woods and duendita ponder in their work. Woods approaches them as a black woman from Chicago, while duendita does so as an Afro-Latinx woman from Queens, NY. The through-line of connecting with the past as a means of healing both oneself and present generations continued at Woods' and duendita's sold-out tour wrapup (and Vancouver debut) at the Biltmore Cabaret Thursday night.
 
With music that both uplifts and empowers without ignoring heartbreak, death, loneliness, and racialized and gendered oppression and violence, Woods' and duendita's performances spanned the spectrum of emotion for everyone in attendance — the artists included.
 
Duendita opened with the stirringly sparse "blue hands." The audience whooped when she kicked back against police brutality with the line, "I wish you a long, long, long black life." Throughout her set, she looked like she was letting out a huge yawn, but she was in full control of all the sounds that emanated, from fluttering highs to bellowing lows. The power of her voice was on full display when she sang a cappella at the beginning of "thunder"; nothing but field recordings of bird sounds filled the long pauses between her words.
 
Duendita has said that as she grows more confident, she relies more on intuition; she has gone as far as to say she feels like she was born yesterday. The audience witnessed her continuing personal growth before their eyes, particularly as she tested a demo called "Hammock." "I don't know what to do with it. Let's see how it goes." She ended the short song (an interlude, really) with a laugh and a shrug.
 
With a thunderous band that was full of life — a standard setup of drums, bass, guitar and keys — Jamila Woods conjured funk pioneer Betty Davis, poet Nikki Giovanni, author Zora Neale Hurston, and bluesman Muddy Waters with jazzy R&B songs titled after their first names, as she did on this year's sophomore album LEGACY! LEGACY!
 
And although Woods performed "SUN RA," "BASQUIAT" was where she and her band transcended the stage and reached an otherworldly plain. As moving as her tributes to the past were, she was most inspiring when she focused on the present. "Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me," she sang on the self-loving "Holy," before continuing, "I'm not lonely, I'm alone. And I'm holy by my own."
 
Ultimately, Woods and duendita are both optimists. Woods even turned "Blk Girl Solider" into a positive moment, despite lines like, "We go missing by the hundreds. Ain't nobody checkin' for us." On "EARTHA," she asked, "Who's gonna share my love for me with me?" One look at the sold-out room and the answer was clear. With a powerful, positive-spirited but no less urgent performance like last night's, Jamila Woods is on track to forge a legacy of her own, and hers could very well be a legacy of love.