Jamila Woods – “SULA (Hardcover)”

A month and a half ago, the great Chicago soul singer and songwriter Jamila Woods shared a soft, glowing new single called “SULA (Paperback),” inspired by Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula. Today, Woods has shared a very different version of “SULA,” along with a gorgeous video for it.

Woods’ new track “SULA (Hardcover)” is, naturally, a version of “SULA (Paperback)” that puts the song in a radically different context. Instead of singing over slow-drifting acoustic guitars, Woods uses a big, slow-pulsing beat. Her vocals aren’t misty; they’re sharp and direct. It’s still the same song, but she’s transformed it into a sort of syncopated torch ballad.

The song might not get as much attention as the video. Working with the director Fatimah Asghar, Woods imagines a sort of sexual and intellectual oasis in a back yard. Surrounded by greenery and by Black cultural artifacts, Woods strips down completely. It’s a very NSFW video, but you probably aren’t working in an office these days, right? Watch it below.

In a press release, Asghar says:

Who do we give ourselves permission to be when we’re alone? When our gaze is only on ourselves? I’ve always loved SULA by Toni Morrison, and been particularly struck by the way that Sula isn’t understood by the people around her because of her sexuality. Being in quarantine, connecting to my own sexuality in a way that I hadn’t before, re-reading Sula and listening to the song inspired me to think through the concept of the video.

The music video follows Jamila as she goes from the outside world to the inside, disrobing in the comfort of her own space, stripping down to her interior — the part of her no one else gets to see. Quarantine has had us all wondering what our lives, our sexuality, is like away from the gaze of the world. And Sula is all about empowered sexuality, carving your own path outside of what society thinks is okay. Embracing both the empowered erotic in her own way, this video will show a side to Jamila we’ve never seen before.

“SULA (Hardcover)” is out now on Closed Sessions/Jagjaguwar.