There’s something in the air in Chicago.
Pumping out distinguished artists isn’t uncommon for the third most populous city in the United States — but now, it seems like the world’s stage is shining its spotlight on Chicago’s DIY music community more than ever.
Sure, it helps when a local rap hero becomes the first independent musician to take home Best New Artist at the Grammys, along with two other wins. However, the win is just the bellwether of what’s to come.
The Medicine Woman collective can attest to that.
Local vibe dealer and performance veteran, Drea Smith, proudly reigns as the “big sister” of the group, which represents the reason why Chicago’s endless wave of local talent can do things like make Grammy history — while remaining independent.
Medicine Woman started as a group chat about homeopathic remedies between friends, and now thrives as a collective, support system, coven, and sisterhood comprised of Chicago-based artists Drea Smith, Via Rosa, Ravyn Lenae, and Jean Deaux.
The group has been in official existence since January 2016, but many of the artists belonging to this movement go much further back.
They also want you to know something: it’s Medicine Woman, not Women. “Us together, we create one big giant woman,” Drea explains. “Kinda like the Power Rangers when they get together and make the big Power Ranger thing”.
In gestalt fashion, a typical Medicine Woman show is more than the sum of its parts; amongst the crowd, familiar and locally famous producers and artists populate the floor with the rest, as if the whole city is in the Medicine Woman group chat.
Drea and so many other artists in Chicago put a premium on creating spaces that facilitate independent art and performance. What struck me was the strength of the networks linking and organizing creative individuals and groups of different focuses across the city.
The Medicine Woman collective works against the limiting notion that there is only one space for each type of artist. Drea describes the punk rock, pop, and hip-hop parts of the Medicine Woman as a figurative body.
“In banding together,” she explains, “we show that you have to let us all in, not just one.”
The artists you will find at a Medicine Woman show are not confined to one genre, age group, or message, but share a similar desire to elevate and teach one another, as women and musicians.
“We are all learning from each other,” she says. “It’s a lot of exchange. There’s room for everybody to make art. Our voices and goals are related, but like sisters, they also all differ in their approaches.”
“There’s room for everybody to make art.”
As a veteran performer, Drea offers her theory of evolution and incarnation in regards to waves. Having worked with Lupe Fiasco, gone through the Kanye’s Chicago years, and sharing personal ties with Chuck Inglish, she has seen the ebb and flow of Chicago recognition.
“You get caught up in industry standard, but that industry [in Chicago] is in a more grassroots kind of way,” she says. “It doesn’t have the same kind of industry telling it what to do that you might find in New York, or Los Angeles, yet. As it goes for a long time, Chicago artists are finding out where the bugs are and getting a clearer vision of what Chicago DIY is.”
There is a pride in being an artist in Chicago right now. Other cities’ markets are saturated, or pre-labeled. Chicago’s tender moment can be attributed to honest expression. The kind of forums for honest expression generated by passionate individual such as those that make up the Medicine Woman collective are what facilitate a refreshing kind of genuine expression that is so uniquely Chicago.