BABE #165: GRACIELA CAIN (GeeXella), Singer, Rapper, DJ, Activist
Graciela — also known as GeeXella — is a Jacksonville-based singer, rapper, DJ, organizer, and activist dabbling in all of the things. Her music is infused with and inspired by her trials and triumphs as a queer Mexican/Black woman in the South, as well as the people she’s met along the way. She’s an organizer for Girls Rock Camp, helping cultivate self-empowerment and positive development in girls and trans-youth, and a site manager for Girls Inc., an after-school program for girls. Passionate about uplifting women of color and helping them find their voice, she's a true hustlin’ babe with a heart of gold.
Babe you admire and why?
I definitely admire Ari Gaskin. She’s the most hustling babe I know. I love working with her on any project, because no matter what she keeps it positive and always adapts to any situation. She is also just a glowing human and so smart. She’s one of my great friends and I look up to her so much.
How do you spend your free time?
I usually like to spend it in the park sitting in the sun. Memorial Park is my favorite space to sit and think. I also love bubble baths and finding new music on YouTube.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Favorite fictional female character?
I was a huge Powerpuff Girls fan. I love me some Buttercup. She did it all and protected her sisters. And she was green, which is my favorite color.
Go-to coffee order?
It varies when I go to different shops in Jacksonville, but (usually) iced dirty chai with almond milk. I’m also currently obsessed with Bold Bean’s cold brew coffee. Shout out to the Bold Bean San Marco crew and the Good Dough folks! They always get me right.
Go-to adult beverage?
Amaretto sour. My friends call it my old lady drink.
Go-to power anthem?
“Black Gold,” by Esperanza Spalding.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
My mami’s enchiladas and Chicken Koop wings.
What is something you want to learn or master?
808 beat maker. I’ve been following a lot of beat makers and I wanna get my Kanye on, but I’m nervous and I don’t know where to start.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My grandfather I never met. My mother says I remind her so much of him. He was gay, he played the piano and that man could dress. I feel like he would be an amazing human to talk to.
Three words to describe yourself?
Outspoken, tired, hungry.
Tell us about your hustle, providing an overview of your job and roles.
I am a: singer/rapper, DJ, Co-organizer of Girls Rock Jacksonville and site manager at Girls Inc. Jacksonville. I do all the things. I’ve been like this since I was a kid. I love doing them all so much though.
What does your typical workday look like?
I as a site manager for Girls Inc., an after-school program for girls. I have a DJ residency at Incahoots every Wednesday and Friday. Usually I have a singing or DJ gig after Girls Inc. and before Incahoots. Sometimes I do host workshops on the weekend as well.
Have you always been passionate about music and creating?
I really have. As a kid, I was always in a play or singing. I stopped doing music after high school but I just couldn’t stay away after about two years. I think it stems from my family. We always played music in the house. My father was a breakdancer, so we had Chicago house music going on Saturday nights. My mother is Mexican and I remember always going to family reunions and dancing to bachata music till the early mornings. My brother is nine years older than me and he was always bumping 2Pac. I was always surrounded by music.
How would you describe your sound?
Definitely R&B/hip-hop. It’s heavy influenced by my producer, Willie Evans Jr. He is a freakin’ genius. He knows how to capture all the things I love. I’m very much inspired by my friends and the amazing youth I encounter. Also, my failed-slash-ongoing love life. Life inspires me every day as well. A lot of folks know I was in a terrible car accident involving a semi-trailer. My car flipped three times and I survived with no broken bones and not even a scratch on my body. I think about that a lot and I use my music to showcase how thankful I am to be alive.
What does your songwriting process look like?
I’ll send Willie some songs I like or what I want to sound like, then he takes my references and makes an amazing beat, because he’s a genius. Once I hear the beat, I'll know instantly what I want the song to be about. I usually go off what it instantly makes me feel. I also like to drink some tea to get my mind right and to calm me down.
Tell us about Girls Rock Camp.
Girls Rock is a camp that uses the art of music to drive social justice for girls, gender non-conforming and trans youth. At camp, each of the youth get assigned an instrument and are instructed to write a song in a week. We also do amazing workshops with them. It’s a beautiful week. Organizing has taught me to be patient. Specifically, organizing with my friends has taught me how to separate work relationships with friendship. It’s a lot of hard work, but once camp ends I feel super accomplished.
As an activist, what are the issues you feel most passionate about?
I feel most passionate about uplifting people of color (POC) and learning about the different struggles that they (we) all face. Trans women, trans men, disabled folks, non-binary, all people of color and all the things that intersect them and try to speak out about it on any platform I have. I’m definitely not as active as I once was, but folks like Monique Sampson from Jacksonville Community Action Committee and Sara Haj-Yahia from Jacksonville Palestine Solidarity Network keep my passion burning.
How have your education and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I don’t have access to college right now, so working in grassroots organizing has helped me so much. Skill sharing has been my biggest asset. I learn so much from the people who do have degrees. I do feel discouraged at times, but having Girls Rock on my resume helped me land the nonprofit job I have now.
What are some common misconceptions about your role(s)?
I think in being an activist, a lot of my views get misconstrued. A lot of folks think I hate “feminist” views. I don’t—I just hate “white feminism,” meaning if you’re not centering or uplifting people of color in what you’re doing as a feminist or activist, then you're not helping. Tone-policing women of color (WOC) is not helping anything. WOC in Jacksonville are working so hard and still having to deal with not being represented and not being paid for the work they do. Being told I’m aggressive is spitting in my face. When WOC are speaking out, that is your time to listen. Folks make WOC choose “womanhood” over “blackness,” and they need to understand that you can’t separate the two. They intersect, and that is why we need to keep feminism intersectional.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your role(s) we might not see?
I have a crooked spine and uneven hips. I also have depression. My body and head hurt all the time. I keep a smile on my face because yes, I’m thankful for every moment in time, but I’m sad and tired a lot of the time too. I’m working through unpacking a lot of things, but it gets hard. I'm thankful, though, for the WOC in this community who help and uplift me. They check in on me and let me know how great I’m doing. I feel very special and held by them.
What’s your biggest strength in your role(s)?
I would say the ability to network. I try my best to head out to events to meet new artists and other folks in the community. I love to meet new WOC doing things in the community and getting them connected with other folks. I love to get my hustle on, but I also love to see other folks succeed as well. I would not be where I am if it wasn't for other folks in my life connecting me to the right people, so I feel like it is my duty as well.
What’s the skill you most need to improve?
I’m not sure this is a skill, but I need to learn to take more breaks. I do experience burnout because I say yes to so many things. I think I do this because I’m so passionate about my craft as well as about local youth. I want to do it all, all the time. I need to learn to also step back and rest.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I recently attended SXSW and caught a showcase that featured all women, and it was so dope. DJOSH_KOSH and Kitty Cash are DJs I'm really paying attention too right now. Also, Rania Woodard of LANNDS in Jacksonville. I love her music, her views, her outlook on life and her hustle. Also, my friend Ash Shepard, who has an amazing zine called Undertone, which covers experiences of women of color.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
My ultimate dream job would be working at a center that's a safe space for a marginalized community. I love working with kids and teaching them things. I kind of do that now, but I want to have my own space that kids can come to and hang out, be themselves and also work on art and music.
Who are the artists you’d most like to collaborate with?
I would love to work with LANNDS (again,) Cheech Forreign, Janee Barbre and Chelsie Symone. There are so many amazing creatives here in Jacksonville.
What are some of your most notable music-related experiences?
I would say the first Glitter Bomb that Bebe Deluxe hosted at Rain Dogs. That show was amazing. First of all, Rain Dogs was packed. You couldn’t even move in there, and all my friends were in the front row singing my songs; I just felt so amazing and alive. Willie and I were on point together and it felt great. That was my favorite show to date. Also just recently, I DJ'd in Austin at this club and it was insane. Austin folks go hard! They were so pumped for me to be there - they didn’t even know me but they were showing me so much love and dancing. It was so great.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Breathing. Taking the time to do that has helped me so much. In my therapy we do this exercise where I lay on my back and I focus on my breath. It’s so powerful and helpful for my anxiety and stress.
What’s next for you?
Working on my EP and traveling more. I love to travel and that has been helping a lot with self-confidence. I feel like anytime I go out of town it’s such a positive experience and it makes me want to hustle harder to make Jacksonville great. I want to host a lot of events by the end of the year that highlight our amazing women of color in Jacksonville.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Just slow down. Really soak in all of your experiences. Keep creating goals, but don’t feel like everything has to come So fast. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Hustle hard, but also invest in yourself. Also pay attention to the folks in your field that you admire.
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