“Be thankful for your life, another chance to do it right. Just believe the world has a reason for it all and it’ll be alright.”
— geexella, featuring Cheech Forreign, “New Life (It’s Alright)”
Graciela Cain (aka geexella) has twice avoided tragedy. One near-catastrophe was the result of being broadsided by a semi-truck last year. Her car rolled over three times. The other was that she nearly gave up on music and singing. Fortunately, Cain walked away from her accident, but not away from her music.
Cain says that there was clarity in the moment when the semi flipped her car. The clearest thought was, “That’s it, this is how I’m going out! It took me a long time to realize … I’m alive,” Cain tells Folio Weekly. “You know, that took me, like, five months; finding purpose, and writing about those things. It’s so surreal. I’ve got a lot of feelings. I write about them.”
She indeed has a lot of feelings. Her parents’ original collaboration produced an Afro-Latina with considerable complexity. Cain finds herself to be a blend of genetics, sounds, and motivations that she has truly collected and examined only in the last year. What she has extracted is a soulful voice that resonates beyond her years.
A product of both Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and LaVilla School of the Arts, she speaks highly of her earlier education, but doesn’t romanticize the process of learning. “It’s a lot. Especially being a female artist. Going to an arts school. They pushed us so hard. I carried that into my work ethic. Writing and practicing and working 40 hours a week, I’m listening to my instrumentals, trying to practice every moment I can. I really want to do this. It’s a lot more tangible. I can make this happen if I really want to.”
This work ethic was put to the test after her schooling. Cain considered managing talent instead of furthering her own. At one point she thought, “I’m done with music.”
Fellow hip-hop artist Paten Locke helped trigger the reversal of that after hearing her vocal talent. “He was the first person to really make me get back into music; he told me, ‘No, you need to be an artist yourself.’”
Cain continued to ease into the Jacksonville music scene, collaborating with The Stocktons and Tomboi, who introduced her to Girls Rock Jacksonville, the nonprofit she continues to work with extensively. Still, her progress was leisurely.
The semi that hit Cain might as well have been carrying rocket fuel, for the amount of sparks in her passion. Someone more intensely focused than she had been walked away from that wreckage. “There’s something uncanny about almost dying and knowing that now it’s time to live,” she says, adding, “I feel very clear.”
Last year she focused on being geexella: embracing her music, multiracial background, sexuality, and giving back. She started to wear her hair out. Most important, she has spent the year performing.
Through gigging, she has gained a mentor in Willie Evans Jr. (of Asamov). He advises her as a performer and peer after shows. “Having to loosen up was the hardest. Technical training and my paying attention to every detail can get in the way of my getting loose on stage,” says Cain. “I already sound different.”
To place geexella in a single genre of music is difficult. This is by design. geexella feels more comfortable being unclassifiable. She doesn’t want to be branded hip-hop in an industry that she feels is misogynistic. Her music is defined by her voice, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Lauryn Hill’s and at times sways toward Nina Simone’s. She is still finding what she wants to present to the world as geexella — we will hear that in the process. “I’ve got a lot to say … I’ve got a lot of passion and a lot of drive. I want to do this. I’ve never been like that, I’ve never felt that way about my music, but now I’m super-confident. The things I’m talking about are very different, because they’re a different story that I don’t think a lot of people have heard.”
Now as geexella, Cain strikes out on her own. She continues to record at Evans’ space in CoRK Arts District. Her debut EP drops in December; she just released the first single on Oct. 17. The track, “New Life (It’s Alright)” is her own positive reassurance that she is meant to be here, that she will be here, and that she has a voice that needs to be heard.