Anicée Gaddis, New York City | Interview
Source: Freestyle Magazine 2016: ANICEE GADDIS | XO. 011
Welcome to “xtraordinary lives”. My name is Indira Gonzalez and It is an honor for me to present your life to the world through this interview, and to share this project of Michael Thompson FREESTYLEE.
1. To start, can you tell us who Anicée Gaddis is? Where were you born? What are your roots? What is your job? Where do you live now? What are your interests?
I was born in Indiana, but my family moved to Atlanta before I turned one so that is the city I consider home. I came to New York at age 17 and basically never looked back. My father worked in management and my mother was a lifestyle photographer. So I grew up seeing her capture unique and unexpected moments with her lens (pre-iPhone of course) – I believe her curiosity and pursuit of creative expression was transferred to me in the form of writing. My approach to writing is very visual, almost photographic at times, and deeply immersive rather than observational so there is an intimate and somehow tangible feeling to my work I think. My first loves are writing, Jamaica, and swimming in the ocean.
2. When did you discover your passion for writing?
I was always writing and focused on journalism early on, even from high school, but I was never trained as a journalist. I was an English Major at University, which is why I consider myself to be a writer more than a journalist. I think I found my true voice while working on book projects like “I & I” and “Small Kings” in Jamaica with my creative partner, photographer Alessandro Simonetti. Again, I think it’s a subconscious reference back to my mother. Alessandro captures with the lens what I capture with the pen. We have worked on several projects together as Small Kings Press and have really developed this deep synergy of paralleling and reflecting his images with my prose and my prose with his images.
3. I understand you have a huge passion for the Rastafarian culture and reggae music … What triggered this passion?
As a New Yorker, you always have access to the culture. So from early on there was an interest and an exposure. Once I started traveling to Jamaica and experiencing first-hand the Rastafari lifestyle and belief system, I became deeply interested. Once you begin to understand the real message of Rasta as a dynamic liberation theology that continues to champion ideas around universal human rights, homeopathic healthcare and a clean diet, sustainable farming and community-based economics, the benefits of cannabis and other paths towards unlocking positive energy, it just makes it that much more relevant as part of today’s conversations around health and wellness, the preservation of local culture, and the increasing exploitation of the developing world. They say Rasta has always been ahead of the times and I believe that to be true.
4. What is most important in your life, tell is about you personal and / or professional achievements?
What is most important to me is harmony and intention in work and life, being surrounded by a network of beautifully-minded friends, and traveling as often as possible to learn new cultures and landscapes. For my accomplishments, the milestones so far are being the Executive Editor of Trace Magazine, a New York-based culture publication, for 5 years that was focused on covering emerging global culture, and then producing an issue devoted to Jamaican lifestlye and culture for Big Magazine. That project was one year in the making and it was through that that I met my very good friend Michael Thompson. The recent publication of my book “I & I” is definitely an experience that changed and shaped me in ways that I had not anticipated.
5. One of your recent professional accomplishments is named “I & I”. Can you tell us … what is I & I and what this means for you?
The “I & I” project examines how the Rastafari faith is being expressed through young, modern cultural leaders such as Addis Pablo, Jah9, Donisha Prendergast, Yaadcore, Kabaka Pyramid, and I-Nation. And I & I serves as a meditation on the Rastafari faith: “the livity” (way of life), the music, the spiritual practices, and the philosophy as expressed in a contemporary form set against the current backdrop of Jamaica. The title originates in Rasta semantics whereby the pronouns you and me are replaced by “I and I” to express oneness among people and a means of signaling a direct connection to God.
6. I know you have a strong attraction to Jamaica. Tell us, why are you captivated by this country and its culture?
I visited Jamaica for the first time almost 15 years ago. I’ve been there consistently ever since, sometimes more often than I’ve been in New York. Each time I go, I discover a new layer, a new experience, a new expression – Jamaica, for me, is a dynamic and transformative place. And the island itself is just abundantly beautiful – nature in her most expressive form. I’ve never met such cool, dignified, and warm-spirited people. Jamaicans are very courageous and proud. You will not meet a Jamaican who does not have pride in self. My affinity for Jamaica runs deep – the nature, the music, the sea, the people, the walk and the talk, the invisible energy that lights up your senses the moment you touch soil.
7. You also wrote a number of articles for the VOGUE reggae revival feature, how do you think such renewed spotlight on Jamaican culture will impact reggae and Jamaican culture?
I think this new reggae renaissance that Jamaica is experiencing is very important because it focuses on positivity and light rather than the more aggressive, and sometimes negative energies and connotations of dancehall that is another defining voice of Jamaican culture. There’s undeniably a movement that’s happening, a dedicated momentum that is really trying to spread the message of Rastafari. I think the larger global audience would benefit from understanding the power and impact of Jamaican culture at its source. As I said before, there are many layers and a deeply rooted history that offer so much wisdom and learning.
8. You have worked with some legendary personalities on the island including Chris Blackwell of Island Records and Jon Baker of Geejam. Tell us about those experiences?
Well, I truly enjoyed meeting and working with Chris Blackwell. He’s a cultural icon and an incredible visionary – look what he did for reggae music and Bob Marley – but he’s so low key and relatable you feel quickly at ease in his company. I stayed on assignment at Goldeneye for a month one summer and fell in love with his hotel property. It’s like this natural and divine oasis. I went swimming and snorkeling every day, which is what his mother Blanche used to do, which is why Chris bought the property. Bob Marley’s name was on the deed originally and Chris bought it from him. Jon is a dear friend and esteemed mentor who I’ve worked with for over 12 years. He’s more or less the one who introduced me to Jamaica in the first place. I’ve learned quite a bit from him over time. He was in the early punk scene in the U.K., then the first wave of hip hop in New York, and heavily involved in music with his Gee Street label. So now he’s bringing a depth of experience and culture to Jamaica. He’s always been supportive of my work and I’ve done a lot of work for his Geejam brand. His boutique hotel in Port Antonio is my second home, and the staff is my second family.
9. Where do you find inspiration to write, to create your projects?
A number of things, music, friends, nature, experiences that catch me off guard or take me to meditative places. My best source of inspiration is the 3-hour drive from Kingston to Port Antonio in Jamaica. It almost feels like sailing because you’re driving through the bush along ribboning mountain roads shouldered by arching stretches of sea to the soundtrack of nature. It is a drive that I have made numerous times but one that never reveals itself fully, one that always holds back a new mystery, a new prelude to a window that offers discrete moments of awe.
10. What is your philosophy of life?
Live fiercely, love deeply, and work honestly.
11. How do you think you are contributing to the world through what you do?
Maybe I’m adding a voice that’s more unexpected or multidimensional. I’m a self-taught writer so my style is pretty non-traditional. My intent is to transcend popular culture and create original maps of prose.
12. What project are you working on?
Currently I’m working on an “I&I Redux” edition with Alessandro, with additional content – a kind of Part 2 – and the autobiography of VP Record’s matriarch Miss Patricia Chin.
13. What are your plans for the future? What are you committed to achieving going forward?
I would like to continuing publishing books and pieces that raise real questions and leave lasting impressions. In this digital age, so much depth of thought gets lost in translation. I would like to keep that spirit alive and convey a real sense of emotion and feeling in my work.
14. Where does your inspiration come from?
That feeling of being very close to the edge but totally enjoying yourself is what inspires me.
15. Last year you traveled to Havana, Cuba, tell us why you went and what was this experience like?
It was wonderful. I traveled with Michael Thompson and the VP Records crew and had a fantastic time in a city filled with beautiful decay and old world elegance. I could walk the streets of Havana forever – they are so magical, they literally caste a spell. I was there for a conference on Bob Marley that was very interesting and inspiring. Guest speakers from all over the world really elevated the conversation about his life and legacy.
16. Bob Marley’s message and music has definitely inspired the world, can you tell us which of the new reggae artists you believe is following in that direction?
Many of them, all of them are attempting to keep his spirit alive I would say. The Rasta faith and message of the music are as inseparable for them as they were for Bob. So it’s about teaching and learning and exchanging levels of knowledge and thought. It’s about channeling a consciousness that speaks to the positive potential and impact of social change.
17. What’s on your playlist these days?
Ini Kamoze, Dezarie, Buju Banton, and James Blake.
18. When will you visit Chetumal?
As soon as you tell me to come!!
Tags: Portraits, xtraORDINARY
- The Golden Age of Reggae: An Archival Romp With Roots Pioneer Patricia Chin by Anicée Gaddis
- Jamaica’s modern day Rastas are keeping the faith
I & I Interviews
- I & I Introduction
- I & I Essay: “Here Are Lions” Part 1of4 Chapters I-III
- I & I Essay: “Here Are Lions” Part 2of4 Chapters IV-VI
- I & I Essay: “Here Are Lions” Part 3of4 Chapters VII-IX
- I & I Essay: “Here Are Lions” Part 4of4 Chapters X-XII
- I & I Interview: Addis Pablo
- I & I Interview: Jah 9
- I & I Interview: Billy Mystic
- I & I Interview: Kabaka Pyramid
- I & I Interview: Mama Iyata
- I & I Interview: Yaadcore