Candice Wicks-Davis is one of those prolific people with their hand in almost everything. A musician, educator, activist and entrepreneur, she knows the payoffs of hard work and dedication. The only thing is that she makes it look like, well, not hard work.
That's because she's driven by passion, a fuel that's propelled her all over the world from her home in Oakland to Iran, Spain, Cuba, Ghana and beyond. That global perspective has proven valuable, as I found out talking to her about her work. With involvement in Edutainment for Equity, Young Gifted & Black, and the Life is Living Festival, Wicks-Davis is part of the a capella quartet Antique Naked Soul, but also performs as Candice Antique — and today we're glad to premiere her video for "Nappy," a song about "advocating for and affirming self-love as the first step to end cultural transformation."
Your work has taken you all over the world. What sort of perspective has that given you on America?
Oh, wow... so much. One that's fairly recent was being in Ghana, and dealing with police. I have dreadlocks, my husband has dreadlocks, the person that works with us in Ghana does as well, and there's a certain amount of profiling that happens with people who have dreadlocks. So we were getting pulled over quite a bit while we were there. But the difference was that we were able to have full-on discussions and arguments with police without worry about losing our lives as three black people. If we were here, I can't imagine what would have happened.
I think also that we have a lot. When you go to these other places in the world, materially people don't have as much, and I don't think they're missing it. It makes you think about how much we really need, and just how much we expect. Over the course of the last couple of years, I've been really purging things, getting rid of things, and really trying to only have what I need in order to feel comfortable.
It's also taught me, being here in America as a black woman, you don't ever really think about being an American. You think about being black, and what that brings, and the types of discrimination you experience on a daily basis. But when you're in another country, it's almost like your race gets de-centered and your nationality becomes central. So I wanted to be mindful of how we show up as Americans, and the ways that we can be really insightful, and helpful, and useful instead of the ways that we can be really entitled, and rude, and overbearing.
San Francisco's already lost a lot of its black population, and in Oakland, the same thing is happening. How does your work react to that loss?
In Edutainment for Equity, my company, we are really trying to help businesses and institutions and companies think about the resource and the power of diversity — that when you have a team that's homogenized, you lose perspective. You lose the ability to reach a map of people. There's monetary value in diversity: your customer service is better, your ability to reach new customer segments is better, everything is better when there's a diversity of experience and perspective in the room. So that work is fully around wanting to not only push for companies to look for ways to incorporate more diversity into their demographics of their business, but also how to create an environment that's inclusive and respectful and nurturing of that diversity, and that doesn't shut it down or tokenize it.
The other part of the work is we've been doing our best to try to document and archive what was here. I think that's what Young, Gifted & Black does. It archives the experience of black Oakland, when Oakland was a black city, primarily. We make sure to incorporate the local kind of heroes, and local celebrities, and local people who have been doing so much to fight for equality and justice and equity within this city in particular.
I would also say that gentrification is a part of the reason that we're pushing the extension of our work onto an international platform. Because the more that the population in the Bay Area of diverse people shrinks, they're going somewhere. And if we want to continue to serve those communities, we have to be where they are. It's a shame that we can't all exist in this city together, and that money means more than human beings. But that's clearly the choice that's been made in this city.
With your work with Young, Gifted & Black, and in general, what do you most want to impart to young people in Oakland?
Ultimately, for my own journey, self-love was a critical part of me being able to accomplish anything. So to me, I want to impart pride in yourself: in your cultural identity, your national identity, your racial identity, your gender, whatever it is about you, your feeling about who that person is that you're looking at in the mirror is the foundation for your life. And if you look in the mirror and you see something that you hate, there are a lot of things that you're not going to do. There are a lot of things that you won't pursue because you won't feel like you're worthy of pursuing an opportunity that would make you so happy, or help you to manifest your full self.
When we take young people to Africa, one of the things that they've said consistently across the board, different groups of children and youth that we've taken, is that they've never felt like race wasn't an issue until they were in Africa. One of our kids even said that "I forgot that I was even black, because everybody's like me and the statues look like me, and the magazine pictures look like me, and the billboard people look like me, and the people when I go to the bank or the grocery store, they look like me." There's something about seeing your own image and having it affirmed and validated.
Young, Gifted & Black, to me, that's the deepest function of it — to create a space that feels validating and that affirms you, and teaches history that you're never taught in school about who you were. It helps to recover the histories that were erased. And to me, that's critical. If you have a strong sense of self, there's nothing that can stop you from being whoever you're supposed to be in the world.
I have to ask you about this, it's even in your official bio, that you "touched Prince's hand at a concert." What did you learn from Prince's life and his music?
He's someone who showed me how to make my own way. He's someone who showed me that there are boxes that exist, but they don't have to apply to you. He's someone who showed me that you, in and of yourself, you are art. And everything about you is art.
I think he defied the boundaries of genre, he defied the boundaries of gender, he defied the boundaries of race, and people couldn't place him. They couldn't place him in a category, and I think that's why we love him so much, and that's why a lot of people were afraid of Prince's music and didn't want it played, and didn't want him performing. And that, to me, is when you're really pushing the envelope, that's when you're really forwarding and trailblazing, is when there are a contingent of people who are confused by who you are and they can't, in their mind, figure out where to put you. So I try to strive for that as much as I can in my music, in my business, and just in my life in general. How can I be everything and nothing at the same time? He was a master at that. At just blazing his own path. And you can come along or not.
To me, he also represented self-love and a self-acceptance that was really brave and courageous, especially I that time, especially in the early '80s, the late '70s. To be who he was at the time was groundbreaking. And so I strive for that in everything I do.
What does your ideal future look like for women artists in the Bay Area?
Hopefully we'll still be here and be able to afford to still live in the city! My ideal future would be... I think we have a scene, but we don't have an industry. And so I'm hoping that all of the talent here draws people who can help us to build a business industry around our local music scene. I think our music scene is so unique — the art is everywhere, and the art is high-quality, and it's beautiful. I hope that we can draw industry here.
I also hope that we can use our music more intentionally as a tool for changing actual circumstances. One of the ways traveling has changed me, too, is that the song is not enough. The music in and of itself is not enough. We have to also do something. We also have to have action behind the music.
I don't want us to take gentrification lying down and just write songs about what we used to be. I want us to write songs and also put pressure on people to have policies that don't allow these types of things to happen. I want to empower a generation of young people to not tolerate it happening again. That's my hope.
A new album by Candice Antique called 'Afrikantique,' a sonic reflection of travels throughout Africa, is being released on Oct. 15. For more details, see her site.
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