It’s the coldest day of winter that New York has experienced so far. Joe, a quaint coffee shop tucked away on a quiet block in the West Village, has a gentle buzz as college students and residents of the neighborhood gather for warm drinks and casual conversation. But seated at a corner table with not a drop of caffeine in sight, Jamel Prodigy is beaming with light and energy.
“I feel like I’m free. Like I’m living in my truth,” he says, with a smile beaming from ear to ear. There’s a happiness and aura surrounding him that one can only have once they’ve truly defined and found what makes them happy. For the legendary Vogue dancer and frequent FKA Twigs collaborator, life is good. But the journey to get here most certainly wasn’t easy.
“I lost a lot of my confidence in dancing. All of my friends were taller and bigger,” Jamel remembers. His friends were easily booking tours as dancers for artists like Aaliyah, Usher, and Missy. But because he was shorter and slimmer, he was often left behind. He’d made a name for himself in the vogue community, becoming a well-known and well-respected dancer. But he made the decision to leave it all behind until a chance encounter at New York gay nightclub Escuelita’s Vogue Nights.
“I was out with my friend [noted performer and choreographer] Jonté. He mentioned that he wanted me to teach his friend from London how to vogue.” Jamel immediately rejected the idea because he’d made the conscious decision to leave dancing behind and didn’t view himself as a teacher. Jonté’s friend from London was none other than alternative recording artist FKA Twigs. After meeting Twigs, as Jamel calls her, he recognized her face from promotional posters that he’d seen all over New York. He’d never heard her music, which he shared with her, but he was a fan of the artwork. “She appreciated that I was authentic in that moment,” he says. Twigs wanted to connect with him, and they headed into the studio the next day to dance.
But fate had a different plan for them. “We didn’t even rehearse. We just cried.” Both Jamel and FKA Twigs bonded over similar issues each was having in their relationships at the time and became friends, forming a “genuine, spiritual connection.”
At the time of their chance meeting, Jamel had already put in his two weeks’ notice at his job in restaurant PR, unsure of exactly what was next. “It’s how the universe works. That opportunity presented itself. I put that into the universe and look how it came back!” He sounds astounded still about the connection and this turning point in his life.
For many, a connection with an artist of FKA Twigs’ magnitude would signal a major shift in one’s career. But for Jamel, this was more of a major shift for his direction in life.
“It did more for my spirit than it did for my career. I was so focused on creating Derek. My name is Derek Jamel Auguste. My family calls me Jamel. I was Derek at work and school. Derek was the organizer, the business rep, the manager. Working with her reminded me that it’s all the same fucking person.” After he stopped dancing, Jamel got involved in various aspects of the entertainment industry including wardrobing, styling, consulting, and artist management. But it was the artist deep down that was yearning to get out. “It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and.”
Jamel credits FKA Twigs with reigniting his passion to dance and create. “She promoted me and pushed me. Own your art. Be you. How often do you live in your truth? Jamel Prodigy has been reborn.”
He doesn’t place any particular title or label on the work he does for FKA Twigs. “We’re friends. If we place those types of titles on it, it creates inauthentic energy. I’ve danced, choreographed, done brand partnerships. I do it from a place of contribution and passion. Titles and money are so limiting. A genuine thank you trumps any check. It’s great to work for someone who truly values you.”
Watch Jamel Prodigy in action in the video above at the 1:54 mark. This performance is from the FKA Twigs' Congregata show this past summer in NYC.
In terms of the future, Jamel is as busy as ever. In addition to his continuing work with FKA Twigs for 2016 (which he refers to as “the year of Twigs in America”), Jamel is embarking on a journey as an experimental artist. He’s partnered with innovative electronics company Soundwall to create “Juxtapose”, in which he created a painting while voguing. The canvas isn’t just any canvas though. The 9”x 8” canvas doubles as a hi fidelity speaker unit. The art experiment was photographed and captured on video. The final art piece will be exhibited on Feb. 17 as part of a Fashion Week event, and he has been commissioned to create 6 additional hi fidelity art pieces with Soundwall.
Also on his plate, he continues to manage artists such as rapper Luvaboy TJ and up and coming recording artist Madame Ghandi (former drummer for MIA and Interscope records exec). He recently collaborated with rapper Lil' Mama for a mixtape project. And a full website launch is in order in the coming month.
As far as next steps go, there isn’t so much of a solid plan as there is a willingness to go where the art takes him. “I want to leave behind a legacy around just living in your highest possibility and being your authentic self 100% of the time. I want to use my art to inspire people to be who they are today. Don’t commit to a year or five years [from now]. I’m living in my moment. I’m an experimental artist. It’s my truth right now in real time.”