Name: David Goldfine aka JAH David
Occupation: Bassist, songwriter, producer, composer
Current Events: David Goldfine was recently included in the "world music" category of greatest bassists to Bass Player Magazine. Also, his label Zion High Productions will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023.
Recommendations: Bunny Wailer: Blackheart Man; The autobiography of Haile Selassie, Volume One.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music at a very young age. Very elementary at first, just chords on a guitar and maybe trying to write a little lyric or something and sing along - even though I never sang after that.
I began producing when I was probably about 19-20. I started recording by producing beats with the MPC Akai by myself.
My early passions and influences I'd say were Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, hip hop. I love rap in general.
What drew me in is that it was just a natural love for the sound of music and the vibration. The groove of music, the drum, the connection to the earth.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Most of my early music experiences as a child were trying to emulate other music that I was hearing, and either the radio or recorded tapes that I had mostly from a guitar perspective. I'm a bass player, but at that time I was playing guitar and I think it was a crucial time and still is something that I use all the time and still do, learning parts from ear.
In terms of the tradition, one was always kind of feeding the other. The more I learned of other people's music and how to emulate what they were doing, the more I was able to freely explore music on my own from from my perspective on my instrument.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Well, my sense of identity is a Rastafari. It influences my creativity very much because I'm inspired by Rastafari - and my music even without lyrics seeks to glorify HIM.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main creative challenges in the beginning and even still, though I've gotten a handle on this a little better, is to find the right personnel to create with and the right studio to get the sound that that you desire. And it's changed because I have identified my set of players that I work with. I have a production team, Zion I Kings, that I work with all the time, composed of Andrew “Moon” Bain and Laurent "Tippy" Alfred. We also have a drummer now, Roberto Sanchez from Spain, and he is building drums remotely, from his personal studio.
So it's changed in a good way.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started off just a musician and then transitioned into being a producer. But I am more of an instrumentalist you know, a bass player focused producer rather than an engineer or anything like that.
This was in the late 90s, early 2000s, which was kind of pre-recording in the computer days. So as things moved more towards computer based recording, I picked up on it and I educated myself on DAW recording and eventually learned to mix. It's helped my workflow tremendously because I've been able to be independent in a lot of areas where I wasn't when I started.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Yeah, my experience has been very collaborative. I did start all on my own, producing with an MPC. But all of the music that I've ever released, at least on my label, has always been collaborative in some sense.
Right now, as I mentioned before, my production team Zion I Kings is very, very, very collaborative, not only in that we play our respective instruments on one another's productions and releases, but we also bounce mixes off of each other's ears and ask for input - not just sonically but creatively as well.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My day starts early. Well, I guess that's my perspective, but I'm usually up by seven or so. I leave the house early, and get my coffee at a coffee place locally. And then I come home and jump into work, my studio is at my house.
I'm either mixing or tracking bass for someone or creating something from scratch, sometimes a brand new composition. Some days, I'll have people at the studio voicing. I live in Florida, so I usually pause around noon or one and go out and walk around a little bit and get some exercise or ride my bicycle. Get some exercise in the sun. And then I'll come back and usually work a little more a couple hours.
And then I cook. I am a strict vegan. Ital livity. I start cooking around five or six. And then I just kind of spend time with my family after dinner. And music is kind of always playing. I listen to other music besides my own, especially when I'm done working.
My wife is very much into music. She's always playing music in the house, even when I'm not running my studio. Lots of roots reggae from the 70s and 80s and all kinds of music from those eras. But I also like a lot of new stuff. We would call it neo soul types of music as well. So we listen to quite a bit of that.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I wouldn't want to single anything out. But performing at the Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica in 2019 was definitely a highlight for me.
This is the Reggae festival with the biggest, most famous and highest reputation in the world. It's been around since, the early 70s, mid 70s, so I felt very felt very honored to be there and to play there. I guess I was working my whole life for that moment – not so much consciously, but every other word that I put in, led to that moment. I never dreamed of it or even thought it would be possible.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me, being creative is just kind of an empty slate. Not really thinking about anything too specific. JAH was my inspiration and it's like he is just kind of working through me, through my hands & through my art.
To me, the creative process is not something that should be really thought about too much, but more just just something that you do, something that you remain open for.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I've never really had an experience where music hurt me. I guess that might have to do with the musical choices that I'm making. But listening has definitely been healing. It's happened so many times that you hear a song, you hear music, hear a sound, and it just uplifts you. It makes you forget about whatever experiences you were going through, leading up to that moment where you hear that sound and the sound overcomes, supersedes those feelings of whatever it might be - pain, hurt, whatever. The music comes in and just takes you to a different place.
And if you can listen to that kind of music for two and three hours, by the time it's done, the problem may not be solved. But you're definitely in a different state of mind than you were before you began this.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I don't really see the strict lines that people try to draw. There's different formats, different genres, you have blues, you have rock, you have reggae, you know, r&b, hip hop, all of these things. But to me, they're very similar. When it comes to some deeper cultural forms of music, like African drumming, and chanting and Brazilian indigenous music, Aboriginal indigenous forms of music, that's where I think it can get it can get funny.
But then I don't think that you can really emulate those kinds of expressions because they're coming from such a deeply rooted place in the culture and the earth and society in those kind of more tribal communities. That's where I guess I would draw the line.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The most I can say about this here is that I'm sure it happens. The first thing that jumps into my mind, you know, goose pimples, you know, like, a lot of times I'll hear music and it will literally just make the hair on my arm stand up.
I've had other times where hearing a certain sound triggers my sense of emotion as well. And I may get slightly emotional just from hearing something.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My art definitely seeks to liberate the minds and hearts of people. I know that sounds like a big undertaking but what we really want politically is for people to just show one another love. To stop focusing on the things that make us separate and start thinking about more things that bring us together and that give us a common human thread in the world.
Taking that kind of social and political stance is part of my mission to seek to unite people through the sound of music and the love of music and life itself.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I believe this is interpretive for the listener. It's up to the individual listener and what may be going through their mind and their head as they're listening and what the sounds might provoke that individual in that moment.