As co-founding member of Zion High Productions and bassist for Zion I Kings, David “Jah D” Goldfine is one of modern roots’ most ardent and respected torch-bearers. Along with I Grade Records and Lustre Kings, Zion High has been the catalyst behind one of the most fascinating transformational periods for reggae in recent memory. He shares his story with Midnight Raver.
“From a youth it was always quick for me. I didn’t have to work you know, I used to be upstairs with my head against the speaker and I would just try to play what I heard. So before the song on the radio would end I’d almost be on point. I kind of had an idea where the song was going and the chord structure you know. Sometimes I would just close my eyes and meditate on His Majesty and the music just come. It always came so natural to I. It is such a blessing, king.”
Jah David (David Goldfine), Grammy-nominated reggae musician/producer and co-founder of Zion High Productions and Zion I Kings, discusses his musical talents and major influences in a rare interview with Midnight Raver.
“Family Man, like full hundred…is my top influence, and I think is the greatest reggae bassist ever to live. Hands down. The type of bassline he comes with and the type of feel that he has is just unparalleled. Man In The Hills, that was Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and Family Man…that album came out in like 1977? I know that one well. When I first heard the album I was like ‘Whoa!’ And then I got Dry and Heavy and Dry and Heavy was even harder than Man In The Hills. So I just gravitated to the reggae so hard because the basslines would just penetrate me in a way that nothing else had before.
I am a reggae bass player full hundred to a fault you know. To be completely honest with you its all I really play, like if somebody wants me to play a bassline on something else that has a different feel, its basically like ‘so you want a reggae bass on it then’ (laughing). You know what I’m saying?”
The story of Zion High Productions is the story of reggae in America. It is a story of commitment, persistence, an abiding faith in Rastafari, and an unwillingness to compromise regardless of the costs. A bond between two bredren which was forged in a San Diego record shop more than twenty years ago is now the force behind one of the most respected and influential production houses in reggae, and one third of the roots collective largely responsible for the most inventive and transformational period for reggae in more than thirty years. Zion I Kings is the holy trinity of modern roots reggae production – a seriously heavy production collective which includes Lustre Kings Productions (Corrin Haskell, Andrew ‘Moon’ Bain), Zion High Productions (David “Jah David” Goldfine, Ras Elliott, Quashi) and I-Grade Records (Laurent “Tippy” Alfred).
In 2002, David “Jah David” Goldfine and Ras Elliott Leib of Zion High Productions teamed up with legendary drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis (Soul Syndicate, Roots Radics) to produce and record a set of heavy roots tracks. Those tracks would later appear on Yami Bolo’s Rebelution/Rebelution in Dub set in 2003. Jah David spoke about the album during our recent interview.
“We did some tracks with Santa…Jah Oil (Gary “Jah Oil” Walton of Jah Blood Fiya Angels, Wailing Souls) and me…that’s what kind of started the whole thing is we had done these tracks at a real nice studio with Santa and put down about five riddims. I remember just being blown away, like this is way bigger than just I & I. You know hearing those first versions of “Liberation” and “Talk ‘Bout Slavery” with Bunny Mystic General Jah Mikey. I remember the sound quality coming through so high and Santa was like the best drummer I ever heard.”
In its review of Rebelution, Rick Anderson of AllMusic wrote:
“Rebelution is among [Bolo’s] most satisfying albums, which is high praise given the quality of his previous work with such A-list producers as Sugar Minott and Augustus Pablo. Some of the credit for this album’s success goes to legendary producer Hopeton “Scientist” Brown, who was at the controls for these sessions, and some to the presence of legendary drummer Santa Davis, whose steady hand and subtly elegant flourishes make close listening a pleasure. But Bolo himself is the architect and guiding hand of this sound, and he deserves the lion’s share of the credit.”
The Yami Bolo album, which was Zion High’s very first full-length studio production, was a long time coming. As a child growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, Jah David learned to play violin at the age of eight. However, it was his love of reggae that eventually led him to the bass guitar.
“I started violin at like eight you know through school and I moved to guitar by the time I was ten…nine or ten. So I played guitar from the time I was nine until I was sixteen or so when I started playing bass. That was the time when reggae had sort of taken over everything. I was like fifteen or sixteen when I discovered Culture and Burning Spear and Israel Vibration and the Itals and I started going and buying all the albums. I was going deep you know…I would really try to concentrate on one artist at a time. I would go buy up their whole catalogue. I was so inspired by everything I listened to…I would just eat it up like food.”
After playing in several reggae outfits in the Providence, Rhode Island area Jah D looked west to California, eventually landing at the legendary Trade Roots record shop, San Diego’s premier reggae/record shop owned and operated by Ras Elliott Leib AKA Ram Jam Sound. Jah D spent his days exploring reggae vinyl, immersing himself in Rasta literature, and reasoning with the locals. In his off time, he and Jah Oil formed the backbone of Jah Blood & Fyah Angels, a highly-respected reggae outfit founded by catalyst/leader Shaga Hill specializing in roots-based reggae dub. They recorded and performed with artists like Mikey Dread, Johnny Osborne, Tippa Irie, the Meditations, Yami Bolo, and others.
“I found myself in California with some childhood friends who I sighted up Rastafari with. So then it was all about forming a reggae band and from that point forward music just consumed I & I. We were doing open mics, hip-hop, breakdance, hip-hop competition. My bredren Jah Oil, he plays guitar with Wailing Souls, he is a great, great musician. We started to experiment with four-tracks. Then I had another bredren named Archangel…we started working together…he was my key bredren and he had a four-tack and played keyboards and was a singer. So we just started laying things down on the four-track and those were like the first recordings I ever did.”
For their part, Zion High Productions would go on to produce conscious roots reggae albums with the likes of Glen Washington (Masterpiece, 2012), Ras Attitude (Holding Firm, 2005), Messenger Selah (Breaking Babylon Curse, 2009), Lloyd Brown (Rootical, 2013), Cornell Campbell (New Scroll, 2013), Ziggi Recado (Therapeutic, 2014), several riddim albums (Red Razor and Jah Warriah) and a couple various artists compilations (Jah Golden Throne and Nyacoustic Chants). These albums feature Zion High producing a whole host of talented reggae artists from Jamaica, US Virgin Islands, and the UK.
Nyacoustic Chants, Zion High Productions continues to evolve the modern sound of reggae. The album features the best artists of yesterday and today unplugged over brilliantly-produced nyabinghi-style percussion riddims. The album is proof-positive that Zion High seeks neither fortune nor fame with their productions. They are wholly committed to revolutionizing the sound of reggae roots and expanding its influence at any cost.
Jah David in a 2014 interview with Black Iwa TV
In this 2015 interview Dubspot catches up with Andrew “Moon” Bain, Laurent “Tippy” Alfred, and Jah David, members of the roots reggae production house Zion I Kings, at the legendary Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston. Zion I Kings’ (Zion High Productions, I Grade Records, and Lustre Kings Productions). In this interview, the trio talk about their collaborative and individual creative processes for producing riddims, how they individually and collectively utilize different sound recording technologies (including Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Akai APC).
Through their works over the past decade Zion I Kings have presided over a period of enlightenment which saw a “musical repatriation” of reggae back to its roots. It is a repatriation that occured within the hearts, minds, and souls of righteous and well-intentioned artists and producers, and manifested in an undeniable transformation in the word, sound, and power of reggae music itself. Zion I Kings has not only been present for this transformation, they have been the driving force behind the entire movement as they are, without a doubt, the most creative, innovative, and inventive production team to emerge in reggae in more than three decades. It is the consistent high quality of their productions and the pioneering spirit behind bold ideas like the ambitious Dub in the Rainforest series (a throwback to the Rastafari tradition of Grounations) that place Zion I Kings at the forefront of the modern roots movement.
Dub in the Rainforest IV
Mount Victory Camp in St. Croix, Virgin Islands
December 15, 2013
On a conceptual level, Zion I Kings was established in 2006. Jah D discusses, in-depth, the history of this collaborative production team.
“Its actually right around the time we finished the Yami Bolo album. Tippy (Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred of I-Grade Records/I-Grade Dub) was living in New York at the time. Moon (Andrew “Moon” Bain of Lustre Kings) and I had linked from earlier on…like 1999 or 2000. So pretty much when the Lustre Kings label came out, anything that had a bass on it…it was me. When they first came out they were doing some digital/dancehall stuff that they issued on 45s in Jamaica but right after that we started doing more roots-styled riddims. So I was playing bass on all that stuff. So Moon and I had been working together for a while before any of this…I’m talking before Jah Blood & Fyah Angels, everything. So he and I would just keep the link. He was actually living in Rhode Island so whenever I would go back home to visit we would always link and do something…record…we would always do something when I was in town.
So in like 2003-2004 both Moon and Tippy were living in New York and producing and they met one another. They started towork together and collaborate on some things. I actually met Tippy when Zion High was doing the Ras Attitude project (Holding Firm, 2005) because Attitude knew Tippy from the Virgin Islands. So Tippy actually produced some tracks on that album.
We were doing little things between 2003 and like 2006. For example, if he was working on an album he would ask me if I had any riddims, and I would send him some and he’d be like ‘Oh yeah, I want to use this one for the Niyorah album or…so from 2003 or 2004 we were already collaborating but in 2006 Tippy brought Moon and I down to the Virgin Islands to do recording sessions strictly…that is all we were doing…like we were there about a week and we recorded six of the seven days we were down there…and we just had long recording sessions. Vaughn (Benjamin of Midnite) was there for like four of the sessions. So from that time on…I don’t think we branded Zion I Kings in 2006 but we’ve been working since then with the same type of closeness and involvement in each other’s projects.”
While Zion I Kings have been most closely associated with American reggae artists like Midnite, Pressure, and Jahdan Blakkamore, they are highly respected within Jamaican reggae circles, having done brilliant work with Jamaican artists like Lutan Fyah, Glen Washington, Lloyd Brown, Jah9, Duane Stephenson, Eddie Fitzroy, Turbulence, Cornell Campbell, and Michael Rose. There is no doubt that many of the artists responsible for the so-called “reggae revival” in Jamaica have been significantly influenced by Zion I Kings. In fact, Chronixx and Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred will be collaborating on a project soon come.
“Jamaican artists and musicians accept us very openly. We’ve always had a great response and people are always eager to collaborate and they are always vocal about loving the vibes and loving the sound. We’ve done so much work with so many Jamaican artists…I mean the list goes on and on…I don’t even think people are aware of how much work we do with Jamaican artists. But these works will never achieve “hit” status in Jamaica…I mean the type of songs we do…our sound…it’s just not something that will ever achieve “hit” status in Jamaica, or London, or New York City. Our music is being played online and on the blogs.
But its nothing but love for Jamaica. I mean our drummer, Junior Richards, is Jamaican. He is the foundation of Zion I Kings’s sound. And he is a full-on Jamaican drummer. In fact, his father Richard Ace is a very famous producer within Jamaica…I think he has credit on every single Gladiators album. He’s a pianist and he used to have a rehearsal yard. So Junior grew up watching like Sly and Robbie play in his father’s rehearsal yard.”
Richard Ace was indeed a member of the most influential studio band to ever emerge from Jamaica, the Sound Dimensions (formerly the Soul Vendors), the house band at Studio One. He was also founder of the Rhythm Aces, a vocal group which also included Boris Gardiner, Dennis Moss, and Winston Delano Stewart.
Unbeknownst to even the most ardent Zion I Kings fans, their work has even bee nominated for a Grammy Award for work that was included on Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated. Jah D speaks about the unlikely way in which they received the nod:
“I mean its like when Snoop calls you at least gonna check it out…maybe you can eat some for or something you know (laughing)! The call came through Moon…he and Jahdan were doing some writing for the sessions that were going down in Jamaica. So Major Lazer and Diplo got Moon involved and one of our tracks over the Breadfruit riddim…Moon played it for Snoop when he was down there and Snoop was like ‘I need this’ type of thing. But we had already released two songs on that riddim and they didn’t like that…it was almost like a deal-breaker. But Snoop wasn’t gonna release the album without that riddim…he needed that riddim for the album. So they ended up hiring Stewart Copeland (drummer) from The Police to produce it and play it. But we were like ‘yo that’s still the same riddim.’ So we got writing and co-production credits and both Moon, Tippy and I got Grammy plaques.”
Zion I Kings latest release, Lion of Judah Riddim (Zion I Kings Riddim Series, Vol. 4) is a signature Zion I Kings arrangement anchored by Junior Richards’ drumming and Jah D’s (David Goldfine of Zion High Productions) killer bassline. Round it out with Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred on guitar and organ and Drew Keys on piano and you have a quintessential Zion I Kings modern roots riddim. The album is the best riddim compilation of 2015 and just might be Zion I Kings’ best riddim yet. It exemplifies the “I-Grade sound” – a roots heavy sound characterized by an authentic and profound spiritual intensity and multi-layered percussive soundscapes which give the sound a deeply reverential and ceremonial feel. It is a riddim that commands outstanding performances from each of the supremely talented artists included in the set.
1. Lion of Judah Celebrityz Hornz Version
2. Rastafari Get The Victory by Pressure
3. Too Much Ramshackle by Lutan Fyah
4. Conquering Lion (I Grade Dub Live mix) by Akae Beka
5. Lion Of Judah by Don Carmelo
6. Black Lion by Ziggi Recado
7. Lion Of Judah (I Grade Dub mix) by Zion I Kings
While the Grammy nod is nice, Zion I Kings truly take to heart their work on Midnite’s Beauty for Ashes, which won Itunes’ Best Reggae Album of the Year in 2014. They followed with the critically-acclaimed album Ride Tru which ranks with Beauty for Ashes as two of Midnite’s best albums in a decade.
“Same I Ah One” from Beauty for Ashes features Jah D’s brutal bassline and killer drumming from our good friend Wilburn “Squidly” Cole.
“Ride Tru” features Jah D on bass and our friends Justin Matthew Cooney and Matt ‘Roots’ Craig of Virginia roots outfit Machet on percussion.
2016 will surely be a great year for Zion I Kings fans as releases are planned for Lutan Fyah, Pressure, and maybe even a Chronixx project. Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred will most assuredly be adding their newest and heaviest to his traveling live dub set. Jah D will continue his mission of bringing positive music to the people as he sees it as his main purpose in life.
“Jah chose we you know. Jah chose we because He chose we to find him as Ras Tafari. There is a parable in the Book of Matthew that says something like if Jah give you talent and you don’t use it, and you bury it, He will take your talent away from you…give it to the next one. You know there are some men with many purposes but when you get right down to it there is a main purpose why every man is here…something for you to focus on, perfect and develop. To me, that is what we are here for. We know we have the talent. Jah blessed it…can’t bury it. And music, it is our life…and sometimes you say we have to suffer for it, especially as a Rastafari, even sometimes as a reggae musician, but definitely as a Rastafari. We have to suffer some type a way.”
Jah David mixes it up with Queen Ifrica at Carnival St. Croix 2016