Zion High Productions is one part of acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings, responsible for a number of major releases in recent years. Zion High Productions has now been alive and kicking for ten years and Reggaemani took the chance to catch up with Jah David, bass player and musical director. He spoke freely about being a reggae musician, about Zion I Kings and also revealed some exciting upcoming projects.
David “Jah David” Goldfine is one third of Zion High Productions and lives near Tampa, Florida. The two other members, Ras Elliott and Quashi, live in Oregon and West Palm Beach, Florida.
Zion High Productions is a production house and a label and the story started ten years ago in San Diego, California, where Ras Elliott owned and operated a record shop called Trade Roots Reggae, a mainstay of the southern California reggae scene for almost 20 years. Jah David worked there and he and his childhood friend Jah Oil – an early member of Zion High Productions – were in the bands Kush and Jah Bloodfyah Angels.
“Yami Bolo’s Rebelution was our first project,” remembers Jah David, and continues:
“It was a great project and a great learning experience for me as a producer, writer and bass player. We had Santa Davis from Soul Syndicate on drums and Scientist as an engineer. Ras Michael was also involved in the project. It was a wonderful experience and we made great music inspired by Haile Selassie the First.”
Shortly after the release on Rebelution Jah Oil left and Quashi came onboard.
From violin and guitar to the bass
Jah David has been playing music since he was around seven years old. He started with the violin, but moved on to acoustic guitar and later played in various rock bands. He started listening to reggae, especially Bob Marley, as a kid, and when in his early teens his interest in reggae gained momentum with artists like Burning Spear, Culture and a little Israel Vibration.
“From that time, when I was around 15, I forgot the guitar. I was feeling the bass. I listened to Familyman and I felt those bass lines and I thought ‘I know I can play that’. It seemed so simple, but it is so complex,” explains Jah David with a calm, almost soothing, voice, and continues:
“I picked up the bass and started seeking Jah at the same time. Jah Oil and I started our reggae journey together; me as a bass player and he as a guitarist.”
I reach Jah David on the phone from his home studio. He has just finished recording dubplates together with Glen Washington and he says that they are also recording a new album together. No title yet though since the project is in its formative stage. Jah David is not like other producers or label owners when it comes to talking about new and upcoming releases. Many usually keep quite on work in progress, while Jah David speaks freely about what is about to come from him and his collaborators.
Forming the Zion I Kings
But let’s come back to the releases and continue with the fruitful collaboration between Zion High Productions, I Grade Records and Lustre Kings, more commonly known as the Zion I Kings.
Andrew “Moon” Bain, guitarist and musical director in Lustre Kings, started working together with Jah David, prior to Jah David’s involvement in Zion High Productions. Jah David played bass and was co-producer on one of Lustre Kings’ releases in the early days.
“My first love is the bass and I’m a bassie. I was playing sessions for Lustre Kings and worked on the Culture Dem album. I also did some singles before that, like 12-13 years ago. I was working on singles in Jamaica and material from Sizzla, Capleton, Al Pancho and Lutan Fyah. Lutan was just busting and started to get a buzz and I worked on the first Lutan Fyah album,” remembers Jah David, and continues:
“Tippy [keyboard player and owner of I Grade Records] and I met through Ras Attitude. We were working on the Holding Firm album. He said he had a good brethren in St Croix and Tippy had produced a great song, which he wanted to include on the album. Ever since that we have been working together,” he explains, and adds:
“Moon and Tippy met around the same time in New York City and that closed the circle. Moon is a great guitarist, Tippy is a great keyboard player and I play the bass. We are all producers and engineers. Zion I Kings – bass, keys and guitar. And we do sessions with different drummers.”
Their classy productions have gained lots of interest around the world and the trio was recently involved in the much discussed and talked about Snoop Lion album. The breezy Breadfruit riddim, that provided the basis for Lloyd Brown’s Just So That You Know, was utilized for Snoop Lion’s So Long, a standout cut on his Grammy nominated album Reincarnated.
“It was really through Moon. That’s Zion I King’s involvement. He worked a lot on the project together with Jahdan [Blakkamoore]. They were hired by Diplo to go to Jamaica and help write for the album. They were hired to write lyrics and melodies. Not music,” he explains.
For the love of the music
Zion High Productions is a small label, even though it has put out a number of major and much talked about albums, including the aforementioned Yami Bolo album and the Jah Golden Throne compilation. And just as for many other labels the reality is harsh and Zion High Productions struggles with balancing costs and revenues.
“The most challenging is figuring out a way to make our business profitable. To stay afloat,” explains Jah David.
It’s however crystal clear that Jah David and his partners are not in this business for the money. They do it for the love of the music and for the love of Rastafari.
“This is our vehicle to glorify and praise Rastafari. It is our mission and we are using the talents we have been blessed with.”
But running a label and being a producer takes time, energy and money, and great response and wide file sharing does not translate well into dollars on the bank account.
“Everything costs. Lights have to be turned on and we need to bring in other musicians. I’d love if it becomes more profitable,” he explains, and adds:
“When we invest in a CD we usually make money, but not the kind of money we would like to see. There is support for CD and physical products, but it doesn’t cover the total cost of putting it together. It takes more than we are seeing. Everyone feels good artistically, but not monetary,” he says and adds that he’s not really preoccupied with dealing with file sharing and that he rather focuses on writing a bass line or mixing a song.
Being one with the music is important to Jah David and the response he gets from fans and other musicians are some of the greatest rewards.
“That the world hears the message, accepts the message and feels good about it; that’s the biggest reward. We are not making music for ourselves; we make it for the world to hear. That’s my greatest accomplishment. People in Africa, in Asia and in Budapest have heard my works,” he concludes.
Working with Lloyd Brown
Jah David has worked on countless of albums, compilations and singles and it is hard for him to pick favorite projects. To him they are all special and unique. But after a while when he has thought the question over he comes up with a few suggestions, most of them being upcoming projects rather than already released ones.
“I’m really excited about the Lloyd Brown album. This is something else. This is my album. Boy, I’m very excited about this one. This album is very different from every other Lloyd Brown album. To me Lloyd is like a virtual soul singer, like John Coltrane on sax, or Miles on trumpet. That’s how he is on the microphone,” explains an excited Jah David, and continues:
“I have been a fan of Lloyd for a long time. I used to tour with Tippa Irie and he and Lloyd are close, so I got introduced to him by Tippa.”
Lloyd Brown and Tippa Irie also had a combination on the Jah Golden Throne compilation called Make It Work.
“They have done so many things together. Lloyd heard the Make it Work riddim and contacted me. We linked and he wanted to listen to some other riddims. I sent him the Breadfruit riddim and he loved it and said we should do an album. From there it just went on,” he says and reveals two other upcoming projects:
“We are also doing an instrumental album from Jah Bless. It will be eclectic with a lot of dub, horns, solos and jazz. I’m really excited about that. And we are also doing an album with Ziggi Recado.”
Hopes for the future
Capleton, Lutan Fyah, Prezident Brown and Yami Bolo. The list of artists that Jah David has worked with is long. There are a few artists he has yet to work with, but aim for in the future.
“Lloyd was a big one for me. And I’d really want to do more with Queen Omega. She has voiced a tune on the Jah Warrior riddim [drops on February 25] and also has a combination on the Lloyd Brown album. I’d love to do an album with her,” he explains, and continues:
“I have never done any work with Tarrus Riley. I really love him from a technical production standpoint. Don’t know about an album, maybe just a record.”
Re-worked a Cornel Campbell album
Another recent release from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings is Cornel Campbell’s New Scroll, a rootsy and melodic set jam-packed with the usual memorable hooks and bright horns arrangements. The story of the album goes back many years. Actually almost ten years. So let’s take it from the beginning.
“Ras Elliott has been a fan of Cornel Campbell for years. Elliott is an elder to me and could almost be my father. He has been into Cornel Campbell for 30 to 35 years. He’s a huge fan. Owns all of his records on vinyl and the whole thing. He has also known Cornel for years. And when he toured the west coast around 2004/2005 Ras Elliott was the tour manager. He called me and said ‘Jah D, book some studio time in Florida. We are coming there to voice and record an album, ’” he says with great excitement, and continues:
“He came for a week, but we weren’t satisfied with the result. We didn’t have enough time and I was much greener than I am now. My approach then was like a more hands-off approach. It didn’t happen and we moved on to other projects. But then finally, about a year ago, he came to Tampa again and we redid the album. One or two new songs are new, but the bulk of it is the same with different riddim tracks. The songs have been reworked and rearranged from the originals in a way where it seemed to become better. The result is great.”
On a mission
Jah David is a humble and dedicated musician that knows his talent and skills. People in the business know him by the trail of relentless bass lines he has provided the world with. And when he works with artists they can expect two things.
“First, it’s the music. Whenever I play a riddim for any of these artists, Capleton, Sizzla etc, they get excited. They shout when I play the bass. Even in the beginning, in the Culture Dem days. I play real reggae music. That’s the main thing,” he says, and continues:
“Secondly, the fact we are heartical Rasta and that we’re serious about the misson. People know what we’re about.”