David was born in Birmingham, raised in Jamaica and has been living in London for a while now. Everybody who has been listening to drum & bass for a while will be able to sing along to these lines: “If you’re a bad boy, you’ll end up on the run, if you’re a rude boy…” We had a conversation about what has been going on in David Boomah’s life in the past twenty years. You may want to get a cup of tea and a comfy chair as this is a long interview.
Let’s talk about something that is a big part of your life that probably not too many people are aware of. Tell me about how you got involved in youth work.
I’ve been involved in youth work for about twenty years now. I got into it in 1992. At the time me and UK Apache used to hang out a lot and he had a friend that was a youth worker. This friend was working in a youth club and she was putting on an event where she had some girls singing and she wanted someone to help them with their singing. Apache asked if I would go down and help. So I went down to the youth club and met with this youth worker and volunteered my time for the summer holidays to help these girls with their singing. I loved it, just absolutely loved it. I loved working in the youth club, working with young people, helping them, supporting them, and then I never stopped doing it. After the holidays were finished and my time was done, I said to the person running the center “Can I continue doing it?” And she said “yeah.” And so I volunteered one day a week for three years. Then I got a qualification in youth work…
So even that happened through music?
It’s always been linked. That’s the only two things I’ve ever done, actually. I’ve never had a job other than youth work and music. I love both of the things so that’s good!
What do you actually do as a youth worker?
Basically, for people who don’t know what a youth worker is, a youth worker is an individual that works with young people. When we say young people, we’re looking at the ages of eleven to twenty-one, that is what we consider a youth. If they’ve got disabilities, it would go up to twenty-five. So, basically, it’s someone that works with eleven to twenty-one year-olds to help them understand who they are, to help them to shape themselves, to help them to find their voice and their place in society. That’s what I did for a very long time. I did it for the Borough of Croydon, I did it for the Borough of Sutton. I’ve done a lot of different roles in youth work where I started as a volunteer, then I was a part-time youth worker, then I was a team leader, regional manager and so on and so forth. And now I’ve resigned from doing youth work and I’ve set up a company that trains people how to be youth workers, trains them on new policies in youth work. So now I run my own company where I just go out and do training for local authorities and for voluntary organisations. A lot has happened since 1992 for me in youth work.
Inner city youths are getting a lot of bad rep – especially since the London riots. But I think there’s much more to the whole thing than what the tabloids are writing about. What do you think should or could be done to improve the situation?
This is not an easy one, that’s a very difficult question. To be honest with you, a multi-faceted response is required to address the situation. What has made things worse is the fact that public sector funding has been cut severely in the UK. Where we had x amount of youth projects, x amount of community organisations, voluntary organisations and local authority providing services for young people, that’s been stripped back severely. Say it was running at a hundred percent, it’s probably running at something like twenty percent now. It’s ludicrous! So you’ve got young people with less things to do, less positive activities to get involved in, nowhere to go, nothing to do… The devil makes use of idle hands! However, I wouldn’t blame the riots solely on a lack of youth services. I would blame it on parenting, I would blame it on the relationship young people have with their parents and their community… It really is a multi-faceted thing. But everybody needs to do their part to mend it and I think youth work has a big part to play in that. Right now, a lot needs to be done for us to get back on track. There’s so much to be done, it’s unbelievable…
If we look back 15, 20 years ago, the government would have an agenda about the national priorities for young people and every local authority, whether it’s Croydon, Hackney, Wandsworth or wherever had to follow these national priorities. Now it has changed. The government has devolved that responsibility to each local authority. So for example they will say these are the forty national priorities for the country but in your own borough you can prioritize depending on which ones you think are more important. So Wandsworth will take a completely different approach than Hackney. What you get is local power. Some times these guys with local power approach things in a kind of awkward way which doesn’t always address the issues of young people; it’s more about making the local authority look good, it’s more about how they’re viewed, it’s more about star ratings instead of the actual young people and their needs. It’s more about how how does my local authority look. That for me is where the conflict comes in. You’ve got people that are not providing a quality service but they’ll do whatever it takes to make it look like their service is great. Whereas for me, I’m not in the cover up business. If I’m working with young people and I’m working on a project which isn’t working, I’ll put my hands up and say “this approach isn’t working, let’s readdress this, let’s try it in a different way.” Some local authorities don’t want to look silly, they don’t want to step back and say “let’s do it another way.” They will continue doing the thing that’s not working to save face. My face is not important! When you’re working in the caring profession, for me, that’s not important. What’s important is wether I am meeting the needs of these young people. If I’m not doing that, I’ve got to change what I’m doing. That’s where the conflict comes in: image!
I get the idea but this is all fairly abstract. What would an actual example look like?
There was a policy that the last government put out which set aside a portion of money to go to young people directly. That meant that every local authority had a wedge of money that young people had to decide about how they were gonna spend it. The amount of money that the young people were supposed to get was so much that the local authority decided to keep the money for themselves. They didn’t give the money to the young people! This is a government initiative saying you must give this money to the young people so that they’re gonna decide how to spend it and the local authority took the money and spent it how they wanted and didn’t give it to the young people; they said that it was too much for them. These are the kind of scenarios where I’d get into conflict with managers about how you can justify that action.
The authority that I’m talking about, I think they either wanted to refurbish or make a building which would have had some impact on young people, definitely, but that was not what the money was earmarked for. The money was earmarked to go to a group of young people that had been elected as managers of this money. What was supposed to happen was that young people from the borough would write proposals saying we’d like to do this project, we’d like to do this or do that… And then this panel of young people would look at these proposals and say “that sounds like a good project, we’re gonna grant you the money.” But the panel of young people never saw the money. The local authority kept the money and they said we’re gonna build this thing and they went off and built the thing and that was that. That was blatantly going against what the government initiative was requiring them to do because of their own selfish views and wants. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about supporting young people and making them the priority.
Obviously, it’s not about spoiling young people! I grew up in a very, very strict household and I don’t believe in spoiling young people. When young people need to be told and when they need to be put in line about when they acted inappropriately, I’m the first to do that. But when young people deserve to get something, they should get it.
You’re probably guessing, youth work is something I’m very passionate about. That’s why I set my company up to train people that are working with young people so that they approach it in the right way. There’s a lot of people working in youth work that either haven’t been trained or don’t understand what youth work is really about. When I got into youth work, I thought it was fun; I didn’t realize the impact that a youth worker can have on a young person’s life. I thought you go to the youth club, you play pool, you play table tennis, you go on trips, you have a drink of tea, you have a laugh with the kids and it’s wicked, it’s fun! And that’s all I thought it was. For a good three years I didn’t really grasp what it was all about.
So you were just doing what you would have been doing anyway?
Yeah, I was having fun with them and that’s cool, that’s a part of youth work. But there’s a much more serious side to youth work which is about helping a young person to grow and be a responsible person that can contribute positively to their community. That is what youth work is about! And if you’re not doing that, then you’re not a good youth worker! If you’re just having fun and that’s it, then you’re an ineffective youth worker. A young person should be on a journey with you and they should travel from point A to B to C whilst they’re with you and if they don’t, you’re not doing something right. So that’s what I try to teach people when I’m training them about youth work. Take young people on a journey, empower them.
I just said that I didn’t want to talk about music, well, scratch that! Since you already mentioned UK Apache, can you tell me how you met him?
Ok, UK Apache – I came from Jamaica to London in 1990 and when I arrived here, there was a guy that was trying to go out with my aunt and this guy was a friend of UK Apache. I told him that I was a singer and he told me that he knew an mc that I could probably get on with. He said that it was an Asian guy who was really good. So he played me a tape with Apache on it and I was like “there’s no way that that’s an Asian guy! No way on the earth!” At this time, Apache sounded exactly like an artist called Papa San, who was my favourite mc or dj as we call it in Jamaica. I said “that’s Papa San!” And he replied “No, that’s not Papa San, this is an Asian guy that lives round the corner.” So he brought me to Apache’s house and I think that very day we did a soundtape. We just put some records on, you know, played the tune and played the b-side and then we just started vibing and that was it. That was it! From that moment on a very strong friendship just evolved. Me and Apache became best friends and we started doing shows together, doing dances together and just hanging out together. We eventually got a flat together and lived there for five and a half years. During that time jungle came onto the scene and he got hooked up with Potential Badboy and Shy FX through his manager, who was my manager as well at the time, and Original Nuttah was born. That’s how I met Apache and how things evolved and I got into drum&bass/jungle.
Most of the older jungle mcs seem to be deeply rooted in the reggae scene. How did the transition between the two types of music happen for you?
When I came onto the scene in ‘93, ‘94, I didn’t really know that much about jungle and drum and bass, It was a new thing for me, it was a new thing for a lot of people. When I heard it initially, I didn’t really know what to make of it. I thought “what is this?” It sounded a bit noisy to me, I wasn’t really hooked straight away. Apache kind of coerced me into it. Remarc did a tune, Sound Murderer, and that was a turning point for me. There was something about it that I connected with. He used a sample from a Bodyguard soundtape. Bodyguard was my favourite sound system at the time. The sample he used was “when wi a murder sound wi nuh play nuh gyal tune!” And that was it. When I heard that on the jungle beat, I was like “I can see where this is going now.” That’s when I got involved. It’s a natural progression because people like Congo Natty love reggae and use a lot of reggae samples, a lot of reggae vibes in their jungle, so it was easy for reggae artists to come on board and get involved, because they were getting sampled anyway, they were getting sampled left, right and center.
To me, it’s always been about the reggae basslines. Those basslines somehow have a calming effect on me. Even if the drums are twice as fast on a jungle tune, you’ve still got the bassline.
When I first heard it, I thought that’s mad, how can I ride that riddim with those mad drums going at 90 mph, how am I gonna ride that riddim? But, like you said, don’t watch the drums, just watch the bassline and ride the riddim as you would ride if you were doing a reggae tune. Somehow it works, it blends.
You’ve been featured on a few high profile tracks and then things seem to have gotten a little quiet for a while. It seems like now you’re back with a lot of determination. 12”s, radio appearances, shows, lots of things.
It’s been an up and down journey for me and I spent a lot of time out of the scene, focusing on my youth work, to be honest, and not focusing on music. But I think I have done everything I can do in youth work, I have achieved a lot of things and I am happy with that. So now I want to give my music a chance before I get too old. Roughly, I’d say, about three years ago I decided to resign from my job as a manager for a local authority working with young people involved in crime or at a risk of getting involved with crime and focused on my music and that has brought me to this place where I have nearly finished my album. I’m kind of excited with they way things are shaping up at the moment. I’m quite happy with what I have done. I don’t know what kind of impact it’s gonna have, whether it’ll be big or small, but I think that when I’m gonna be finished, I’m gonna be happy with what I have done. That’s the most important thing!
Some people might find the album weird, it’s a mixed album. I’ve just got a breakbeat track from Aries that’s gonna go on the album. It’s a mixed bag, jungle, dancehall, reggae, dubstep, breakbeat… It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve always wanted to do a diverse album. I discussed this with Bryan G (of V Recordings) from very early on and he, surprisingly, was up for that. It’s my first album and so it’s really important to me that we get it right.
You’ve definitely got quite a list of talented people involved in the album.
I’m working with a lot of people and the list grows every day. Every time I step out of my house, I get another request. I’m very grateful. I’m very happy with the way things have developed and the way people have taken to what I’m doing. I feel privileged and I’m just gonna try to keep working with as many people as I can. I keep telling people “all I require you to have is a good heart.” It’s not about money, it’s not about status – it really is about two things: if you’ve got a good heart and if I’ve got the time and that’s about it.
Let the people know about a few people who will be on the album?
Navigator is on the album…
Chatty Chatty Mouth?
Chatty Chatty Mouth! Yeah, that’s gonna be on the album. Liondub produced that track. To be honest, for me it feels like it’s more Navi’s track than it’s mine. I do the chorus, I do the hook, but Navi does all the verses. The verses are so deep and there’s so much in those verses that I feel like it’s more his track than it’s mine. But it’s a blessing for me to have Navi on the album because, and I say this unreservedly, Navi is one of the only guys, one of the original guys from the old school, from way back when, he’s one of the only guys that would never pass me in a dance without saying “hello”. He would never not shout me or give me respect! Therefore I had to have Navi on the album! And when I asked him if he wanted to be involved in the album, he unreservedly came back to me straight away. So that’s me and Navi. I love that track, good vibes!
I got Harry Shotta on the album, I got a track with Serocee produced by Aries and Gold, that’s a breaks track, obviously I got Benny Page is on the album…
… which is always a good thing. I really like what he’s doing…
He’s a master at what he does…
… but he should stop sampling David Rodigan. Seriously!
These guys love Roddi. They love him.
So do I, but so many people are just using the samples right now so it’s getting…
… a bit boring? I hear what you’re saying.
Now don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with Rodigan, I’ve got a lot of respect for the man.
Actually, I’ve got to give a big shout out to Rodigan! He sent me an email a couple of weeks ago which, I don’t know, man, it just made me really, really happy. I did a dubplate special of Respect the Champion with Benny Page for him and a couple of weeks after I sent it over, he sent me an email saying “thanks for the dubplate, I played it out and it’s killing it, people love it, it’s smashing the dance…” But then, he emailed me again a couple of weeks ago to say that he’s still playing it. This is months on now, a good six, seven months on, and he’s saying that he’s still playing that dubplate and it’s still smashing it. He also went on to list a number of my other songs, a good three, four, five of my other songs and said that he really likes what I’m doing and that he’s supporting what I’m doing and that I should keep in touch with him and let him know what I’ve got coming out. That, for me, was like one of the biggest things because I’ve respected Rodigan ever since I was, I don’t know, fourteen years old. I’ve been looking at him as one of the biggest reggae djs of the world and to have that person emailing you and saying “I love what you’re doing, you’ve got a great voice and good talent”, to get that respect from Rodigan was just like, flipping heck, you know. Even if my album doesn’t sell a copy, Rodigan said he rates me! So I’m happy now. It was good to connect with him and it’s good to know that people of that caliber are hearing what I’m doing and are feeling what I’m doing and that for me is just like a blessing within itself. So I’m just gonna keep on doing it, keep on working. I’m hoping to have the album wrapped up for March. I’ve got a lot of tracks to pick from now but by the end of March I’m gonna have the twelve tracks that will go on the album picked. Me and Bryan G will sort that out and hopefully after that we’ll really start promoting the album and I’m hoping that the album will be in stores by summer.
I’m kind of anxious myself. I’ve been waiting longer than everyone! I’ve been trying to get this album out for two and a half years now, something like that. But Bryan kind of held me back. He was like “don’t rush this thing, take your time, let’s get some 12”s out, let people know who David Boomah is, let’s build your profile…” And he was right, he was a hundred percent right! If I had put the album out when I wanted to, I don’t think it would have done well. I think the approach that Bryan has advised me to take is the best approach and I think that it’s working. We’ve got a little more building to do and then we should be ready to drop the album and see where we go.
I’ve also got a multitude of side-projects so at the moment I’m just in the studio every minute I can get. I’m creating all the time and I love that. I’m really trying to build my reggae catalogue at the moment. I’m trying to work with more reggae producers, I’m actually working on something with Curtis Lynch right now. Who also, if that comes off, will be on the album as well.
The last couple of years have been the happiest time of my music career. I’ve been doing so many things with so many people and so I’m really happy.
Speaking of collaborations, if you could pick somebody that you haven’t yet worked with, who would you like to record with?
A name that just popped into my head and has nothing to do with the scene I’m in is a guy called Kano. I like Kano, man. I think he deserves more than where he is. I’ve seen other guys coming into the scene after him and they’ve gone straight to the top. I’ve got a lot of time for Kano. Kano, if you hear this, give me a shout.
It’s probably a lot more complex than this, but I think when you are among the people who are building the foundations of a scene, you will often see people coming after you being more successful than you are.
That’s right. I’ve been building in this scene for a long time, I have to say in and out really, so I’ve got to blame myself a little bit for not being consistent. But I know a lot of people that have been very consistent and have not really achieved what they would have liked to. I’d put myself in that mix a bit. Other people have come behind us and I wouldn’t go as far as saying piggyback, but, you know, we’ve kind of opened some doors and it’s been kind of easier for them to walk through the door and see a certain deal or whatever. But that’s good. I’m happy about that.
I really thought when I came to England at the age of nineteen that in a year’s time I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve in music. Obviously I haven’t, because now I’m forty now and I still haven’t achieved a quarter of what I wanted to achieve in music. I have seen a lot of young guys come through and that’s blessed, you know what I mean, but sometimes the way you’ve got to look at it is – things don’t happen because they are not supposed to happen. They happen when they are supposed to happen. And also, sometimes you get it early and you don’t know how to deal with it and it messes you up. I’ve seen some young guys make some big mistakes in their careers. Whereas it’s got to be a lot more difficult for people to pull the wool over my eyes as an older person that’s kind of been around the block a couple of times. I’ve walked away from a couple of deals in my time. I’ve walked away from quite a few deals, because I feel like people are trying to be smart and I’m not the kind of person that you want to try to be smart with. I’m not an idiot. Therefore I just say “I’m not really interested in that.” I think when you’re young you sometimes just jump at the chance without looking at the detail. You’ve got to be careful. All these young people coming up, be careful about the decisions that you make. Some people are out there to take advantage of your talent. And that’s your talent and it shouldn’t be abused. There’s people you’ve got to be careful of. When people are interested in you, they’re interested in you because you have something. You need to always remember that you have something to offer or otherwise they wouldn’t be interested! Don’t sell yourself short and don’t always just jump at the first thing that presents itself. Think carefully about the decisions that you’re gonna make. Think about how it’s gonna affect you in the long term. Don’t think about the quick buck, think about a year down the line, two years down the line. How is this gonna work out for me and is this in my best interest? Just be careful! That’s my advice, really. I don’t know if I’m in a place to give advice, I haven’t achieved much myself, but I’m gonna give it anyway. Do what you want with it.
It’s always easier to give advice than…
…to do the right thing yourself? You’re damn right! Everyone makes mistakes and I’m sure I’ve made a fair few in my time. But I would like to think that I’m the type of person that takes time to consider things and I’m a reflective person. So somebody might say “yeah, let’s do this!” and I’m gonna say “let me think about it.” I’m always the kind of guy to be thinking about things and taking my time. Once you’ve signed up to something, that’s it, you’re signed up to it, you’re in! So for me it’s like if someone is gonna rush me then I start feeling a bad vibe about them. Why are you rushing me? Why are you trying to hurry me to make this decision? That already is giving me a bad vibe. Let’s just take our time and do this thing naturally. I go with my gut, basically. If I don’t feel right about something, then I just step away. I’ve got to feel right, I’ve got to feel comfortable with the people I’m with, I’ve got to feel that they’ve got my best interest at heart.
Would you go as far as saying that you’ve become more serious about your music in comparison to when you started out in London?
I started out serious but I was a kid then, when I came to England in 1990, I was nineteen. I kind of thought that I’m talented and so somebody will just pick me up and make me a star and, don’t get me wrong, I did put work in, I was in the studio all the time and I was doing dances, but because nothing happened, I kind of gave up. And then youth work took over. Music wasn’t making me any money, youth work came in, I got my qualification and then I just didn’t take it seriously anymore. It became something that I would do when I had a little bit of time. Somebody would come and say “Boomah, can you sing on this track?” And I would sing on that track and I wouldn’t even listen to it, I would just go away. I didn’t even put any energy in it. And I think that’s why my career didn’t go anywhere for a long time. Then, after exhausting myself in youth work, I felt at this stage, “let me try the music now! I can always go back to youth work. I’ve got my qualifications, I’ve got x amount of experience, it’s safe. So let me try some music now!” I’m glad that I did it like that. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have my house, I probably wouldn’t be married with my children and I wouldn’t have the stability that I have right now If I just did music alone. Well, maybe I would, maybe I would have been lucky… But now I feel like I’ve got both and I can dip into my youth work when I’m ready but I can also dip into my music. Now is the time for me to focus on music and that’s what I’m doing. I’m putting in the energy now that I could have put in before but I didn’t prioritize it at that time.
There’s a time for everything…
Exactly! Now is the time! As old as I am, now is the time for me to do it. You’re never to old. I see these old singers like Tony Bennett still gracing the stage and that means that I’ve got a bit of time left in me too. There are so many artists, Beres Hammond for example, these guys that have been singing since I was little…
Johnny Osbourne! He’s gotta be touching sixty now but you get him in the studio, he’ll still smash it, you get him on stage and he’ll still smash it!
Music is so powerful. It’s easily the thing I love the most. I can’t go without music unless I have to. I definitely can’t go without music for a day. I’m listening to music all the time and it evokes so much emotions in me. It’s just so powerful. It’s something that connects people. Look at it now, you’re a guy born in Germany, living in Germany and I’m a guy in the UK and here we are, talking about music.
I’ve met so many people through music and become good friends with people through music.
We need to try to live good with each other! You get all these rivalries in the scene which I don’t understand because we all love music. We should all be working together. I’m not saying everyone needs to collaborate with each other, but, you know, we’re all trying to do the same thing. Make music and send a message or give people some joy from the music that we’re making. There’s no need for people to try to outshine or outdo each other. That for me is not necessary. Go out there, make your music, enjoy what you do and just keep doing it.
I may be wrong but I think I got this quote from Nicky Blackmarket: “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”
Yeah, Nicky has always got a smile on his face. Always! I’ve had people say that about me, that I’m one of the most pleasant mcs they’ve come across. There isn’t an attitude with me. There doesn’t need to be an attitude. I’m not more important than anybody else because I sing and I’ve got a couple of hits or whatever. I’m not elevated above anybody else. I’m just a normal person. I try to talk to as many people as I can when I go out and I’m doing shows. I try to connect with the people. I talk to them.
I can’t deal with attitudes. A lot of people have impressed me a lot at one time or another but, still, when I meet them and they’re not dealing with me on a level, I’m losing interest…
You just move away from those people. That’s what I do. People who’ve got an attitude, I just don’t work with them! I just work with people who are like-minded. People with good hearts, people that want to try to do something positive. That’s all I can say. It’s about a positive message. If you listen to my music, it’s plain as day, you will hear it. The only time you’ll ever hear any animosity in my music is when there’s a sound gonna get killed. And that’s all metaphorical, obviously. There’s no bloodshed, nobody is gonna die, no one’s mom is gonna cry at a funeral. But other than that, it’s always messages of positive vibes and how people can try to get better in the world. That’s what I’m about! I believe that as a musician, I’ve got a responsibility. I’ve got a responsibility to the people that listen to me that they get something from me. I don’t deal with negativity, I deal with positive vibes.
That’s the youth worker in you!
That’s the youth worker in me! If you pick up a David Boomah record, you’ll not have to worry about covering your children’s ears. That’s not gonna be an issue. But, yeah, I’d say that’s the youth worker in me. Everyone is different. People are doing different things for different reasons. Some people might have a completely different approach to why they are doing music and the message they want to send. But my message is very much about looking at situations that we are in in the world and looking at how we can be positive, trying to uplift people, trying to take people out of a state of depression, make them look at the positive sides.
This concludes our interview and we have to thank David for taking the time to talk to us. Scroll down and listen to some tunes if this got you interested.