The following is an exclusive interview here on the Independent Spotlight with Justin Godfrey, the extraordinary hang drum performer and professional percussionist.
You started your musical career at a very early age thirteen. Those formative years for you were spent in both the United States and Belize. How did that affect your music and inspirations? Did the musical culture of each country impact you?
Absolutely, that is the basis from which my style was developed. Having the exposure of music between Belize and the U.S enriched me with the knowledge of musical styles from different cultures. I began to have a greater understanding of rhythm.
You’re a professional percussionist, but found your calling on the hang drum. The hang drum is an unusual instrument one that many audiences aren’t familiar with. Can you talk a bit about the application of this instrument? What kind of music are you playing with it?
Yes, the uniqueness of the hang drum is what attracted me to it. I wanted to be able to create the same music (Afro-Caribbean music) I play on a drum kit [on the] hang drum, and I was able to do so. The instrument is similar in some respects to the steel pan (which is played in the Caribbean), but with a less high pitched sound. I am able to play some of the same music I play on my hang drum.
What kind of drum styles are you partial toward? You have a wide repertoire of ability.
I am very interested in Latin American, African and Caribbean music as well as classical music.
You have an upcoming collaboration in Paris with sculptor Vincent Beaurin. What is this collaboration? Can you expand upon both the collaboration and it’s connection to the Hermes Foundation?
We worked together in marrying physical art with musical art, thereby bringing the piece sculptor Vincent Beaurin did to life with my music. This was commissioned by the Hermes Foundation in Paris to be performed live. This foundation seeks out this type of collaboration and creates a platform to introduce it to the world. That was what was done with the collaboration of Vincent Piece's sculptor and my music. It was magnificent; Vincent is very talented and he was behind making this a success.
In 2014 you released five studio records. That’s a very high output of music. How does your recording process play out where it results in so much content each year? That’s quite impressive for such a young performer.
Yes, that is true. The reason for that is I had a couple of the songs that I worked on in 2013 but never made public and then I worked on the others. Also being busy with college, I wouldn’t have much time to attend to my music so I decided to put them all out at the same time.
You’re also a session musician. Are there any previous projects that you’ve worked on?
Being in school takes away from me being able to take up the different sessions that I have been offered. This March I was asked to play in Dubai at a conference but wasn’t able to make it. [I performed] about one year ago at the opening for a businessmen conference at the Hilton in Los Angeles. I have played several times at school for different concerts and entertainment held on campus.
You’ve ‘transfixed audiences of all ages in venues all around the world.’ Where have you performed? Have you previously toured or are planning to? What kind of live shows are you prone to and have you performed outside of the two countries you grew up in?
Other than Paris, I have not really toured anywhere else.
Your upbringing resulted in an eclectic taste in music, it seems. Who are you drawing inspiration from? Is there a percussionist in particular that gets your gears turning?
Yes, my introduction to music started at an extremely young age when my father played classical music all the time at home and I was always around enjoying [it], even at the very tender age of three years old. My family all love music and play every style of music at home. I admire and enjoy the music Dafnis Prieto and Neil Peart.
You became somewhat of an internet sensation with ‘Harmonic Eclipse,’ a hang drum performance you released online. As mentioned previously, it’s a bit of an unusual instrument. Have you found any sort of community surrounding it, or are you finding that the people discovering you online were unaware of the instrument before you introduced it to them? You’re an ambassador of the instrument now, in a way.
Yes, I am an ambassador for the instrument since it is not seen in the music stores. I realized that many people are unaware of the instrument because I continuously get comments and personal messages on my YouTube videos asking me questions about the instrument.
What current projects are you working on? What are you endeavoring to do in the near future? You’re such a young man, do you want to pursue a professional career as a musician? I’d love to hear more about your ambitions. (This is a great opportunity for you to plug projects you’d like promoted!)
I'm working on producing a couple new releases on the hang drum as well [as a piece] which will be again on an unusual percussion instrument, but still interesting to compose on. Yes, I am very much interested in becoming a professional musician but it would be in a special sphere. My interest is to compose soundtracks songs for movies, songs, video games, and private companies that hire for international performances similar to the one I did in Paris.
Godfrey's Website: http://justindrhythm.com/