Safi’s Lab: A View Beyond the Mask [Interview]
On a hot, desert morning at Serenity Gathering, I found myself in a conversation with a fellow shade seeker. We talked for hours about our experiences in Asia, the future of the festival scene, and environmental and social activism, among other things. Midway through our conversation I noticed his wrist band said artist. It turns out I had been talking to Safi, of Safi’s Lab. Safi is a producer and his Lab is where funk, Latin, reggae, and hip-hop roots meet to create an eclectic and unique experience for his audience to enjoy.
Besides Safi’s clear talent with music — he also used to be the front-man for the Foot Solejahs — he aims to build bridges between communities. “I am a part of an organization that hosts a festival in northern Arizona called Firefly Gathering. We are extremely community oriented, from our volunteering staff to the source of our funding; almost everything is sourced directly.” The Firefly Gathering takes on no corporate sponsorship or major funding, making it an accessible festival for a diversity of audience and community engagement. “The freedom in this model is beautiful, but also creates its own set of challenges. I hope to see the festival culture evolve into a more sustainable, more responsible wave of expression,” Safi tells me through a post-festival conversation.
Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, close to Mexico and a number of indigenous tribes, gave him a taste of culture from a young age. In 2005, Safi started a reggae band, the Foot Solejahs and they hit the ground playing a lot of shows throughout the state, Mexico, and all along the West Coast. “The Native American cultures have always resonated with reggae music helping to create a strong bond between our music and the local tribes.” The Foot Solejahs played shows at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for the Havasupai Tribe, the Hopi Tribe in Kykotsmovi, and Navajo Tribes all over the Navajo reservation.
The Foot Solejahs were well received within the Native community and were booked to play a number of cultural events. “I loved playing for the Native crowds because they had an appreciation for the message, as well as the roots of the culture of reggae music.” In Flagstaff, Arizona, Safi worked at a local music shop repairing old instruments where he also taught guitar and voice lessons to the local youth. “Teaching was a very important step in my music career because the youth need as many positive influences, not only in life, but in the music business as possible. They were so stoked!”
While visiting China, Safi had the opportunity to give a presentation to a class of 17-21 year old students. His choice topic was American culture, but not the mainstream idea of America that the Chinese students get from popular TV and the image of life that the government portrays. “The culture has been learning similar lessons throughout multiple generations with grace and little outside influence, which I admire,” Safi comments. The presentation included photos of Burning Man and its many art installations and was followed by a 30 minute performance from Safi of popular reggae songs about revolution and freedom which attracted a lot of participation and steady flashes from cameras.
“I think that the presentation on the American culture that I am personally involved with gave them an eye-opening experience that will hopefully spark imagination and creativity outside of the realm of normalcy.” Safi’s aim is to bring everyone to a more even and sustainable playing field, both through his music and performances. With his experience performing within the festival circuit, he notices a change starting to happen where more female artists are getting involved. “I do see an evolution of females making a push into the scene, and it makes me really happy.” Giving a shout-out to some of his favorite women producers: CloZee, Anasia, Oona Dahl, Dela and Maggie Moontribe, A Hundred Drums/Nya Beats, and many others. “I would looooove to collaborate with CloZee, as I feel our styles are aligned in many ways,” he remarks as I asked his dream sister to collab with.
The festival scene’s future may be hard to predict, but Safi has hope for it. “I think the electronic scene has great potential to elevate with equality due to the fact that mainstream media and business are not as involved in the culture, as it is with other music scenes. The majority of the listeners and supporters in the scene love what they love because of the sound and performance…” His dedication to the elevation of a generation of festival goers is admirable — namely, promoting the building of cultural bridges and accessibility, on top of a push for sustainability. Safi is truly a gem in the industry, and I am beyond thankful that we both sought out the same structure for shade.
To end on an important note, “we all need to help support each other and lift one another up to our full potential. We must remember that the next generation is carefully watching us and counting on us to be the most positive influences that we can be, so that they can rise up to save this amazing planet from any further downfall.”
On Wednesday, Safi put out a new track “Roll Padre” which you can listen and enjoy above.