David Gonzalez is an unusual combination of musician, composer, storyteller, producer, poet, actor, showman and impresario.
Editor’s note: We wish to thank Tomas Algarin a respected latin music historian, educator, writer, radio producer, stage performer/concert Emcee and also a steadfast Latin Business Today collaborator who helped facilitate this spotlight on David Gonzalez with author Carlos Garcia. Enjoy!
David Gonzalez, it is easy to say, is one of the more intriguing human beings I have ever had the chance to meet.
His background is not particularly unusual – half Puerto Rican, half Cuban, raised in the Bronx by his mother and aunts – but where he went from there is anything but ordinary.
He is an unusual combination of musician, composer, storyteller, producer, poet, actor, showman and impresario. He is mystical and yet practical, philosophical and yet physical, community-minded and yet personally successful. He grooves to Latin rhythms and American funk, he is completely bilingual and bicultural, and he works to advance the Latino community and our children in powerful ways, not the least of which is the example he sets.
David has a PhD in music therapy and has taken that creative spirit of his into various projects including a production featuring the legendary salsa pianist Larry Harlow and his Latin Legends Band called ¡Sofrito!— a rousing combo of storytelling, classic Mambo and funky new music that delightfully brings the stories and music from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and life in New York’s Bronx to the stage.
Another current production called City of Dreams— a Spoken Word/Poetry project features David and his Poetic Justice Band. David’s City of Dreams project brings a quartet of New York’s hottest Latin Jazz musicians to the stage – City of Dreams mixes ancient Afro-Cuban rhythms, mambo-flavored house grooves, funk, metal-edged rock, and modern jazz with poetry from the “now-moment” of contemporary American Latino culture.
His poems and stories explore cultural identity and the rocky road to transcendence.
In our conversations, David talked about his background, the raucous and energetic kitchen table that was the center of his family experience – the person who told the best story or recounted the most entertaining incident in their day got the most attention. So competitive storytelling was like a blood sport in his home.
That spirit led him to become a fan of Joseph Campbell’s work, specifically the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. David states, “Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative mythology and comparative religion, became a beacon of thoughtful exploration of our myths, our belief systems and our human stories.” David’s passion for this led him to become a Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation which took his kitchen table storytelling to a much higher plane – but with the same Latin zest.
David’s engagement with music stuck with him.
He is a guitarist and music composer and performer, which led him to a BA, MA and PhD in music therapy – using music to raise the spirits, center the souls, and help troubled patients. This very successful career led him to expand on this therapy, to take it from a one-on-one focus to larger audiences, and deeper into his free-wheeling poetic and performance self.
But what is most surprising about this man (who calls himself a “solopreneur” because he is his own “product”) with all of these artistic and spiritual aspirations, is how down-to-earth business focused he is.
During our interview, David talked extensively about his team – the accountants, bookkeepers, agents and colleagues who help support him. He pays very close attention to all of the financial aspects of his varied career and while that might not sound very “artistic” of him, it is actually how he is able to maintain his artistic freedom.
He also paid homage to his artistic guiding stars – John Coltrane for Jazz and two men, Fania recording legend, pianist Larry Harlow, his collaborator on ¡Sofrito!, and the late Puerto Rican cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro for the traditional tipico Latin music side of that production.
David’s lesson for anyone doing anything in any line of business is that you can’t focus just on the fun part – cooking the food or building the fence or writing a legal brief – you also have to take care of the financial foundation because without it you won’t be able to keep on doing the fun part.
He emphasizes two main pillars of his success: Craft and Time. By craft he means working diligently at developing a nascent talent into skill in the professional sense. And time works into this equation as well, because you will need to invest time, a lot of it, into anything you hope to master.
David Gonzalez Performing: City of Dreams
For young people, he advises them to work hard to develop their craft – get good at something – real good. He notes that there are many ways one is paid – one is money, but there’s also experience, knowledge, and most importantly, mentorship.
This goes way beyond simply “giving back” as he actively “gives forward” to help bring music, poetry, pride, self-esteem and the wonders of Latin culture to young people across the US. One example of this work with children is a project called “The Boy Who Could Sing Pictures.”
David also shared that you owe it to your creativity to set it free by building a solid foundation for it. And finally, he left me with this advice, focus on gratitude.
Some might perceive this as being very Zen or Buddhist, and it might be, but I found this to be a very Latino perspective. We Latinos are essentially optimistic in nature. It’s our culture. Thank you, David, for reminding us of this. I am grateful to have met David. And be sure to check out www.davidgonzalez.com.