Jonah Christian is a music producer/composer who’s worked with the likes of Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. His most recent work, “Waves,” performed by pop singer Normani and the Atlanta rapper 6lack, is an ear-worming break-up song that Rolling Stone praised for its “skittering percussion and throbbing bass bombs.”
Above: Jonah Christian, Photo by Anastasiia Sapon

But if it weren’t for a torn knee ligament and a UC Santa Cruz class on the history of electronic music, Christian might be practicing law in some LA high rise instead of making music.

Christian was born to a Jamaican professional-athlete father and a Jewish entrepreneurial mother. His home was always filled with music: reggae, classic rock, R&B, and hip-hop. When his older brother downloaded the beat-making program FL Studio, Christian became obsessed.

But the high school track captain figured composing music wasn’t a way to pay the bills, so he came to Santa Cruz with a plan to study political science and become a music lawyer. Then two things happened. Christian tore his ACL while playing soccer and also discovered that while he loved his music class, he dreaded his political science course.

Trapped in his fourth-floor dorm room with an injured knee, Christian began creating music and soon surrounded himself with other artists. By his third year, Christian was making music with drummer Amir Oosman (Merrill ‘11, music) and classically trained pianist Robert Finucane (Merrill ‘13, American studies) in the campus’s tiny electronic music lab. They called themselves Joomanji and began playing regular gigs in downtown Santa Cruz.

“It was the first time I saw the potential in music,” said the 28-year-old Los Angeles resident of that time. “It was the first time we saw the power of what we were doing and how it affected people.”

Today, the composer and producer has his own LA studio, with millions of listens for the songs he has created and produced.

“I’ve come full circle,” Christian says, “and Santa Cruz ended up being one of the most important parts of my life. It was where I developed my musical identity.”

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