Boulder resident Dafna Margalit, who performs her own brand of electronic pop music under the mononym Dafna, needed a clear educational goal after high school. Her parents weren’t offering carte blanche for her to pursue music full-time, nor were they going to pay for her to major in it. That bit of parental guidance is part of why she’s majoring in electrical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She graduates in May.
It’s a bit of a family tradition.
“Both of my older siblings did engineering,” Margalit says. “In my senior year of high school, I took a computer science class so I was interested in that. My parents were always like, ‘We’ll only pay for it if you go for a more practical thing,’ so that’s why I went with electrical engineering. It seemed interesting.”
She picked CU because it’s close to home, and she’s enjoyed the time there.
“The engineering school is really good,” she says. “I’ve gotten to do a lot of hands-on projects.”
It’s easy to think of music as a right-brained pursuit and engineering as more of the left-brained variety, but Margalit figures why not just use both sides? After college, she plans on taking a software engineering gig while continuing her music career.
As music becomes more electronic in nature, an electrical engineering degree might not be such a bad idea anyway. Analog synthesizers use circuit boards, capacitors, transistors and potentiometers to generate their sound. More often than not, modern producers employ Digital Audio Workstation software to compose their tracks. It’s like a symphony inside a laptop.
“It definitely helps, because technologically, I’m able to understand things better,” she says. “But there’s definitely a good amount of difference between what I learned at school and producing music.”
Margalit’s personal website displays some of the work she’s done as an engineering student, including an electronic drum machine and a guitar tuner, among other non-musical projects. She jokes that the drum machine had a bit of a lag, not great for a drummer, but it definitely made sounds. She also uses the website to promote her music.
“I’ve used it both for music but also software engineering jobs and stuff,” she says. “When I was applying, the website would be a good place to show — I programmed the website — that was a project but it’s also a place to show other projects I’ve worked on.”
Margalit is in her early 20s but has played music since her parents put her in front of a piano as a small child. She continued to take classical piano lessons until the end of high school.
“Actual songwriting I started when I was 11,” she says. “I only started producing and releasing stuff after graduating high school.”
Margalit was raised in Boulder and attended Fairview High School, where she was in the choir. She entered a songwriting contest at Boulder’s eTown. It’s been a supportive environment for her musical growth. A child of immigrants, she’s always felt like a bit of an outsider.
“Both of my parents are from Israel, so I had a different experience growing up,” she says. “There’s a small Israel community in Boulder, so I grew up with other kids who spoke Hebrew and was kind of raised in a micro-community within Boulder.”
As a child, Margalit says she mostly listened to her parents’ music, groups like The Beatles, but also whatever was popular with her friends at the time. Her father is a big Radiohead fan but also likes Katie Perry. Nineties Irish alt-rockers the Cranberries, as well as Fleetwood Mac, also spring to mind when she thinks of early influences. Lately, she’s been listening to a lot of electro-pop/indie-folk singer Ashe — who she’d like to tour with one day — and funk band Vulfpeck, who she’d love to collaborate with. Taylor Swift looms large as an influence.
“It’s just her lyrics and how she is able to tell any sort of story,” she says. “It’s all her. I think she is one of the big pop stars who writes all her own stuff and is in charge of it. That’s a cool thing to see.”
She says she’s been relistening to Fleetwood Mac as of late, but it’s hard to pick a favorite.
“The first one I got on vinyl was ‘Future Games,’” she says. “Even though it’s before Stevie Nicks, I really like that one. It’s the first one I found and bought. I don’t know which one is my absolute favorite.”
Margalit frequently collaborates with her brother, Guy Margalit, also a musician, and she says she enjoys working with a family member because it’s easy to dish out criticism without anyone taking it too personally.
“I send him my stuff for feedback and he’s always honest and helpful,” she says. “He sends me his stuff and we are able to help each other out.”
It’s been a bit of a trek to figure out how to market and promote her own music. So far, Margalit has released about 30 original songs across two E.P.’s — “submerge” and “I LOVE YOU” — numerous singles and a mini-album. She’s planning on a vinyl release next year and currently figuring out how to transfer digital recordings to the old-school analog format. She’s not releasing the name of the record yet — the first letter in the names of the songs spell out the title like an acrostic poem — but says it will be a full-length album with 15 songs.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working on this one,” she says. “I’m really excited to finally get it out … This one is about the different versions of people and different versions of myself — I have a lot of vivid dreams — and how that plays into my life.”
She pulls from her own life when writing lyrics.
“’I LOVE YOU’ was the first album that was about things that actually happened to me like people and relationships,” she says. “I’ve never actually had a relationship but ‘I LOVE YOU’ was about my early years in college and figuring things out.”
Margalit has been afforded the opportunity this year to play a few small, limited-capacity shows in Boulder and Denver, including the Denver Westword Music Showcase. She says she isn’t overly concerned with her live music replicating her recorded music and she prefers that the two sound different.
“I have a band that plays with me, usually,” she says. “It’s like the basic guitarist, a bassist and a drummer and my two friends who sing back up vocals. But for my Boulder Theater show and my upcoming one in December, I also have a string quartet that comes and plays with us.”
When Margalit graduates next May, she’s hoping to go on some kind of tour. She’s not sure where, anywhere in the United States. If she could play anywhere, she’d pick Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, all the big cities, but places she’s never been. She throws out place names like Virginia and Ohio. Much of her extended family lives in Israel, so she sees herself playing there someday (she is going on a birthright trip this winter.)
Eventually, the world.
“That’s kind of the plan,” she says. “After graduation, there’s nothing keeping me here.”
Check out dafna.rocks for more information.