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Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Boston Globe article about Matisyahu

This article is old and not soo accurate but still :

A reggae rapper who hangs with Hasidim

Forgive Matisyahu if he doesn't make eye contact onstage. The 24-year-old beatboxer and MC doesn't wear his glasses when he performs because odds are good that a number of women won't be dressed modestly, and Matisyahu - a Hasidic Jew who has spent the last two years living and studying in a Crown Heights, N.Y., yeshiva - is determined to deliver his rugged dancehall reggae without straying from the strict requirements of his Lubavitch community.

It's not overstating the case to say that Matisyahu is an original. The visual package is startling: Picture a young man in traditional payos (side curls), black hat and long beard grabbing the mike and going off in front of a crowd at New York's hip Mercury Lounge, or the Knitting Factory, or Southpaw - all rooms that Matisyahu has sold out. The music is a fairly mind-boggling fusion as well: strains of Bob Marley and Shlomo Carlebach combine into a fluid, flawless flow of Torah-inspired rhymes.

But it's the cultural fusion Matisyahu is courting - a musical bridge uniting the historically cloistered Orthodox Jewish community with the world of nightclubs, secular fans and marketing plans - that really sets him apart.

"The rabbi would like me to be in Crown Heights, sitting in yeshiva and learning more," Matisyahu confesses. "But right now my energy is in music. I have a way to affect people and uplift them. To give that up is to go against what God wants."

Matisyahu's debut album, "Shake off the Dust ... Arise!," was released in October. Produced by Daniel Seliger, former vice president of Rawkus Records, and recorded at a home studio in Brooklyn, the album's title is taken from "L'cha Dodi," a song sung at the Friday night Sabbath service.

"The week has gone by and Shabbos is coming and, spiritually, everything goes up," says Matisyahu. "It's a transition, a time to shake off the problems and the fatigue and elevate. This unification happens. In general, in my life, that's what this whole time period has been for me."

Matisyahu grew up Matthew Miller in a Reconstructionist Jewish family in White Plains, N.Y. He was repeatedly threatened with expulsion from Hebrew School, had his bar mitzvah party at an Italian restaurant and at 14 became a card-carrying Deadhead. Two years later, he traveled to Israel, where he began to feel a deep connection to his Jewish roots. The next year, after nearly burning down his chemistry classroom, he dropped out of school and followed Phish on a national tour. His parents sent him to a therapeutic wilderness program in Bend, Ore., where he finished high school, fell in love with reggae and started playing music.

"There was a coffee shop in town where I met a guy with dreadlocks who played guitar, and every Thursday we played there," he recalls. "I would wear an Israeli flag like a turban and we'd do crazy hip-hop chanting and people started coming in for that. Young kids started bringing turntables. We ended up putting a band together."

Matisyahu returned to New York two years later to attend college at the New School. He began frequenting the Carlebach Shul on the Upper West Side and forged a close bond with Dov Yona Korn, a Lubavitch rabbi he met in Washington Square Park. Matisyahu also bought a PA system and started collecting instrumental reggae tapes.

"I would turn it up loud on the speakers and write lyrics and rap," he says. "I didn't think I was practicing anything. There were no shows or audiences. It was how I expressed myself. I just felt that music. Lots of the reggae artists are called conscious and the words are about Jah, but they're talking about God. So many lyrics were taken from the Old Testament. I was able to find my culture and identity in Judaism and hold onto the truth in this music."

During his first year living in the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Matisyahu neither played nor listened to music. Everything outside of his studies and connection with God was considered a distraction. The Torah, he says, was his art, and praying was his music. But his own songs never ceased to percolate in the back of Matisyahu's mind, and last year he returned to performance.

Matisyahu knows that his chosen paths - one religious, one musical - will involve a delicate balancing act. It's easy to let things slip, he says, to forget what your real purpose is. But he is a man on a mission. And a man with a message. Asked to explain the essence of that message, Matisyahu begins to recite the words to his song "Warrior."

"Elevating my soul, purifying my sound, like the son of a sun ray, burning up through a cloud, Torah food for my brain, let it rain 'til I drown, thunder let the blessing come down."
(take from shmais.com)


Blogger Chaim said...

I thought I'd pass this along to you to post on your site. it's a NEW boston herald article on Matisyahu from feb 14th.


send me your e-mail and I can email you more stuff when I find it. (and I will.)

5:34 AM  

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