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Friday, October 20, 2006

Just your average Orthodox Jewish reggae star

Matisyahu: Just your average Orthodox Jewish reggae star

By MICHAEL LISI Special to the Times Union

ALBANY … Matisyahu is arguably the most popular reggae
artist in America. He’s also one of reggae’s most unlikely superstars. He’s a Hasidic singer and rapper who embraces Jewish spirituality in his music, at times singing in Hebrew and taking lyrics from the Torah.

Musically, Matisyahu serves up
an amalgam of dance-hall reggae,
hip-hop, rock and even ska-flavored punk, sung with a slight
Jamaican accent … even though
he’s a one-time Phish fan from
White Plains.

Matisyahu was mesmerizing
Tuesday night at the Washington
Avenue Armory, playing 90 minutes of intense, infectious reggae
and hip-hop that had fans screaming, swaying, dancing and taking
cellphone photos from start to end.

The crowd of about 1,500 was
mostly college-aged, although
there were more than a few teens,
like 13-year-old Josh Fisher, who
saw Matisyahu for the first time.
And yarmulkes were the order of
the night for a noticeable number
of fans, although few were as
outward with their faith as Matisyahu.

Dressed in a black overcoat,
sporting a bushy beard and a kipa,
Matisyahu looked downright odd
fronting a searing five-piece band
that pulsed bass-heavy reggae beats
and grinding, guitar-fueled rock.
But somehow it all fit together,
punctuated by Matisyahu as he
jumped, skipped and swirled
around the stage, moving to the
beat during pounding readings of
“Chop ‘Em Down'’ and “Fire of
Heaven/Altar of Faith,'’ and the
slow reggae groove of “Exaltation.'’

And watching Matisyahu and an
identically dressed male dancer do
a take on a traditional Jewish dance
called the Hora during a wild
version of “Youth'’ was, well, different to say the least. Different but
impossible not to watch, and in
context and done sincerely.

Matisyahu live

Matisyahu’s sincerity and spirituality elevates him from novelty
act status. Hearing his strong,
soaring tenor sing “We’re all children in the eyes of God'’ during
“Close Your Eyes,'’ you just wanted
to close your eyes and believe it.
Matisyahu isn’t the first to meld
reggae and spirituality … Bob
Marley did it years before Matisyahu was born. But Matisyahu does
it in a way no one else ever has, and
it worked well in Albany on Tuesday night.

State Radio, a hard-hitting Boston-based reggae/ska-punk act, offered up a solid 30-minute performance that sounded somewhat like
a hyped-up cross between The
Police, Pearl Jam and 1980 ska act
Bad Manners. The power trio was
intriguing but loud … obnoxiously
loud. Just because your amp goes to
11 doesn’t mean you have to play at

Moshav, a five-piece jam-band
act from Israel, won some new fans
with a 30-minute set that echoed
Pearl Jam at times. Led by singer
Yehuda Solomon, Moshav mixed it
up, injecting reggae and Middle
Eastern rhythms into their rock,
giving it an edgy ethnic sound that
was hard to resist.

Michael Lisi is a freelance
music critic from Clifton Park and
a frequent contributor to the
Times Union.
MATISYAHU with State Radio
and Moshav
When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Washington Avenue
Armory, Washington Avenue,
Length: Matisyahu, 90 minutes;
State Radio, 30 minutes; Moshav,
30 minutes
Crowd: A predominantly Jewish, college-aged crowd of about 1,500, out to dance and soak up the
hip-hop reggae sounds of Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu.
Highlights: “Time of Your Song,
“Youth,'’ “Exaltation.'’


Blogger JewishShiksa said...

can't wait can't wait can't wait till sunday night, seeing him at the docks in toronto!

6:58 PM  

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