Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Matisyahu: Was Not Inspired by Jewish Music

In the latest article covering the Hassidic Jewish reggae performer known as Matisyahu, he discusses his musical  background and inspirations.

He credits his parents for their “great taste in music,” saying that American classics like Grateful Dead, Smokey Robinson, Paul Simon, and Neil Young were his first loves, before Michael Jackson and hip-hop infected his ears via pop radio. And, he adds, Jewish music was never part of the equation.

“Honestly, I was never really inspired by Hebrew music. I started banging on my dad’s drum set at some point, and then beatboxing became my method for musical expression,” he said.

“When I was 16 I went to Israel, and I started to really question my identity while trying to figure out who I was. Being Jewish gave me a real sense of intrigue, and became something that was relevant to me. Having listened to Bob Marley and the way he incorporated the Old Testament into his music gave me license to do that, because my religious soul was bound up with the Old Testament.”Before you write off Matisyahu as another candy-coated Christian artist, though, consider this: He’s sold more than 2 million albums, received a Grammy nomination along with a bevy of other “Best of” awards, and even had his 2009 hit “One Day” chosen as the unofficial theme song of NBC’s 2010 Winter Olympics broadcast. So clearly his commercial audience is much broader than just Jewish teenagers — even if his music reaches for something far deeper than contemporary reggae’s typical beach, babes and bongs imagery.
“The content of my lyrics have always been grounded in a spiritual search for God,” Matisyahu says. “In my early 20s, I changed my lifestyle, pretty much divorcing myself from secular culture and moving to an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. I really stopped listening to music altogether, other than niggunims — the word is Hebrew for "melody" — which are Hasidic songs that came out of Eastern Europe in the 1800s.” Amazingly, Matisyahu says these ancient songs, most of which don’t even have words, began to inform his lyrical content.

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