- 25 July 2006
This article is from 2006.
'God has chosen certain people to be at the forefront of music, to send out messages, whether they are about sex and drugs and rock and roll, or peace and love.' If you are Matisyahu, a 26-year-old orthodox Jew who tours the world playing dub and reggae music, chances are that a certain few questions will recur every time you're interviewed. It's fair to assume that your unusual marriage of Judaism and deep, dynamic dub will make people question whether it's all just a gimmick, or if what you do is borne of passion for the music. Then, there's the query about how anyone can reconcile the austerity of Jewish orthodoxy with a musical tradition that often provides the backdrop for the repeated ingestion of industrial strength marijuana.
Matisyahu says that there are 'about ten questions that always come up', and yet he remains sanguine in the face of repetition: 'I don't mind discussing my religion. I don't see it as something separate from my life; I have a faith and a history and a belief system and I don't mind discussing the relation of religion to
music.' How does he feel, then, about the argument that his music has garnered special interest precisely because of his religion? 'Certainly some of the excitement centred around my faith when I first started out, although our exposure really depends on me as an artist and the music itself, not on religious background or the mass religion I represent.'
He feels that there is no science to what happens in music. 'You can't think, "I am going to combine two complete opposites like Judaism and reggae and sell a million records." Music is about the human experience, and that kind of interest and success can't really be created, sold and bought.' Speaking to Matisyahu, considering his lyrical content and touring schedule, and hearing those skills as an MC, it's clear that little or nothing that he does is superficial. He twice breaks off from the interview to recant blessings in Hebrew (once after leaving the bathroom and again after imbibing a vitamin cocktail).
His new album Youth is a stark disquisition on the nature of violence and the reasons behind the perennial rebellion of youth. It lays bare a mind in dialogue with itself about some of the tough emotional,
political or philosophical questions that he encounters. 'Some people find it hard to take life seriously. They see someone who looks different from the norm, and they want to tear it apart. This can take the form of ripping it apart or mocking it. Jewish people have had this done to them all through history.' (John Regan)
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