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Matisyahu in The Jamaican Gleaner (mentions Barrington, Luciano & Joseph Israel)

Posted by missmarjel 
Matisyahu in The Jamaican Gleaner (mentions Barrington, Luciano & Joseph Israel)
April 02, 2006 04:17PM

Kavelle Anglin-Christie, Staff Reporter

MATISYAHU. IT's a name that has risen to prominence in reggae over the past few months and it seems there is no escaping it.

The name alone is enough to attract attention, but his appearance also has many intrigued.

Instead of 'flossing' large gold chains and flaunting half-naked women in his videos, Matisyahu - a Hasidic reggae singer - sports a wide-brimmed felt hat and traditional Jewish garb.

Not quite what one would expect from a reggae artiste.

Matisyahu, 26, recently released the album Youth, which sold more than 119, 000 copies in its first week and peaked number four on the U.S. Billboard charts.

"It feels good ... I don't really know what to say. As far as the numbers go, I don't really know what that means, it's just a number. What really means a lot is when I receive a card from someone saying I changed their life and helped them through hard times," Matisyahu told The Sunday Gleaner.


A member of the Lubavitch Hasidic (Jewish) community, he was born Matthew Paul Miller.

Despite his Jewish background, he always seemed destined to do reggae.

Matisyahu's parents sent him to Hebrew school, but by age 14 he started to grow dreadlocks and could be heard playing congo drums in the cafeteria.

Like many his age, he seemed to stray from Judaism.

However, it wasn't until a few years later when he went on a camping trip to Colorado, then travelled to Israel, that he began to search earnestly for meaning in his life. And he found it.

Soon after his return to the United States, he met a Lubavitch Rabbi in a park in his New York home city and felt compelled to change his name to Matisyahu, the Hebrew form of Matthew.

His spirituality is something that he has held on to since then and accredits his success to his faith.

"I see it more as a spiritual thing," he said.

Yet, Matisyahu has been influenced by reggae acts who some would consider far from being godly.

His musical inspirations range from the conscious tunes of Bob Marley to the energetic and often raunchy Sizzla and Buju Banton.

When asked what he calls his music, Matisyahu says "It's just music."

He even says he does not have a problem balancing his religion and music because he balances his time properly and he is spiritually grounded.

"There aren't much difficulties in terms of the touring schedules. It's just trying to stay structured, but I don't really see that as much of a difficulty," he said.


As far as his religion goes, Matisyahu likens his experience to that of Joseph's.

"It's like when Joseph's brothers sold him. He was a shepherd and then they sold him as a slave in Egypt, then he ended up becoming the head guy in Egypt. The idea of the shepherd is connected to God in a spiritual way ... he was not surrounded by religious people doing godly things and even though he was in an unholy place, he served God better from that place," he said.

He says most in his religious community share similar views, but there are also those who disagree.

"Pretty much, the people in my community are OK with it. I think a lot of young Jews in the community don't have to be embarrassed about their religion. Also, a lot of non-Jews accept it and relate to it," he said.

"There are the Jews who are Orthodox, Hasidic and other Jews who are OK with it. But I know there are Jewish people who have a problem with it, but I try not to pay any attention to that because there will always be critics. I think I am still doing Jewish music and it is in line with my belief system."

Matisyahu says there are some topics that he will not sing about, as a result of his religion.

"I try to use good language and I try not to sing about things that are not important to me. Some things are not relevant in my life ­ things like what other artistes sing about like women being sexy and things like that. Some things like that wouldn't make sense for me to sing about," he said.

Most artistes would be afraid of losing their audience, but not Matisyahu. He says that is the main reason he gained them in the first place.

"I don't think so. People like me for my honesty and they relate to the spiritual message," he said.

At any rate, Matisyahu isn't the first or only reggae act to stay true to himself and his audience, yet the others have not had the success he has in the mainstream.

And to go even further, Matisyahu has never been to Jamaica, the home of reggae music.


The reggae acts don't seem to be holding any grudges, because Matisyahu says they have accepted him.

"The response has been pretty good ... fans see that it gives us a chance to give back to the music. At the same time, I also think people respect us because we are different. We don't use back-up singers and we don't have a standard reggae style. We so everything - rap, hip hop, rock, reggae, everything, so we are not trying to do reggae music and I think people appreciate that," he said.

As proof of the fact that music has no boundaries, Matisyahu has already worked with a few reggae acts.

"Yes, I worked with Luciano a little and performed with him on stage. I also worked with Barrington Levy and Joseph of Israel," he said.

Matisyahu also says he plans on visiting Jamaica soon.

"Yeah, actually I do. It is a priority right now, to do shows and record with some artistes there. If not summer, then fall, but it's definitely soon," he said.

As for his next single, Matisyahu says that has not been decided yet, but he already has a favourite.

"The record company hasn't come to me with that, but Jerusalem - that's a single off the album - that's the one I'm voting for," he said.
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