Matisyahu: Making Music that Moves

Beliefnet interviews the reggae singer on his fans, his music and the connection he shares with it all.

Matisyahu

I’ll be honest. I was determined to make Matisyahu smile.

The Grammy award-nominated reggae rock star who sings boldly about his Jewish faith is generally reserved in interviews. However, on stage, he rules the crowds with his rapid-fire lyrics contrasted by his slow motion dance moves. As I stood backstage at the NorVa Theater in Norfolk, VA, where Matisyahu would perform later that night, I am curious what makes moves the Hasidic Jewish man.

When we meet, he is very tall and in street clothes, but still dons his yarmulke and sidelocks. After spending the afternoon at the movies with his young sons, he is relaxed on a backstage couch during our interview, but well aware that in a few hours he will take the stage as part of a tour that goes from the heartland of America to Moscow.

“The best part of touring is the opportunity to make the music,” he says. “You get to do what you love and have the ability to go out on stage every night and create.”

Matisyahu makes music that is close to his heart and his Jewish faith. He’s been singing reggae rhymes that give praise to God since his 2004 debut album Shake Off the Dust… Arise. He’s most widely known for his live album Live at Stubb’s in 2005 that eventually went Gold, led by the chart-topping single “King Without a Crown”. His second studio album Youth earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album. When I ask him if this is all too surreal, I can tell he takes it all in stride.

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“I guess my whole life somehow I felt prepared. Something like this was going to be the case. I was either going to be an outcast or I would be appreciated by people,” he says. “I always knew I was different and that people had opinions about me. I guess I learned as best as I can to shield out a lot and live my life from within.”

Living from within is what has always set him apart. While rap stars boast about money and rock stars pin over love, Matisyahu sings about Yahweh. In the mid-2000s, he was known for performing in the traditional black hat and coat. He says he has an ever-evolving relationship with Judaism that is expressed in his songs.

“In 2004, when I started recording my first CD, I was coming right out of yeshiva. So I had spent two years completely immersed in the Hasidic culture, disconnected completely from the secular world – movies, music, people,” he recalls. “Now it’s been five, six years of being on the road and living my life. So when I came into it, I had this protective layer around me.”

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