Matisyahu whispers on the power of the spirit
Published: August 17, 2011
Even though “King Without a Crown” is a great track, the big moment in Live at Stubb’s (2005) — Matisyahu’s second, breakthrough album recorded in Austin — is “Lord Raise Me Up.” If that track doesn’t get you into Matisyahu, nothing will.
The song builds with keyboards and a guitar and then explodes into a reggae groove and Matisyahu’s precise, uncompromising rapid-fire flow. He’s an Orthodox Hasidic Jew, but his praises of God belong to a universal, nonsectarian, peace-loving interreligious/spiritual tradition that recognizes the power of the name as the beginning and the end of any creative endeavor. The music was powerful enough to break all barriers despite the fact that he was a rarity on both the hip-hop/reggae worlds and Judaism.
“I never really paid attention to what anyone said about my music,” Matisyahu told the Current from Omaha, Neb., days before his show Thursday at Helotes’ Josabi’s (see info box). “I wasn’t part of any hip-hop community where I would be listening to what other people thought about me and, even though I was part of a Jewish community, I kind of just thought that this was my mission, this was my destiny, and I didn’t really pay attention much to what other people thought about it.”
Apparently, Matisyahu (born Matthew Paul Miller in Pennsylvania in 1979, but raised in White Plains, New York) still only listens to the beat of his own drum. When I told him the phone connection sucked and asked if he could speak a little louder, he ignored me and kept on talking in a whisper, so unlike his fiery delivery on record and in concert. He wouldn’t even mention the musicians he was bringing to San Antonio by name besides a general comment about the Dub Trio.
“They are [now] more kind of a pretty hard, heavy, sort of like a metal band, but they bring in influences of dub, and they do a lot of movement back and forth between genres,” he said. “They explore multi-dimensional, multi-genre musics like myself.” (For the record, the musicians are Dave Holmes on guitar and keyboards, Stu Brooks on bass, and Joe Tomino on drums.)
Matisyahu’s three studio albums (2004’s Shake Off the Dust… Arise, 2006’s Youth, and 2009’s Light) all have powerful moments, but are uneven at best. It is live where Matisyahu shines. According to Billboard, Live at Stubb’s was the second best-selling reggae album of 2006, and in February Matisyahu went back to the source, releasing Live at Stubb’s Vol. 2, which some reviewers consider even better than the first one (not me, but it’s a pretty good record). While touring, he’s working on two simultaneous albums: a pop/hip-hop oriented project that mixes digital programming with organic collaborations with Israeli musicians, and a “moodier, darker, edgier record” with the Dub Trio. But don’t underestimate his studio stuff.
> Email Enrique Lopetegui