Matisyahu the Hasidic Reggae Superstar brings a new look to reggae
Gann Academy: The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., Jan. 15, 2005
By Jeffrey B. Remz
WALTHAM, MA - This wasn't your grandfather's reggae concert. Far from it because what Matisyahu the Hasidic Reggae Superstar did before a packed crowd was bring a religious bent to his brand of reggae.
Matisyahu (when he grew up in White Plains, N.Y., he was known as Matthew Miller) is an observant Jew and got turned on to reggae by listening to Bob Marley. Now, he has combined those interests singing praises of the Lord in his music.
He released a strong disc, "Shake Off the Dust...ARISE" this past fall on a small non-profit Jewish-based label, J Dub.
In some respects, the concert was surreal given the whole concept of Matisyahu to begin with, plus a crowd of about 400 that was between about 5 and 70 years old with lots of talking from teens and pre-teens and enthusiastic dancing from others.
On album and in concert, one of his best songs was "Chop 'em Down," where he delivers the song about the Exodus (an appropriate theme for reggae) of the Israelites from Egypt with a lot of force. His backing band, particularly guitarist Aaron Dugan, proved up to the task as well.
Dressed in the formal, traditional Hasidic garb of a dark suit and hat, Matisyahu also showed good toasting abilities later in the easy going 75-minute show.
Perhaps a bit too easy going. He could have picked up the intensity of the show with less down time between songs.
Presumably playing to the religious in the crowd, Matisyahu made a number of references to the Messiah coming as he did on the closing song, "King Without a Crown."
What will prove interesting is to see how Matisyahu plays in the hinterlands. He clearly is aiming to break out beyond Jewish audiences and chances are he will have to have less emphasis on Moshiach if he is to expand that audience. Based on this evening, he just may have the tools to achieve that goal.