You know… More than one person thinks it’s funny that I’m a 51 year old guy who goes to every concert that Matisyahu plays in Portland. Yes I like reggae but, no, I don’t like rap, or hip hop, or beatbox, or any of those other styles that so many young people are into these days. So, what is it about Matisyahu that I so love, if not the basic styles of his music?
First, I admit it, I do like to get up to the stage and make a fool of myself dancing (although I wish the kid with the gel spiked hair in front of me didn’t keep poking me in the eye with his wacky ‘do). Second, I do love reggae, which is a large part of the Matisyahu “thing”. But, what I really admire is that the man has created an entire new genre of music, “Black Hat Reggae”, that I find refreshingly unifying. And, of course, the whole notion of an Orthodox Jewish cross between Reggae and Hip Hop is just simply too cool. Mostly, though, it’s the way that Matis unites his music with lyrics that obviously well up from deep within his soul that blows me away. Words like these:
- In the spiritual desert things are not what they seem; snakes camouflaged just fit the scene. Put your faith in a mirage it’s just a smoke screen. The king is sitting on his thrown of glory.
- Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory; Years gone by, about sixty; Burn in the oven in this century; And the gas tried to choke, but it couldn’t choke me; I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep; They come overseas, yes they’re trying to be free; Erase the demons out of our memory; Change your name and your identity; Afraid of the truth and our dark history; Why is everybody always chasing me; Cut off the roots of your family tree; Don’t you know that’s not the way to be.
- Out of darkness comes light, a twilight unto the heights; Crown heights burnin’ up all through the twilight; Said, “I thank you” to my God, now I finally got it right; And I’ll fight with all of my heart and all my soul and all my might
- Young man control in your hand; Slam your fist on the table and make your demand; Take a stand; Fan a fire for the flame of the youth; Got the freedom to choose you better make the right move. Young man, the power’s in your hand, slam your fist on the table and make your demand. You better make the right move.
- Sometimes I lay under the moon and I thank God I’m breathin’. Then I pray don’t take me soon; ‘Cause I am here for a reason.Sometimes in my tears I drown, but I never let it get me down. So when negativity surrounds. I know someday it’ll all turn around because all my life I been waitin’ for, I been prayin’ for, for the people to say, that we don’t want to fight no more, they’ll be no more wars, and our children will play, one day…………
These are just amazing statements of spiritual conviction and faith. I don’t necessarily share those specific convictions (for example, I’m not living my life on the premise that things will be better as soon as the messiah comes – I don’t buy it). But, I certainly DO admire the way the man brings those convictions into his work. In a world of stoned reggae artists and “gansta rappers”, along comes this lone Orthodox Jew with a kippah; pais; a big beard; and a real, honest, devotion to the Sh’ma and to the people of “the tribe”. With him he brings a vision of love, peace, morality, and a coming messianic age. I may not believe what Matisyahu believes, but I love him for expressing it and for staying true to his convictions – even in a world of opposites.
On top of that, look how many non-Jews now see an Orthodox Jew as being “cool”. The goodwill that that fosters in a world or raging antisemitism is SO worth it. Yea…. he could be my son….. but I’m gonna keep on dancin’, anyway.