Crossposted from Haaretz
Matisyahu’s Tuesday night show should have been a great joy, first of all because of the location. Ordinarily, the conditions at Zappa are nothing to get excited about, but just one day after Bob Dylan’s performance in the cursed expanses of the Ramat Gan Stadium, a show in a small, crowded club sounds like a great idea.
And even more so in the case of Matisyahu, who gave a mediocre show at the huge Hangar 11 when he was here at the height of his fame a few years ago. Now that the novelty of a Hasidic rapper has quieted down (and justifiably so), he has returned to smaller venues that are supposed to showcase his strong suits.
Matisyahu was so close to the audience at this performance that with just a little effort I could have tugged on his tzitzit. But nonetheless, despite the clubby intimacy, it was not a good show. It wasn’t bad either. Just mediocre: nothing to write your rabbi about.
Last week on an adorable TMZ segment, former Degrassi child actor and current ubiquitous pop radio presence Drake called himself “one of the best Jews to ever do it,” where “it” presumably meant spitting lines. Conveniently timed to coincide with the release of his new album, “Live at Stubb’s Vol. II,” peyot-sporting rap-reggae-pop singer Matisyahu fought back: “He happens to be Jewish just like Bob Dylan happened to be Jewish, but what I’m doing is really tapping into my roots and culture, and trying to blend that with the mainstream… Drake’s being Jewish is just a by-product.” Jay-Z vs. Nas Pt. II this is not (it’s not even Eminem vs. Insane Clown Posse quality), but it does raise a question that anyone writing and reading about Jewish music has to confront eventually: What is Jewish music?
A snarkier critic might point out that Matisyahu dueting with Evangelical Christian nu-metal rockers P.O.D. in 2006 did very little for his Jewish bona fides (the “Testify” album cover contained a giant crucifix in place of the second ‘t’) but I’ll just wonder aloud if Matisyahu returning to Stubb’s on an album indicates his own uncertainty about his Jewishness.
When Erez Safar started the Sephardic Music Festival in 2005, he was thinking about the future of Sephardic music. Having spent the last decade watching klezmer explode in popularity among artists like the avant-garde composer John Zorn and the Brooklyn punk band Golem, Safar realized klezmer was moving into a brave new future and was leaving its Sephardic counterparts behind. If the annual festival is Safar’s response to that problem, “Sephardic Music Festival Vol. 1,” is the permanent document illuminating a musical movement at a moment of uncertain transformation.
“Klezmer had this hip factor, but that never happened to Sephardic music. So the idea was to have cool different styled Sephardic music,” Safar told the Forward. The 18-track compilation reads like a who’s who of Jewish Middle Eastern sounds. Movement names like Moshav Band, Sarah Aroeste, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Jon Madof and Galeet Dardashti pepper the tracks alongside less familiar figures. The most startling inclusion is a six-minute opener by rock-reggae Hasid Matisyahu. On the track, Matisyahu mostly discards the twisting breathless vocals he built his career on, in favor of softly spoken words over a funky electronic maqam beat. His inclusion indicates the scope of Safar’s Sephardic dream: a pan-ethnic space that draws musically on places as diverse as Morocco and Ibiza.
Listen to Matisyahu’s ‘Two Child One Drop’:
Casting has begun for an Israeli version of Sex and the City.
At ZEEK, Louis Greenspan re-discovers Jewish philosopher Salomon Maimon.
The New York Times discovers KlezKamp.
Ingrid Pitt, a British horror movie star and Holocaust survivor, has died.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Aaron Bisman writes about “The White Boy Shuffle” by Paul Beatty.
At 20, on a visit with my Bubbe to the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, I happened upon a book in the gift shop: “The White Boy Shuffle” by Paul Beatty. I can’t say what attracted me to it, but I picked it up, and have read and re-read it many times since.
“The White Boy Shuffle” is about the discovery of identity within family, historical, geographic, and racial contexts. It is also about the unintended power that comes with leadership and the risks and repercussions that come with it. Sarcastic, poetic, at times bitter and often hilarious, this farce didn’t affect my Jewish journey so much as call it into perspective.
Just a few months after his son Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan, Judea Pearl approached Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, about the possibility of organizing a concert in his son’s memory to take place around his birthday, October 10. “He wanted there to be a concert in every place Danny had lived,” explained Karlin-Neumann.
This year, during the month of October, over 6000 performances will take place in over 100 countries as part of the ninth annual Daniel Pearl World Music Days. To participate in this huge network of concerts, musicians need only register through the website set up by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and make a dedication from the stage to the theme of “Harmony for Humanity.” The project has attracted famous industry names such as Barbra Streisand, Herbie Hancock, Matisyahu and Elton John, as well as municipal orchestras, university music departments and garage jam bands. At Stanford, hundreds of people are expected to attend this year’s concert on October 7.
The first few bars of DeScribe’s new video, “Harmony,” are an Auto-Tuned proclamation of love, respect and unity. Standing behind a microphone, surrounded by Jewish and African American teenagers, the bearded 28-year-old rapper advocates love and understanding between the two communities and the world at large.
On August 2 DeScribe, also known as Shneur Hasofer, launched the video with a press conference at the Brooklyn Borough President’s office. “The press conference was very emotional, I had a tear in my eye. I’m happy that all the leaders were around and they didn’t give up hope. A lot of people have been burnt out by trying to push racial harmony, and they put a lot of energy into this. It was exactly what I had hoped for,” he said.
It’s tempting to compare Hasofer with another prominent Hasidic artist, Matisyahu, and Hasofer takes the comparison as a compliment. “[Matisyahu] was a very big inspiration to me personally. He charged as a Hasidic Jew into the mainstream music scene and has an incredible talent and gift. I knew that everyone was going to compare me to him,” he said. But Hasofer also points out that the two singers have very different styles. “He has a strong reggae sound while mine is hip-hop,” he said, adding that there is always room for two Jewish artists in the mainstream.
Music lovers preoccupied with the question of “whither Jewish jazz?” will want to attend the June 19 performance by the Assaf Kehati Trio at Boston’s The Beehive, in anticipation of their scheduled sets at New York’s The Blue Note on August 1.
The trio consists of guitarist Assaf Kehati, an Israeli-born resident of Boston, veteran drummer Billy Hart (who is something of a legend for his performances and recordings with McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Stan Getz), and bass player Noam Wiesenberg, an Israeli graduate of the Berklee College of Music. The trio’s repertoire includes Kehati and Hart’s own compositions, the work of neglected songwriters like Arthur Altman, as well as decidedly non-neglected composers like George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
S’fira music is certainly an “a-choired” taste, but many Jews out there will be delighted with this thorough compilation.
To me, this music is reminiscent of Passover cakes, baked out of potato starch — trying a little too hard to be something they are not and not quite rising to the occasion. However, this year the style had some wonderful developments, capitalizing on the current beatboxing trend.
The Brooklyn-based music label Shemspeed attracted international attention recently with their “Israeli remix of the Keffiyeh” (more of a tempest in a teapot, really, than a full-blown controversy), but that shouldn’t distract anyone from what the Jewish music production company spends most of its time doing: producing music.
Shemspeed has put out no less than two new albums in the last week: “Lishmah”, an EP from Darshan, and “Dreams in Static” by Diwon and Dugans. Despite the proximity of their releases, the two albums are profoundly different. Both, however, are best savored in meditative moment.