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Published: 2014/09/08
by Reanna Feinberg

Matisyahu, Britt Fest, Jacksonville, OR- 8/27

Photo by David Novin

Moving in a schizophrenic auditory carousel, Matisyahu flowed in and out of English, Hebrew, rap, pop, melody, poetry, reggae, beat box and full ecstatic vocals. Storytelling through different ethnicities, he used the soulful beats and dialect of reggae to speak about the struggles, history and spirit of Judaism. He used pop rock to touch a wider audience with words of peace and a vision of unified humankind. He employed electronic rhythms to entice the ear into dancing the body. He played with high, echoed vocals to expand sound to an ethereal realm where he and Bono might have had a conversation across opposite ends of the Grand Canyon in the 80’s. It was a different breed of music with borders that managed to touch Jerusalem, Jamaica and America. All I can say with certainty is that it was beautiful.

In a venue that typically hosts a seated crowd, he had people up on their feet while he sat, totally relaxed, on a stool center stage, his elbow resting comfortably on the empty mic stand next to him. Beaming vocals into the open-aired venue, he built the performance gently, slowly and imbued with meaning. A woman jumped on stage and ran around before security successfully wrangled her. He sat, unmoved, calm, no rush, no waver. Steeped in the rhythms and knowledge within his own being—his response wore the authenticity of the sacred and conscious lyrics that speckled the music. He was simply there to sing.

After building patiently he threw off his suit jacket and the whole show changed. Uplifting, powerful vocals flowed in rich, full waves through high guitar landscapes, synthesized keys and hard held drum and bass beats of the reggae inclination. The instruments created a cohesive trampoline to hold Matisyahu’s stories. Relaying not just the universal messages of peace, unity, love and kindness, some songs went further and told the biblical stories of the Jewish tribulations and heritage in poetic ballads—as if they were characters of modern day. It would have been easy to mistake it as electronically flavored reggae with a slight pop appeal, and miss it as a delivery system to tell a version of one of the oldest recorded stories.

The music felt more pop-oriented than the Hasidic roots of a few years ago when he dressed in the full garb of that strict religious sect. Now, with a shaved head and standard suit, he spoke his musical cultural emulsion to a secular crowd exposed indiscriminately to diverse sounds from around the world to touch the human heart.

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