Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu‘s new album “Light” will be released in Israel on August 24. Meanwhile, the first single from the CD, “One Day” has already garnered nearly a million plays on MySpace.
Ahead of the launching of the album in Israel Matisyahu gave an interview to Ynet about his music, inspiration and faith.
Matisyahu has worked on the album for two years, a large part of which he dedicated to the study of Torah, and especially the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and “The story of the seven beggars.”
According to Matisyahu, Rebbe Nachman “writes a lot about the tzimtzum, or retraction of godly light, in order to make room for this world to exist with him having to withdraw his presence.
“Being that man is a reflection of God, this means that we too have a void or empty space within. True creation must come from this place. Most of our lives we spend uncomfortable with this void and trying to fill it but if a person can get in touch with this quiet place within and live there, they can tap their creative potential. I have spent much of the past few years trying to come to terms with this and the new record is the product of this work.”
Rebbe Nachman’s writings have inspired not only the creative process, but also the content of the songs, said the singer: “Rebbe Nachman speaks a lot about insanity and that in order to reach heights a person must go through this process of allowing oneself to be low.
“Humility, insanity for the sake of authentic experience, taking chances, courage, following ones heart, emptiness: these are many of the themes that I deal with on the new record.”
– What significant changes are there between the new album and your earlier ones?
“With the new record I didn’t use one specific band or group of musicians to play and write. Instead I brought together many different friends with different musical backgrounds and sort of put it all together to create a new sound.
“Lyrically in the past I sort of wrote with a free association; this time I spent quite some time developing ideas and writing lyrics and then revising.”
Conversations with God
In the song “Silence”, Matisyahu addresses God and asks him to talk to him. When asked what he thinks God would have told him, the musician said: “My question to God is, why do you kill us? His answer is, continue to question. This world is about finding the authentic questions that resonate in your soul, next world will be about answers.”
– Two years ago the religious Jewish media reported that Matisyahu has changed his religious affiliation, abandoned Chabad and joined the Karlin Hasidic stream. Was this really the case?
“I am glad you are asking this so I can clear things up a bit,” he said. “I davened at a Karlin Shul a handful of times and mentioned that to a reporter. All of a sudden it makes me a Karlin Hasid. I am many things. Sometimes I am none of them.
“Why are we so quick to be one thing or the other? Happy or sad, high or low, good or bad, this or that. Perhaps things are more complex. Perhaps we are happy and sad, high and low, etc all at the same time. Things are a mixture more often than purely one thing or the other.”
One of Matisyahu’s well-known sources of inspiration is Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, “the dancing rabbi”. How is his music different from Rabbi Carlebach’s?
“Its apples and oranges,” he replied. “Shlomo’s music was not for the masses. It was beautiful, soulful, and deep but it was mainly in Hebrew and was born out of Jewish experience. My music is coming out of the non-Jewish world and therefore it resonates in the world at large.”
– Then is there a difference between singing to Jews and to non-Jews?
“No, no, no. God forbid. My music is for whoever chooses to listen and it is for them to get out of it whatever they choose. Once it leaves me and goes into the world it is no longer mine to choose who and what and how.”
– Do you think of moving to Israel sometime?
“I will definitely move to Israel, God willingly. In the meantime I try to visit Israel every chance I get.”
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