Reggae Star Matisyahu Gets Intimate
Reggae star Matisyahu has been sparking a connection with audiences worldwide for nearly a decade. Born Matthew Paul Miller, he is known for blending traditional Jewish themes with reggae, rock, and hip hop sounds, making him one of the Jewish community’s most celebrated musicians around the world. He has achieved great success with songs like, “King Without a Crown,” “Youth,” and “One Day.” And as one of the only Hassidic Jews to make it to this level of success in music, Matisyahu is a rare find, which gives fans a whole other reason to appreciate his talent.
In the last year, however, Matisyahu has shed many of the elements that we have come to associate with his career. The musician shed his famous beard, let go of the classic “studio” process on his latest album, and ditched his typical plugged-in style for an acoustic tour. Shaving the beard particularly concerned some fans that worried the performer was turning from Judaism.
Yet, interestingly enough, by removing so many aspects of his traditional style, Matisyahu is actually adding a new level of intimacy and spirituality to his career. And as he revealed in an interview with JMag, this new move is allowing him to spark a whole new connection with audiences, and even himself.
JMag: You chose to record your new album, Spark Seeker, as an acoustic album and then chose to promote it with an acoustic tour. This is different from anything you’ve ever done before. Can you tell us about it?
Matisyahu: It’s different for various reasons. Musically it’s a different setup. There are no drums or bass. It’s very stripped back, which allows us to get to the core of the songs, the lyrics and the vocals — the style and whatnot. It’s very open. People are really able to peer into the music and, I guess, into what goes into the creation of it.
JMag: It sounds like you’re creating a more vulnerable setting for yourself. You’re even offering a special Q & A session at some shows where fans are able to ask you questions. Do you feel like you’re taking down a wall between you and your audience?
Matisyahu: Yes, (fans) are very much right there with no barrier. Anyone can say whatever they want. There’s no covering anything, there’s no persona. There’s also a lot of improvisation and it gives me a chance to be boss, which kind of gives me an outlet. And that’s fun for me.
JMag: Your fans seem to be getting a lot out of this experience. How do these changes impact you?
Matisyahu: It’s just an exploration. I’m learning things every night, learning about interaction with the crowd and interaction with the musicians, how to listen and how to make music. The main thing for me is the ability to get up every night in front of a crowd and audience and make music, to sing and to use my voice and to create music. And I still really love it and I enjoy it, especially the band I put together for this tour. It is very special, very unique.
JMag: Your music seems deeply connected to your spirituality and Judaism. Do you think this album has a different twist compared to what you’ve done in the past? Or is it just an extension of what you’ve always done?
Matisyahu: I think it’s an extension because it’s different. It’s always shifting for me. My last record was a shift, as was the one before that. When I’m putting out a record or making music, I’m never looking to try to recreate something I’ve already done. I’m always looking ahead. Music is the type of thing that’s changing, moving and changing. So, you have to move with it.
JMag: The name of your album, Spark Seeker, is interesting. And it’s likely to resonate with many of our readers who are seeking some sort of spark in their love lives. What’s the inspiration behind the title?
Matisyahu: It means whatever it means to whoever’s reading it. For me, a spark is what we’re looking for in life — whether it is a sense of meaning, or depth, or beauty, or knowledge, just some kind of spark.
And then there’s the reference to the Kabbalah. The idea in the Kabbalah, mystically, is that when God created the world, the universe, the first time, there was too much light for the vessels. And so there was an explosion.
And the pieces of that first world, the broken pieces, are like shards or sparks that became sort of divested into the physical part of this world. And when a person does mitzvahs or does good deeds, spiritually they’re able to uplift these different broken sparks of chaos and send them home (to reunite) them with itself. That’s in some ways the purpose of music, and of what I do, and how I incorporate Judaism into my work.
You know, I sort of have a vision of myself going in and trying to make connections, building bridges and make manifestations of oneness through music and people.
By consistently allowing himself to be vulnerable through his music, and essentially sharing the deepest part of himself with his fans, Matisyahu may be one of the best examples yet for singles looking for love. After all, what’s needed to spark a connection between two people is simply two open hearts and an ability to be vulnerable with another person — something Matisyahu does effortlessly — which makes it so easy for his music to spark a connection with fans worldwide.