Interview With Jewish Rap Artist Matisyahu - Ctrl.Alt.Shift

One kool guy - in one cool (though slightly too flash-my-wod-of-cash) location. Through the doors of London's swanky-beyond-swanky Soho House I came, rolling in for my 20 minutes with perhaps my most favourite Jew (aside from Woody Allen), rap artist Matisyahu. I've been watching Matis on Youtube for years, and with his last big debut album hitting our stores a few years back - I'm thinking this might just be the year he jumps back onto the frontline of our iPod playlists...

Matisyahu - One Day from 100% on Vimeo.

Here's my Q&A with the guru-esque musical genius - topics of discussion were religion, spirituality, music, music, live music and "fusion":

Ctrl Meets Matisyahu

Two words come to mind after meeting Grammy-nominated Jewish artist Matisyahu - ‘fusion’ and ‘spirituality’; two key aspects that make up his music, and his life…

It was quite an intense session in the plush Soho House rendezvous, as the renowned musician (who I had been watching on YouTube all day) squeezed in some time for me in between creating set lists for his London shows, and planning his trip back to the US to continue the promotion of his next album ‘Light’ (June 21 release date).

Laid back like a guru sipping on chilled tap water, almost every answer to my questions (delving into his musicality, to his thoughts on global issues of poverty and climate change) was postponed for grave thought, and deep consideration. Unlike most ‘celeb’ encounters where regurgitated template responses may roll right off the tongue, it seems Matisyahu is admittedly still on his own journey, still trying to figure out his own identity. Whilst the world’s problems continue to revolve and evolve (some of which are currently involving the people of Matisyahu’s nation), this Brooklyn-raised reggae, hip hop-influenced, pop-rock musician stays true to himself; stepping back from some global politics to tackle his own path and complexities. Enter the mind of the Israeli rapper:

What do people call you for short Matisyahu?
Just call me Matis man.

What you been up to this week Matis?
I’ve got a record coming out later this month; my next album ‘Light’ with the first single to be released off it, ‘One Day’ - I’ve just been promoting that.

Are you in the UK for long?
Only for a few days, I’m here doing a few shows including an acoustic set at The Borderline club: before heading back to America on the weekend.

Tell me about your music? What is the Matisyahu sound?
Well the sound is a fusion - it has sort of a reggae core, a hip hop edge, and live…? - It has a free improvisation kind of feel.

I’ve read some things about the importance of your spirituality… Does that play a big part in your music?
I am still asking myself that question, and it’s something I’m still grappling with to find a definitive answer… The real question there I guess is ‘Who am I?’ For me, being Jewish is not separate (from me or my music), but it goes beyond just religion - Judaism is a way of life, and like my culture, my history and even the city I live in; they all serve as sources of my identity; and everything that I do (including my music), starts with my background and spirituality in a lot of ways… For example, the music itself is the expression of who I am and obviously an outcome of what I am, but ‘who I am’ relates to where I’ve come from – I was raised and born with a Jewish identity to a certain degree, so it plays a part in all aspects of my life, but we live in a modern (very secular at times) world, so whilst it (Judaism) doesn’t depict what I do, it is always at the back of my consciousness.

Has that always been the case?
As I got older I went through a big transition to consider how much Judaism would influence my life, and I realised I was lacking that part of my identity - that’s when I started to delve more into the history and issues of my background, and so it started to become a bigger part of who I am… But at the same time I don’t feel limited by it - humanity is humanity, music is music; Judaism doesn’t change my treatment of that, relationships and the world.

About 12 minutes later, and after a few Matisyahu ‘umm’s and ‘errrr’s –

Kind of a complex question Matis?
Nah it’s fine, to be honest I don’t want to waste my time on questions that aren’t complex; questions don’t need to be simple, nothing is black and white… Every question can be deep and treated that way, so let’s continue.

Are you proud with the sound and identity you’ve created?

Yeah. I have done something that has not really been done by too many people, which is to somehow identify and incorporate specific aspects of Judaism in my life, fusing that identity together with many aspects of modern culture, humanity, and society through my music. My whole ‘thing’ is about blending those parts to form some kind of artistic, creative connection from my roots to my current culture and audience.

Music-wise (or just as an individual), would you describe yourself as being politically and socially minded?

Not particularly… Though I guess everything is political in some way, even if you’re not political you can end up aligning yourself with some type of politics. But my nature is more spiritual and more of a search to understand my identity, my history, and my future - and less about figuring out the rest of the world.

So, do global issues such as climate change and poverty ever cross your mind…?
I think one basic thing that is relevant to me is having that state of awareness, and being respectful of the world in all aspects. It doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘political’, it means respecting people, the world itself and the environment, and to not take for granted a lot of the societal norms - but to actually investigate into them and the hidden problems. For example, I recently became a vegan and stopped eating meat after reading a book on it called ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer. It opened my eyes to all of that…

For the rest of the interview, please click here