Jewish reggae music hits Yale, Toad’s

Speaking at the Slifka Center, Matisyahu stressed the connection between his music and his Jewish spirituality.
Speaking at the Slifka Center, Matisyahu stressed the connection between his music and his Jewish spirituality. Photo by Sharon Yin.

Judaic-inspired reggae music was the topic of the afternoon at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life Sunday.

Around 100 students and members of the New Haven community gathered at the Slifka Center to participate in a question and answer session with Matisyahu, an American Jewish reggae musician who received Gold certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America for his two singles, “King Without a Crown” and “One Day.” Matisyahu, whose music mixes reggae and hip hop sounds with traditional Jewish themes, was in New Haven to perform at Toad’s Place Sunday night, an event for which Yale Hillel pre-sold 200 subsidized tickets.

“I always wanted to have a life making music,” Matisyahu said. “That was my destiny, that’s what god wanted for me.”

Organized by co-presidents of Yale Hillel Sam Gardenswartz ’13 and Sam Greenberg ’13 and Meor, a non-profit organization that extends Jewish learning opportunities to Yale, the event aimed to showcase the popularity of modern Jewish musicians. Matisyahu incorporates Judaism into his music much like Jewish Yalies strive to mix their religion with their more secular passions, Gardenswartz said. Greenberg is a staff reporter for the News.

“We wanted to create a forum for students to meet him more personally and have a more intimate and engaging experience,” Gardenswartz said.

Questions posed by audience members centered around his experiences as a musician and his link to Judaism.

Of particular interest to the audience was why Matisyahu chose to incorporate his religion into his music. But Matisyahu said it never occurred to him to separate the two.

“My identity is involved with my spirituality, and music is another way to express that,” he said.

Matisyahu said he embraced music at an early age and connected to music on an intuitive level, but realized the connection between music and Judaism as he was searching for his identity, he said. Matisyahu added that, in his experience, music has a redemptive healing property that is very therapeutic.

“Music is spiritual and in general brings out feelings, clarity of thought, any involvement with music is spiritual,” he said. “Music is born out of culture, history and time, but music bypasses everything, [including] political and religious beliefs.”

Many young Jewish Americans view Matisyahu as a role model, Gardenswartz said, because of his ability to maintain his religious identity in the public eye. And while he said his primary fan base consists of American Jews, Matisyahu said he has started to connect more with Israeli Jews recently, especially with the young, secular Israeli audience.

Though Nathaniel Meyer ’13 was not interested in hip hop or reggae music, he said he attended the talk to learn more about how Matisyahu has become an cultural figure among young Jewish people and how audiences can be reached in any art form.

“Anyone who is successful in creating music is someone I want to interact with,” Meyer said, adding that Matisyahu’s message resonates with the masses.

Some members of the audience have been fans of Matisyahu for a long time. Danny Roza ’15 said he had listened to the musician since middle school in part because of Matisyahu’s unique position as a Jewish reggae rapper.

Matisyahu has released three studio albums and two live albums since 2004.

Correction: September 11, 2011

“Jewish reggae music hits Yale, Toad’s” misstated that the event was organized by co-presidents of Yale Hillel. Meor, a non-profit organization that extends Jewish learning opportunities to Yale, organized the event with Yale Hillel.

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