Fayah descends from on high in da shape of a lion
Bun da sacrifice of pride and ride an ta Mount Zion
- Chorus of Fire of Heaven/Altar of Fire
No doubt most of you have heard, or heard of Matisyahu (pictured), the Hasidic Jewish rapper reggae star. Matisyahu makes music for the soul, which is what good music always does. When music is done well, it speaks to one's inner being in many ways - the jungle music syndrome, where you abandon your faculties and revel in the soundscape. Judging music for me is easy. I get goose pimples when I hear achingly beautiful music. If any artists wants to impress me, all they need is to inject the cd with goose pimple dust. Above all else, music is the major artform which speaks to me directly. I love watching films, especially old classics (they don't make 'em like they used to), I love reading, but music is number one, and theatre a close second. With music, I don't instinctively have to intellectualise it, the immersion is immediate and simple. The intellectualisation comes after.
Back to Matisyahu. Much has been made of the fact that he is a white boy Hasidic Jew from Broooklyn, and that he's doing reggae music. Thinking about it, Judaism and reggae should be the most natural allies. Reggae in its infancy, was, and still is heavily influenced by Rastafarianism. And Rastafarianism is to some intents and purposes Judaism, skewed towards Caribbean afrocentricity. And contemporary Judaism is in no way alien to black people or Africans, the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia being a case in point. Obviously, Matisyahu will be seen as the saviour of reggae music, some will try and nail him to a cross, and some will try and start a movement. He's no messiah, nevertheless, he is a man who makes damn good music.
The album Youth, is a peach of an album. It requires listening. A friend of mine who didn't like it at first, but grew to like it, described it as righteous, thinking it was a disparaging term to use for music. There's nothing wrong with music being righteous. Some music I hear doesn't even make the customary in-one-ear-out-the-other, failing even to hit the first eardrum. You must listen to what Matisyahu is saying, layers reminiscent of Bob Marley and roots, rock, reggae, with a bit of hip-hip thrown into the mélange.
My favourite song is Ancient Lullaby. If you get any song from the album, procure this song. Steal this song, raid your grandma's piggy bank for this song. The bridge in the song is of the beremole ("get down and dance" to the uninitiated) ilk. The song melds into what can only be described as Thanksgiving Sunday in a charismatic church. The drummer goes crazy, the guitarist who appears to have been brought in from the Congo plucks away like a plantation boy, and you can just picture the gélés and the agbadas gyrating with abandon. The coup de grace though, comes 2'40'' into the song. The drummer is hitting the hihat, but it sounds like the bells used in traditional music, being played by a little boy whose greatest responsibility in life is to "knack that bell". I had to clap. Rhythmically, of course.
My only quibble with Youth is the song, Jerusalem. I have no problem with anyone talking about the persecution of Jews over many millenia, or even their right to a homeland. But I'm not so sure about reference to Jerusalem, the city. Jerusalem is probably the sticking point in the Middle East crisis, and to stake some open claim to it is insensitive. However, in the lyrics, he makes no direct reference to Jerusalem belonging to the Jews, so on that basis, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Iffy, but no sin.
If you want to find other artists who make music far removed from their own existence, you could no worse than Marta Topferova, Konono No 1, and Antibalas. Marta Topferova sings Latin music in her third language, Spanish, with Czech and English being her first two languages. I recommend Semana Azul from the album La Marea. Konono No 1 have been described as an afro-techno-punk band, in existence in a Congolese vacuum, without Sid Vicious ever landing the shores of Kinshasa. Antibalas (which means bullet-proof in Spanish) are a personal favourite. I saw them in concert a few years ago at the Jazz Cafe. Where did afrobeat go after Fela died? It went to Antibalas and resided with them in New York, politics and all.