Matisyahu’s search for the ‘Spark’

Shedding his trademark Hassidic garb, the American rapper is showing fans a new side of himself in his latest album, ‘Spark Seeker.’

matisyahu new look rocker 370 (photo credit: Dave Smith)
matisyahu new look rocker 370
(photo credit: Dave Smith)
‘To each his own” and “live and let live,” seems to be the life motto governing Matisyahu these days, even when it comes to proponents of the rapidly growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“I think it’s bull****, but everybody has their own views,” the formerly Hassidic rapper and passionate lover of Israel told The Jerusalem Post when asked about the anti-Israel movement.
“Everyone can do whatever they want to do. If you don’t like a certain kid, don’t play at their house,” he said.
And perhaps it is this attitude of tolerance and understanding – even of people whose views he vehemently opposes – that embodies the artist today.
Matyishau, or Matthew Miller, has spent over a decade delivering a blend of reggae/rap/hip hop beats heavily influenced by the Torah and Jewish teachings.
As a young adult, Matisyahu visited Israel in order to explore his Jewish identity. It was there where he became fascinated with what it means to be Jewish and searched for ways to incorporate Jewish teachings into his music.
In 2011, he shocked fans around the world when he shaved off his beard, took his music in a different direction and presented a new physical, spiritual and artistic version of himself.
Since Judaism is a complex, yet highly integral part of his life, he was understandably hesitant to pinpoint the exact reason behind undergoing such a dramatic religious transformation.
However, fans need only to look to his new songs to understand this new incarnation of Matisyahu.
His latest album, Spark Seeker, seems to represent the artist’s extremely personal, yet public, transformation. The album, which was partly recorded in Israel, has hints of pop, mixed with eclectic Middle Eastern undertones.
Many of its songs espouse feel good messages of acceptance, tolerance and the paramount, yet deeply individual, search for “truth.”
For example, in his song “Bal Shem Tov,” he proclaims, “search heaven and the seven seas/the answer lies inside you/you know it won’t come easy/you’ve got to find your own truth.”
And shedding his former Hassidic identity may very well be his attempt in doing just that.
Of course, a change in sound and appearance is something all successful artists do, but his is more complex – and more intriguing – because it is complicated by the extent with which his devotion to his religion impacts his music.
Despite his more secular appearance, Matisyahu is still very much an observant Jew in his day-to-day life.
The musician, who is currently on tour promoting the new album, acknowledges the difficulty in balancing a religiously observant life while on the road touring with his non-religious band. Doing so is something he embraces, yet struggles with.
“It definitely taught me a lot about being alone and spending time alone,” he said of keeping the Sabbath in an environment not exactly conducive to quiet, religious study.
With a GAP Bright Festival performance scheduled for September 23 at the Zappa Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina and a September 26 performance at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv, Matisyahu will have a chance to come back to the very place that inspired his long artistic journey: the Holy Land.