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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


February 25, 2011  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Matisyahu in Tampa takes audience on enlightening journey

By Dr. Rob Norman Special to the Jewish Press

Matisyahu with Dr. Rob Norman at his appearance at Tampa Theatre. Matisyahu with Dr. Rob Norman at his appearance at Tampa Theatre. Matisyahu played the Tampa Theatre on Sunday Feb. 13 as the Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival hosted the Chassidic Jewish reggae rock musician.

During his afternoon talk to the film festival audience and my interview, I was most impressed by his openness about himself, his two children and his music.

He is a tall, athletic yet laid back young man with a quiet and honest intensity. Matisyahu wore jeans, a plaid button-down shirt and gray sweatshirt and a shiny blue yarmulke. He and I talked before he did the sound check with his guitarist Adam Weinberg.

“When I was younger I went to Israel and studied at AMHSI (Alexander Muss High School in Israel). My original reason to go was just to get out of school for four months. At AMHSI they take education and bring it down and make it real. We got to travel and be in Israel and that was great.”

Once he gets started, Matisyahu has a voice that captivates and wraps around you in a wonderful way. Now I know why the show had sold out and Matisyahu was a musical force during a time of so much pop drech and repetitive sound that is called music. I could envision Matisyahu as a basketball forward that could stop in the middle of the court and sing a Chassidic chant with a hypnotic voice that would make the fans stop eating their nonkosher hot dogs and listen.

From the opening song—a new one called “Sunshine” —the talent echoed off the stage. The simple setting—a stool and chair, guitar, mic, amps and speakers — was a wonderful counterpoint to the performance. The evening was filled with a potpourri of slam poetry lyrics, beat-box and mixed melodic vocals. Songs included “Open the Gates,” “One Day,” “Silence,”


“Chop ‘Em Down,” and “So Hi, So Lo.”

His sense of joy when singing was evident, and one time when he was harmonizing he said, “See, I could sit on this all day, because it feels so good.” With each song, he poured out his passion and took us on a spiritual and enlightening journey.

“I was 17 years old when I left home and traveled around the country,” Matisyahu said. “When I was 20 years old I became more religious. I met a shliach in Crown Heights and studied. For two years I had no music all day long and did not leave and I separated myself from my creative side. One day when we were studying one of the Parshahs at a Sabbath meal I got drunk and started doing a rap. Some people liked it and I started doing it more. As part of our schooling we were up in the Catskills for two months and people would ask me to perform—one guy for a Yeshiva reunion, another at a wedding.”

“One Rosh Hashana I walked from Crown Heights to Williamsburg. I saw an old friend who is a guitar player and we exchanged phone numbers and got together and jammed. Our first gig was in Union Square at a Menorah lighting right around rush hour. Only a few people were there, but as we kept on playing more people showed up. During the show I closed my eyes and when I opened them like a half hour later there were over 500 people there. “

“My whole life I felt music was my destiny and I wanted to do it and not do it just half way. Maybe G-d would realize that was the source of the Bracha. First the secular Jews and then others followed and when I did ‘King Without a Crown’ and I was on Jimmy Kimmel it went viral.”

During his talk with the Tampa audience, he seemed to promote a world like his music — a spiritual home here on Earth. He drank a beer and talked with the relaxed manner of someone hanging with his friends in his living room. One might disagree with his representation as an Orthodox Jew, but by the time the show was over, the listener had most likely raised his or her sense of the spirit and promise of Hashem.

“I love my fans. They are nice like the people here in Tampa. My typical fan wants music with more depth.”

He told me he had played basketball before, but now with the touring and family has little time for it. But he does run for exercise. He said he had run on Bayshore that morning and how funny he must look at times, a tall bird with his payos flying down the boulevard. We hope we see more of him, on the Bayshore and on the stages of Tampa Bay.

Dr. Rob Norman of Tampa is helping to build an Alexander Muss High School in Israel school in the Negev through his work with the Jewish National Fund.

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