Monday, April 24, 2006

ari ben moses on matisyahu

The Matisyahu Phenomenon: Another Jewish Reggae Artist’s Perspective
By Ari ben Moses

Editor’s note: Ari ben Moses is a Chicago-based Jewish reggae performer. Last month, while I was compiling my article about Matisyahu for the Observer, I sent him the draft and asked him for his own opinion, as a Jew performing the same kind of music as Matisyahu but without the same level of success, regarding Matisyahu’s big break. His response surprised me in its thought-provoking warmth and support for Matisyahu’s accomplishments. Ari ben Moses’ unique answer to my article is printed below. You can learn more about his band at aribenmosesband.com. (Ps to parcequilfait, sorry for bungling your name...I found your comment about this very interesting as well, and I think Ari's point of view might make more sense to you)


"Holy Mount Zion, Holy Mount Zion, JAH sitteth in Mount Zion, and rules
all creation, yeah..." ~ Bob Marley, from the song "Jammin'".
Reggae music has been greatly influenced by Jewish culture and
Scripture since its inception in the 1960's. The earliest hits of the genre,
"The Israelites" by Desmond Dekker and The Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon",
clearly demonstrate this influence, the latter using text straight from
the Psalms of David. This element became even more pronounced in the
1970's with the development of the "Rockers" Reggae style. In "Moses...The
Prophets", Peter Tosh sings: "Remember Moses, Remember Moses, him not
dead, him not dead...that man a trod earth still...". Bunny Wailer, a founding
member of the original Bob Marley and The Wailers, has similar lyrics
in his song "Rastaman" which states, "Rastaman a lion, Rastaman from Zion.
Remember Jeremiah, he was a Rastaman, and even Isaiah, he was a
Rastaman."

The very anthem of Reggae music, "Satta Massagana", has an Amharic title which means "give thanks to G-d,” and its lyrics are reminiscent of Tehillim: "The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords sits upon His throne, and He rules us all; look
into the Book of Life, and you will see that He rules us all." In "People Funny Boy", the biography of great Reggae producer, engineer, and singer Lee "Scratch" Perry, the author reveals how it was Lee’s custom to flip through an old copy of the Bible as a source for lyrics when various singers needed inspiration.

As Reggae reached out into the World, this message stirred the hearts and minds of thousands of Jewish listeners and musicians, many of whom went on to become prominent Reggae singers and performers. Jah Levi, a Jewish man from Philadelphia who I worked for during the 1990's, actually traveled to Jamaica and became a Rastafarian under the strict tutelage of the Rastafari Elders themselves. In his music, he uses authentic Jewish and Ethiopian source material. He has been very well known on the Pacific Northwest and the European Reggae circuit for almost 20 years.
Rebbe Soul is another West Coast artist who has performed Jewish Reggae for many years, and King Django, a dancehall singer from NYC who many people are familiar with, has long been combining Jewish ideas with modern Reggae sounds. He, too, is very respected on the European Reggae circuit. My own experience comes from working as a keyboardist and singer for Tuff Gong Records, along with my efforts on the Reggae Sunsplash tour. I even performed in West Africa as a part of one of the first Jamaican Reggae festivals to reach there, alongside Steel Pulse and Kymani Marley, son of Bob Marley.

This brings us at long last to Matisyahu, a wonderful dancehall-Reggae style
toaster, who has developed a following larger than any other Reggae artist today with the exception of Sean Paul (who happens to be from a Jamaican-Jewish family). Matisyahu's style is authentic, his technique is well-developed, and he has gained the respect of even the Caribbean Reggae music scene itself. While I do know many non-Jamaican Reggae singers who could perhaps claim to be more talented and experienced (both American Rocker T. and Gentleman from Germany are more technically advanced and better produced), Matisyahu has managed to reach an audience far outside the boundaries that confined these other artists. The reason for this "phenomenon", as you called it, is simple: Matisyahu has a dedicated, organized, and wealthy religious group solidly backing him from his very first concert in NYC. The Lubavitcher Hassidim have made Matisyahu a priority in their efforts to spread their own message about Judaism to the world at large. As you know, the Lubavitch have long had a policy of reaching out to people
in both the Jewish and secular world, unlike most of the other Hassidim who largely keep to themselves. Obviously, they have no objections to making Matisyahu their spokesperson to the world, both Jewish and Gentile.

I have no problems with this, personally. Many organizations, be they
religious, political, or industrial, have used singers and musicians to
advertise their particular agendas to listeners worldwide. Perhaps there
is a "kitsch" factor, as you suggested, but Matisyahu is much, much more than a gimmick. He is very skilled at the Jamaican patois dancehall style, and his lyrics are heartfelt and ethical without being overly moralizing. As someone who has accompanied many of the biggest names in Reggae music (I have performed with Maxi Preist, Junior Reid, Burning Spear, Sister Carol Shinehead and Ijahman Levi, to name a few), I can assure you that his abilities are genuine and his talents are developing quickly. He will soon be able to take his place beside some of the greatest names in the genre without compromise. I enjoy his music, and his widespread appeal has actually increased the number of demands that I get to bring Ari ben Moses Band around the country to perform. He also has a reputation for being a sweet and friendly person, and that says a great deal in this business.

I believe that Jewish music is not just for Jews, just as Judaism and
The Torah itself are not just for Jews. Judaism has profoundly affected many religions, cultures, and peoples outside of its own sphere. Our laws, stories, ancestors, history and culture are an essential element of the Human experience. I believe that we are all at our best when we seek to share our best efforts with others. How could it not be a great mitzvah to bring the beautiful, exciting, engaging and heart-warming sounds of
Matisyahu and his band to the all the peoples of the world? His message is
consistently positive and optimistic, instilling absolute faith in the
Most High to all who hear it. Could this possibly be wrong? I think
not!

Honestly, I have no understanding of how it could be better not to share something so wonderful with the rest of the world. Matisyahu has opened
the hearts of thousands of people to Judaism, who probably never gave
it much thought before hearing his music. Whatever or whoever has created
this "Matisyahu Phenomenon" can only serve to bring people to learn more
about Judaism, and I am sure that he has brought millions of young Jews a
renewed interest in their religion and culture, as we have all seen
recently.

In the most positive light, Matisyahu, with the help of the Lubavitch
community, has succeeded in showing that being Jewish can be "hip", and
that we are not out of touch with the most cutting-edge aspects of world culture. Being an active part of any system, whether it’s a family, congregation, or community, brings success to both that system and ourselves. Being an active part of the world is most certainly a great mitzvah, and I praise Matisyahu for putting aside trepidations about
traditional restrictions in order to make this profoundly Jewish contribution to Reggae music and the all peoples of the Earth.

3 Comments:

Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Ari is very underappreciated and deserves more success.

7:17 AM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

I will have to get Ari's CD when I have money, because Parce? Hearts the reggae.

Thanks for your comment, Fudge. Everyone, including my sister in law, misspells parcequilfaut unless they speak French. And sometimes even then, so don't stress it one bit.

I'm glad that the "Matisyahu Phenomenon" is helping out other acts; that's not something I had heard about previously and it makes me happy. When is Ari coming to Nashvegas?

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up with Jah Leave I in Philadelphia and spent sometime with him during his back and forth from the West Coast to NYC. Jah Leave I--has a lot of stories. He will invent himself at your convenience. He is at best a fraud, a thief, and a criminal. What a shame to use him as an example of how Reggae and Judaism are intertwined. He has forsaken Rastafari and Judaism.

8:42 PM  

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