Matisyahu: I rap, I rock, but religion is still in my soul

Matisyahu on stage, without his usual hat and frock-coat

Matisyahu on stage, without his usual hat and frock-coat

It has been a year of transition for the Jewish rap-reggae star, Matisyahu. Exactly 12 months ago, the performer who once rocked Rasta beats in peyot, tzitzit and a chest-length beard, shaved, took off his yarmulke and started making slick, mainstream-friendly pop.

Despite his recent move from the Chabad heartland of Crown Heights in New York to Los Angeles, and his now peroxide blond crop, Matisyahu insists that the Chasidic way of life is still a “big part” of who he is.

“While I may no longer live in Crown Heights, or have the look, or practise all the customs and rules, it still is something that inspires me and is a part of my soul,” he said.

Born Matthew Paul Miller to a secular Jewish family in a New York suburb, Matisyahu became observant at 21. Now 33 and married with two sons, he described the changing nature of his faith and how he believes there is no single interpretation of what it is to be Chasidic today.

As a firm supporter of Israel, he spoke about his attitude towards boycotters’ attacks on cultural events as a way of demonstrating against the Jewish state.

“I think it sucks,” he said. At one of his concerts in Boston, he saw a Jewish boy waving a Palestinian flag. “It gave me a certain pained feeling that then morphed into some form of zealousness, which fed the energy of that show.”

That feeling led to “one of the most powerful emotional ‘Jerusalems’ I ever sang.”

In the lead-up to his performance especially for students at London’s O2 Academy Islington on December 23 and forthcoming European tour, he explained the catchy pop-quality of his latest album “Spark Seeker” as a balance.

“Of course I want to be mainstream,” he said “but I’m not willing to sacrifice artistic integrity to get there.”

JC readers can get an exclusive discount for the December UJS concert by calling 0207 424 3288 and quoting “JCMatisyahu12”.

Last updated: 4:45pm, December 13 2012