Life & Culture

How Kabbalah and karaoke took me from science to music

Meet the scientist who found the answers he sought through music and Kabbalah, and has combined them to make his first album


Self-made star: Eduard Shyfrin

When you’ve had a career as successful as Eduard Shyfrin and, at 63, are nearing retirement age, you might decide to go travelling, put your feet up. Not if you’re Shyfrin.

After years as a successful businessman, mathematician and physicist, followed by a secondary career researching Kabbalah and writing a bestselling book on the subject, the London-based Ukrainian entrepreneur has made his debut album, Upside Down Blues.

But don’t call him a rock star. “Scientist, metallurgist, businessman, Kabbalah and Torah scholar...” he lists his credentials, with the impossibly deep voice that’s so distinctive on his record. “But I’ve never seen myself as a composer or a rock star. That’s absolutely surrealistic. I still don’t believe it.”

He continues: “I like to try things; I am not afraid. If you are afraid, you will never achieve. Our sages said: ‘If you go along the road which has been already built, you will never reach a new destination.’”

Making an album was not entirely random, however. Long before his forays into science, from the age of seven until 14 Shyfrin studied classical piano, the history and theory of music, and choral singing at the School of Music in Ukraine, where he grew up.

He can still remember looking out the window of his family’s tiny semi-underground one-bedroom apartment, where his parents and grandparents crammed in, and seeing a constant stream of legs walk past. The first thing his father did when they took a new bigger apartment was to buy a piano for their newfound space and Shyfrin was the model student, his love of music bolstered by the jazz played by his parents: Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald.

A PhD in metallurgy followed, and some years into his business career, in 2002, Shyfrin suffered a breakdown. Everything changed.

“I started asking myself questions that I’d never asked before: Why are we here? Why must we die? What’s after death? And I realised that unless I provided meaningful answers, I would not be able to live the life I used to live.”

He sought advice from the rabbi, who told him to make teshuvah – to return to God. Shyfrin turned to the Torah. “But I’m a scientist by background,” he says. “And it seemed to me that this was just a fairy tale. But I wanted to believe in God.” He read and read, and when he didn’t find the answers he needed, he decided to provide them himself. “I am a man of action,” he says, adding that he wastes no time and plans “every minute of my day”.

His research led to his book From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics – and a “radically changed” mindset. “Kabbalah is very important because it radically changed my attitude to the world, my understanding of the meaning of life, of our mission,” he says. “The before and after is a different me.”

It was later still, during the Covid lockdown when he was living in the south of France with his wife of 41 years, Olga, with whom he has three children, that Shyfrin returned to playing music. He resumed lessons in piano, guitar and vocals, and happily discovered that it all came back to him.

He immersed himself in music, practising piano or guitar every day. “I followed a schedule: one day piano, one day guitar, like a machine. Boom, boom, boom.”

He also went to weekly karaoke sessions, trained his vocals so he could sing notes typically only reached by operatic basses, explored blues tracks on Spotify, and learnt how to play jazz on guitar.

“I am a man of system,” he says. “If I do something, I do it regularly. It’s my general approach in life.”

He formed a band with local musicians, just to play summer gigs for family and friends. And in September 2022, he wrote his first-ever song, I See Your Eyes. He thought it was a one-off, but the songs kept coming. Very suddenly he found the many strands of his life’s work – the research, books, music and lyrics – culminating in a united purpose: “I wanted to send a message to the world, of love and of anti-war, based on Kabbalah,” he says. “It could be sent in different ways: through the articles, the books, the music and lyrics.”

At first, he felt imposter syndrome. “How can I have a right to music, I’m not a composer. How can I have a right to write about Kabbalah and science, I’m not a rabbi. But I didn’t pay attention to that.”

And, true to his intent, no track on his album, a bold concoction of rock, blues and balladry, written entirely by Shyfrin himself and also funded entirely by him is devoid of a message. The teachings of Kabbalah course through every aspect of  Upside Down Blue, from the lyrics to the album artwork. On the vinyl cover, his jacket buttons feature the Kabbalistic sign Sefirot.

“I cannot separate myself from Kabbalah,” he says. “My Kabbalistic research plays a very significant role in my musical story because it changed my view of the world.”

Each song, he says, has a “hidden meaning”. Take theatrical rock track The Cage, which Shyfrin claims is his “most Kabbalistic” song, with its anti-war lyrics and the message that the more we give in to senseless anger, the further away utopia becomes.

Or, Cheval Blanc Blues, a piano and saxophone-fuelled number recalling the jazz of his childhood home, which on the surface captures his impression of sitting by a window in rainy Paris, seeing a bridge on which two people are stood on opposite sides in an argument.

“The bridge disappears in the rain and suddenly there is no obstacle,” he says. “In Kabbalah, rain and water mean absolute love, because when you pour water, it spreads wherever it can. It’s an outpouring of unlimited, indiscriminate love.”

This “indiscriminate” love crops up again on Unconditional, a song inspired by the love of his grandmothers, with whom he grew up in the tiny apartment. Shyfrin has never written a song faster. He had decided to take lessons in public speaking to help him lecture on Kabbalah and science, and in one exercise was asked to imagine the place where he was born.

“My soul went to this apartment where I grew up. All of a sudden I had a fantastic feeling of warmth and happiness. It was a happy place where I was loved unconditionally. I came back home and wrote the music and lyrics in minutes.”

With a whole album’s worth of songs, he auditioned several singers, but felt that none could convey his emotions. “There are lots of people with a good voice, but most important is to produce an emotion to touch people’s hearts, not the ears.” Success, he says, is “touching the heart and soul”.

His vocal teacher, the jazz singer Lizzy Parks, suggested that he sing his own songs. He never looked back. After all, he says, “my lyrics and my music came from my soul, from my life experience”.

He is grateful for everything that led to this album, although he stresses that he never asked for it. “I’m grateful to God for giving me this opportunity,” he says. “Like the books I wrote. And if people like my music, that’s nice.”

As for whether live gigs will follow, he is still getting to grips with the reality that he is releasing an album. “I cannot imagine myself on stage,” he admits. “I’m ambitious, but it never crossed my mind that I can compose. It’s a miracle. It still feels surreal, that it’s not me. I’m delighted, but astonished.”

The single Whiskey Blues is out on 26 April, the album Upside Down Blue is out 24 May

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