My neo-Chasidic rock opera? It’s a solace for tough times

US singer-songwriter today releases an unconventional 12-track album – with accompanying short films


The concept of a “neo-Chasidic rock opera” may not immediately seem like a conventional salve for life’s woes but Aryeh Shalom has other ideas. 

The US singer-songwriter, 47,  who lives in Philadelphia, is today releasing his full 12-track album, entitled Exile And Redemption: A Neo-Hasidic Rock Opera. 

As part of the social media release, Mr Shalom will also unveil the second of a dozen short films released monthly to accompany each track.

Visual albums - a growing genre that involves pairing tracks with videos - are a relatively new phenomenon in the industry. 

“I'm only aware of a few rock operas or conceptual albums that have been turned into a visual album,” Mr Shalom said. “This is certainly the first one that I know of within the Jewish world.”

He hopes the album inspired by his favourite Chasidic tales will inspire listeners and be a source of comfort amid the lockdown.

The album “is about love and forgiveness,” said Mr Shalom, who is also a community organiser at a Jewish social club. 

“It’s about our journey to freedom and enlightenment. It’s about giving ourselves permission not to be ok in order to give ourselves the freedom to evolve.

“My hope, especially during this time of social distance, is that people will find a little bit of inspiration, strength and solace in the telling of this tale,” he added.

He worked on the project while mourning the loss of his mother from ovarian cancer and dealing with the aftermath of two divorces and a manic-depressive episode that landed him in hospital. 

“There was a long period of time that I felt broken by the events of my life,” said the father of three, who was raised in a secular home but experienced a religious revival later in life.  

“I found solace during these traumatic periods in music, Torah, the love and support of family and friends, and the spirit of the collective Jewish community,” he added.

Dozens of actors, musicians and producers were involved in the project, including Mr Shalom’s own daughters, Naomi, 13, Sarah, 12  and Ayden, 6.

“The best part of the filming process was being able to share the experience with  my children,” he said. “Everything I do, I do for them.”

Despite the rock opera’s religious influences, Mr Shalom was hesitant to use the term “Chasidic” to describe it, fearing the “loaded” word “might colour people's thinking.”

He said he hoped using the prefix “neo” in the title would “leave room for people to experience what I think is the essence of Judaism.”

But if the Chasidic masters were alive today, he added, “they’d be creating videos for social media.”

“Social media videos are the modern version of the Chasidic stories that were told around the Shabbat table and campfires,” he said.

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