The New Matisyahu
Not even Miss Cleo could have predicted that an iPod would be the hot commodity for an Orthodox Jew in the twenty-first century. It was not long ago, though, that Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu dived into the world of pop culture and made international waves.
He is not alone: a plethora of Jewish musicians are recording in America. Here’s a quick look at a few Jewish artists from a range of genres, all of them hoping to cross over into the mainstream and be the next Matisyahu.
Genre: Rock and Alternative
“Take the Ride,” the name of Richard Miron’s first album, also communicates the underlying theme of his songs. The Yale student credits his life experiences as his inspiration, and his Jewish background in particular.
“Judaism brings an extra layer of spirituality to my music and lyrics,” he said. “I can certainly say that many of the values that I learned by having a Jewish education continue to shape me as a person and a songwriter.”
But Miron’s music is not filled with Hebrew prayers. His slow guitar strumming evokes a mix of Jason Mraz and Paolo Nutini and, like Nutini, Miron sings as if he is speaking to each individual in the audience. In “DB,” one of his songs, he speaks to someone who has put him through heartaches and betrayal:
“I would drop you like a fly/ You seem dumb to me.
You’re just rollin’ in a three-foot pile/ of dishonesty”
Miron is now working on a project called “The Rollover Motive” which will be released within the next few months. To learn more about Richard and listen to his music go to: www.myspace.com/therollovermotive
Genre: Folk, International and Indie
Filled with diverse influences and, at times, exotic and ethnic instruments, folk songs don’t often make it into the Top 40. Smadar Levi is trying to change that.
Levi’s enchanting voice has turned folk into chic on the streets of New York City. She combines a mix of musical styles as well as languages: her music includes songs that are in Hebrew, Arabic and Ladino.
Although her underground music has not yet made it into Rolling Stone, her style is infused with the idea of promoting tolerance and breaking ethnic boundaries. This theme is especially poignant for her as she grew up in Sderot, an embattled town bordering on Gaza.
“What inspires my music is where I grew up, where people live their simple life through music, food and love for their family,” Levi said. “My hope is that one day peace will come between all of us in the Middle East.”
Perhaps indicative of this hope of coexistence, Levi’s music incorporates a multitude of instruments including a clarinet, violin, drums and bass. In her song “Mama,” Levi brings together an electric violin and a dumbek as she hums the title word for five minutes.
To learn more about Smadar and listen to her music go to: www.smadarlevi.com
Genre: Hip-Hop, Jazz and Middle-Eastern
His first album, “WayWordWonderWill,” has just hit stores but what will happen next for Ephyryme, a Middle-Eastern, hip-hop and jazz musician, remains to be seen.
According to his label, Shemspeed, “Kabbalah, psychology, politics, and party rocking are intertwined with elements of jazz, funk, klezmer, and middle eastern music to create a powerful and poetic plea for peace, justice, joy, and unity” in Ephryme’s music.
Like Levi, Eprhyme incorporates an original combination of instruments including a saxophone, accordion, and cimbalom with a contemporary mix of techno funk. With this ensemble, Ephryme builds the bridge between classic klezmer music and tounge-twisting rap.
While Eprhyme’s musical arrangements are intense, his songs don’t lose focus on the message he is trying to convey.
One of the main motifs of Ephryme’s work is Jewish struggle, an idea that emerges through his song “Tears of Stone.” The two-minute rap explains how “we all fall down” with a lack of communication as we continue to “wrestle with the Holy Land.”
To learn more about Eprhyme and listen to his new album go to: www.myspace.com/eprhyme
Genre: Pop and Rock
Asher Roth and Andy Samberg have hit the entertainment industry with a bang, leaving Jewish girls everywhere wondering when a Jewish female pop artist will strike back.
Enter Rachel Millman, a Jewish musician from New Jersey who released her first album on September first, entitled “If I Believe.”
Her carefree style recalls Michelle Branch with a touch of John Mayer’s lyrics. Her poetic language addresses life’s struggles and coping with loss. Her perseverance echoes through her entire album, emerging in a verse of her song “Throwin’ Rocks At The Moon:”
“Seems like things might never be right/ ‘Til I’m with you again.
I let you go s’true you don’t know/ What you’ve got ‘til it ends”
Aside from her unique lyrics, Millman shows off a three-octave range, something she connects with her Jewish upbringing.
“My vocal abilities come from my grandfather so it was always inspiring and exciting to hear him sing along and to chant the Kiddush every Friday night,“ Millman said.
“Throwin’ Rocks At The Moon” addresses the importance of cherishing what we have before it is gone.
“He really inspired me to just always be singing no matter what the song was,” she said. “A song was always in his head and heart and he instilled that in me as well.”
To learn more about Rachel Millman and listen to her debut album go to: www.rachelmillman.com.