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June 25, 2012

Matisyahu’s ‘Spark Seeker’ a Search for Authenticity

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/matisyahus_spark_seeker_a_search_for_authenticity_20120625/

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From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album ‘Spark Seeker’ hits your ears, you realize that the singer/songwriter is on a new journey of self-discovery. Complex, deeply spiritual, worldly, upbeat, at times pop and danceable, transcontinental, and electronic, ‘Spark Seeker’ grabs you. New beats, new sounds, new music, period. This July 17th release is best listened to loud.

‘Spark Seeker’ represents a continuation of Matisyahu’s personal journey and his independent streak.  The changes he is showing the world are part of his spiritual quest, and are fueled by the same desire for authenticity as the call that led him to avoid the world of materialism and towards a spiritual Hasidic path. Matisyahu has has not forsaken his spiritual quest or the Judaism that has inspired him on his journey so far.  He, like so many of us, is seeking, dreaming, struggling and wrestling with tradition and God.  But unlike us, his personal journey has become the topic of intense public discussion.

“Crossroads”, the first track on the album begins with middle eastern rhythms, sounds and ancient winds blowing across a desert. Then the familiar voice fades in “like I’m walking through a kingdom of time…only to find the other side,” revealing to us that the Matisyahu is at a crossroads in his spiritual and musical development. ‘Spark Seeker’ brings together his previous albums and says, this is one path, one journey.

You can feel the spiritual energy that went into ‘Spark Seekers’ echos back to previous albums and songs. In his beautiful “Sunshine”, Matisyahu longs for a champion, a redeemer, the Moshiach. In “Live Like a Warrior”, you feel the power of “Youth”.

“Shema Yisrael…” calls Matisyahu into the vast sound of “Desert Eagle”, and you can see him there standing in the Judean desert embracing the beauty of the ancient past, and fusing it with the present and the future. The ancient and the modern mashup works brilliantly. 

Each listen to the album reveals new elements, new voices, new lyrics. You come face to face with the brilliant collaboration with Shyne,  the former Bad Boy Records rapper who spent nine years in prison before heading to Israel and becoming an Orthodox Jew.

Many have questions for Matisyahu: What happened to the beard? Are you still Jewish? Do you still keep kosher? What does your family think?

While offering some answers, there is still much mystery that surrounds Matisyahu’s transformation from beatboxing, rapping, Hasidic reggae artist who burst onto the world stage with “King Without A Crown”, to the clean-shaven rock-star we see today.

In a recent sit-down interview at his Beverly Hills home, we discussed the transformation, the songs, and ultimately the message of ‘Spark Seekers’. Rather than abandon his fans, he feels that he has a responsibility to keep them informed of his journey.

“I have a responsibility [to convey] my message at any given time. As I am going through things in my life, I will write songs about them. Whether it is ‘Shake off the Dust’ and was ‘Warrior’ learning about Hasidus, and my life then, or my life now.

“Just like then, if not more than ever, I feel I have evolved. I don’t look at myself at a downpoint in my life. The way I feel now, the wisdom that I have gained and the truth I feel I have found over the last 6 months, feels more up than ever in my life. I have gotten a taste of something that I have been searching for, for a long time, for my whole life.”

Rather than thinking he will disappoint some of his more religious followers, he feels that he has an obligation to share with them his journey of spiritual self-discovery.

“Why would I not share what’s going on - why because I’m afraid it may hurt people? I have led some people in a certain direction. There are certain kids who are ba’ale teshuva (newly religious) because my music has, at some point in their journey, had an influence on them. Now my life has changed, and I should end the story there? … If i am putting my life out to people there through music and art, there is a duty, you can’t just decide to put some of it.”

The third track on the album is called ‘Searching’ and discusses searching the soul for truth. This song includes deep Hasidic wisdom which permeated his first album “Shake off the Dust…Arise”. A teacher can be heard saying, “In the earth there are so many wonderful treasures. And if you know where to dig, you will find gold and diamonds and all kinds of treasures. If you don’t know where to dig, you find rocks and dirt. A Rebbe is a geologist of the soul. He can show where to dig and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself.”

In the 24 months that Matisyahu worked on this album, one wonders if he found what he was looking for or is still searching. Did he find diamonds or did he find dirt?

“Did I find it?” he says, “I don’t know if there is a such thing as finding it. But you find aspects of it, you find degrees of it. But when you actually figure out what it is — and that continually evolves as well — to actually have experienced something, and you know that that is what you want, that is authenticity. Authenticity with self, with others, with your art and with your music and with God. That is what I was looking for. Truth, in that sense. And that is what led me to let go of certain things.”

Matisyahu has not abandoned Judaism, but he has let go of the Hasidic beard and garb which distinguished him. Instead of external trappings, Matisyahu wants his voice and music to speak for themselves, while he stays true to himself, his beliefs, and his spiritual journey.


Follow Rabbi Yonah Bookstein on Twitter @rabbiyonah and Facebook

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