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Jewish Journal

The ‘Justice’ of Reggae

by Baz Dreisinger

July 11, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Elan will headline Bet Tzedek's Justice Ball on July 20.

Elan will headline Bet Tzedek's Justice Ball on July 20.

There's something very, well, Jewish about reggae music. So Jewish, in fact, that Rastas in clubs, swaying to Bob Marley, are uncannily reminiscent of rabbis in synagogue, prayer books in hand.

No one knows this better than Elan, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter who will headline Bet Tzedek's Justice Ball on July 20. As an Orthodox Jew who fronted Marley's former reggae band, The Wailers, for three years, Elan felt a kinship with his Rastafarian bandmates. "I'd wake up and put tefillin on every morning, and they would always stand back in respect, because they understand that prayer is holy," he recalls. "They're very similar to Jews."

A native Angeleno of Moroccan Israeli and Native American descent, Elan was offered the Wailers slot by guitarist Al Anderson, who, after working with Elan on his album demo, was moved by the then-20-year-old's rich and powerful voice. It's a voice that eerily echoes Marley's own -- and has even been mistaken for Marley's by the likes of Carlos Santana. "He heard me singing once and thought I was lip-syncing," Elan says with a laugh. "Then he said he hadn't been so moved since Bob was alive."

Elan took to the road with the Wailers without a single rehearsal, then spent three years touring the world with them. He's shared the stage with artists like Shaggy and Santana, and performed classic covers, as well as his own material.

His conscious lyrics make him a fitting headliner for the Justice Ball: He composed "Nothing Is Worth Losing You," a paean to Jerusalem, with his rabbi, and insists that "people nowadays are eager for something real, something spiritual in their music." As he sings in "Check Yourself," a track from his soon-to-be-released album, "All Roads," "I've got a voice, but what is it worth if it fills the world with empty words?"

For more information on the Justice Ball, call (323) 656-9069. -- Baz Dreisinger, Contributing Writer

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