By Lee J. Green
Orthodox Jewish musician Matisyahu, who blends reggae, rap, hip-hop and funk sounds with Jewish themes, prayers and life lessons, will return to the region for appearances in several venues this month.
He will be at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge on Aug. 17 for an 8:30 p.m. show. On Aug. 21, he will be at the House of Blues in New Orleans at 8 p.m., then after a south Florida swing he performs at Soul Kitchen in Mobile on Aug. 27 at 10 p.m., and at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
In his somewhat-biographical Top 40 hit song “King Without a Crown,” the artist born Matthew Miller tells his story and his desire to communicate his religious devotion to Judaism.
“I am inspired by my religion and I want to inspire others. I continue to learn more about myself and what Judaism means to me,” said the artist, who regularly tweets messages of Jewish faith and devotion on his website www.matisyahuworld.com. He also offers daily meditations and Kabbalah lessons learned from his psychotherapist friend in Jerusalem, Ephraim Rosenstein.
“I am happy with the way those of all beliefs have responded to my music. Monotheism comes from Judaism and it’s a universal world religion. There isn’t a contradiction between the ideals and the music,” said Matisyahu.
Miller grew up as a Reconstructionist Jew in White Plains. He got interested in music and was heavily influenced by rock/reggae/jam bands such as Phish.
While in high school in the fall of 1995, he took part in a two-month-long program that offered students first-hand exploration of Jewish heritage at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel. His experiences there had a profound effect on him, eventually bringing him to Orthodox Judaism in 2001, and later to Hasidism.
Miller changed his name to Matisyahu, a variant on the name Matthew, meaning “gift of God,” and began playing with the Jewish band Pey Dalid. In 2004, he signed with JDub Records, a not-for-profit record label that promotes Jewish musicians, which announced last month that it is going out of business.
The following year he released his live album — “Live at Stubb’s” — and followed it up with the studio album “Youth” in 2006.
“Youth” earned a Grammy nomination in 2006 and shot to the top of the Billboard reggae albums chart, achieving gold record status. “King Without a Crown” made the Modern Rock Top 10 that year and cracked the Top 40 charts.
Matisyahu has since performed numerous live shows and he has been featured in a couple of documentaries. His new album, “Live at Stubb’s II,” a CD/DVD package, goes back to the renowned Austin, Texas, venue that helped to launch his career.
“Being an artist is about being sensitive to how the world resonates inside you and then being able to express it. This process is an ever-changing one,” he said. “I feel like the more I grow, learn and become more balanced as a person, the better a musician I become. It’s about locating emotions within yourself; continuing to find new ways to connect to your audiences with your feelings and messages.”
Matisyahu never performs or works on the Sabbath, and keeps kosher as well as being a vegetarian. He and his wife, Tahlia, have three sons. The family will accompany him on a portion of the current tour.
“It’s best when we can share as much of our time, selves and faith with our family. That’s very important to me and it helps me to find that balance,” he said.
In Birmingham, there is a 20 percent discount on tickets for those who identify as part of the Birmingham Jewish Federation or a local synagogue. The concert is also being used as an opportunity to grow the ranks of the Alys Stephens Center Junior Patrons. New standard-level patrons can attend the pre-show sound check, and contributor-level patrons can also attend a post-show VIP meet and greet. Space is limited.