Friday, July 20 , 2018, 6:06 pm | Fair 73º


Jeff Moehlis: Matisyahu — Something Borrowed, Something New

Jewish reggae superstar will perform in Ventura on Tuesday night

Matisyahu, which means "Gift of God," is the Hebrew/stage name for Matthew Paul Miller, a (formerly Hasidic) Jewish reggae superstar.

And although this might seem like an unlikely combination, Matisyahu is the real deal, with his talent and musical vision winning him the adoration and respect of fans across the religious and cultural spectrum.

Matisyahu's career took off with the release of his 2005 album, Live at Stubb's, which captured a magical night for him and his band. He has since released a half-dozen or so albums, and his musical style has continued to evolve within and beyond the realm of reggae, including 2012's Spark Seeker that was more pop-oriented without pandering to the club crowd. This year he released Akeda, which is regarded as his most personal album to date and mostly features a less-is-more musical approach.

Matisyahu will be performing at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Tuesday. Tickets are available by clicking here.

He spoke to Noozhawk about his musical influences and the meaning of "akeda." The full interview is available by clicking here.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: Your new album is called Akeda, which is a very interesting concept. What does "akeda" mean to you, personally?

Matisyahu: It's usually used in regards to the idea of binding, because it's the story of Abraham binding Isaac down. That's really what the word akeda means. So that's definitely a theme in my life and in the music, of giving yourself over to things, connecting with things and then breaking free from them. So that juxtaposition between freedom and being bound to something, and going through a lot of those kind of things in my life.

There are the ups and downs of the mountain, and then there's sort of the bravery of Abraham, not in the classical sense in terms of being so given over to God that he'd be willing to sacrifice his son, but for me in terms of doing something so outrageous, like here's the voice of God and then going against all of their logic and everything that they know to be true. Not being afraid to really make an imprint in the world. The sacrifice is really more of a sacrifice to life.

And then there's this concept of fathers and sons, and children, and I've got a lot of that going on in my life. So there's kind of a combination of different things going on. But sacrifice for the sake of love, or being a part of something that's greater than yourself, or what you give up in order to do that, similar with Abraham and Isaac and Abraham sacrificing his son. There's something we do just by bringing children into the world. Also, in terms of what we expose our kids to, and being unfinished products but at the same time being parents and role models and leaders for people as well.

JM: If you don't mind going way back, what initially drew you to reggae?

M: I guess my initial interaction with reggae — I have cousins that are Bajan, from Barbados, and we used to spend the summers together in summer camp in upstate New York. They would play me their music, and that was my initial, I guess, interaction with it.

Later on, I started listening to Bob Marley and that really spoke to me at a time in my life when I was searching, and when the world was kind of starting to open up to me and starting to lead me back to my roots in the Old Testament. It just taught me a lot about music and what kind of musician I wanted to be, and the type of connection that I wanted to have with people. I found myself just drawn to that music, and able to sing those songs really well, and really feel the soul and the spirit in them.

And then I was able to bring my own flavor into those things, and I used that as a backdrop and that led me to listen to more reggae music and more current stuff. That just had a big influence on my style at the time, while I was developing my voice and how I wanted to express myself. I would say that reggae music was the main source for me at that time, probably.

JM: I know that the band Phish was also important to your musical journey. It turns out that Phish is playing in Santa Barbara the same night you're playing in Ventura.

M: You can't get tickets to it. That's how crazy that is.

JM: Well, if tickets were available, what would you say to someone who's trying to decide whether to go to Phish or Matisyahu that night?

M: Well, I would say Matisyahu. I mean, Phish is the best at what they do. They're amazing. But you can see Phish anytime. I mean, I tour a lot also, but I think there's something really unique with the music that I'm making now, and obviously I want people to come to the show.

You know, the biggest place where I would say Phish influenced me, and the biggest similarity I would say that I have with their music is the approach towards improvisation, doing something unique and new every show. Every time you play music trying to reach into new territory and open new doors into new musical experiences. That is such a huge part and element of what I do in making my music, and for the most part I have to credit Phish for that, because that's where I learned about that.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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