Music in the moment
While working toward a new studio album, reggae star Matisyahu has been releasing a few tracks available exclusively through his Dreampatron fan club.
“It’s for core fans who want access,” he explains. “I started this fan club mainly for the purpose of releasing new music while I’m in the writing and recording process. I release a new song every month.”
Matisyahu says he’s been using this time “to go deeper into my inner world and to discover what it is that I want to convey next in terms of my writing. Some artists basically put out a record at the beginning of their career and spend the rest of their career repeating the same things, and usually there’s a theme that drives most of their lyrics. I’m going into the studio this fall and I have a lot of interests musically, but right now there’s a certain sound I really like, a kind of simple, electronic, feel-good music.”
About a year ago, he formed a new band, including Japanese virtuoso keyboardist BigYuki, which is helping him craft this music.
“They are all incredible musicians,” he enthuses. “We all come from different places musically and we’re coming together to create something pretty unique. I’m not really interested in playing songs. I’m interested in really improvising and seeing what kind of music we can create in the moment. When you do that enough times on tour, you have this unique musical experience every night.”
Reflecting some of this newfound excitement, “Live at Stubbs III: A 10-Year Journey” finds Matisyahu reinterpreting some of his old songs, including a swirling, rocking, 16-minute version of “King Without a Crown.”
Returning to Maui to play MayJah RayJah Music Festival with fellow headliners J Boog, Iration and Yellowman, this acclaimed musician initially found fame as a beatbox rapping Hasidic Jewish singer, inspiring fans with spiritual and uplifting songs wrapped in reggae rhythms.
Born Matthew Miller, his musical quest began around the age of 17, when he left home to follow jam bands like Phish. During his college days, he became entranced with the music of dancehall reggae artists like Tony Rebel, Sizzla and Buju Banton, and then he immersed himself in Bob Marley’s music.
“Like so many people, I connected with Bob Marley,” he recalls. “I fell in love with his music and felt a Biblical connection to the Old Testament.”
Raised a secular Jew, at the age of 19 he adopted the strict Hasidic tradition and became famous as the long-bearded, black-fedora-wearing, Jewish reggae rapper.
Matisyahu’s sophomore CD, “Live at Stubb’s,” topped Billboard’s reggae chart (with sales of more than 500,000 copies), and his Grammy-nominated third album, “Youth,” released in 2006, sold 120,000 copies in its first week, making it the highest-selling reggae debut in 15 years.
With help from reggae’s elite rhythm section Sly and Robbie, he next released the adventurous, versatile work “Light,” where he dramatically advanced his sonic vision, concocting radio-friendly hip-hop tracks, memorable alt-rockers and smooth ballads. The album derived from his years studying the Jewish Torah, with an emphasis of the story of the “Seven Beggars,” by Kabbalist mystic Rabbi Rebbe Nachman.
Matisyahu received a major career boost when one of his songs from “Light,” the uplifting, luminous anthem “One Day,” was chosen as NBC’s official theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Then in 2014, Matisyahu released the brilliant album “Akeda,” which marked another significant evolution, a new creative peak. Drawing from a wide palette, it included elements of pop, rock and hip hop blended with reggae.
Blessed with a gift for composing rousing anthems, his album highlights included the pumping, horn-propelled track “Watch the Walls Melt Down,” which burst with joyous energy.
“Akeda” was produced during a tumultuous time when Matisyahu shed his traditional Hasidic beard and garments and left the religion that had fueled him.
“I went through some big changes,” he explains. “I went through a divorce, and I went through a lot leaving the religion, and shaving and changing my appearance. It’s been an intense few years.”
In the spring, he toured some U.S. colleges with Arab-American hip-hop artist Nadim Azzam, who was born to an Egyptian-Palestinian father and an American Jewish mother. It was partly in response to a controversy last year when he was disinvited from Spain’s popular Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival, after protests by some Palestinians. The organizers were forced to re-hire him after Spanish officials condemned their action.
“They tried to make me make statements against Israel,” he explains. “I was the only artist asked to do that. I wouldn’t do it and I was kicked out. Eventually they brought me back after pressure from the Spanish government. Afterwards, I thought, what can I do to try and make a point that boycotting really doesn’t succeed? The way to do it is the opposite, through interaction and conversation. So I did a bunch of shows with Nadim Azzam.”
Looking forward to recording his new album, Matisyahu feels that his music keeps evolving and getting better.
“I think the songs are going to get better and my understanding of music is growing,” he concludes. “I’m just honing in on the sound I want to create, and shaving away all the excess stuff. I love that music helps people get through all kinds of different struggles and the monotony of life. It can give people strength and inspiration. That’s the kind of music I try to create.”
Ebb & Flow Arts and the Maui Institute for Modern Music will present a free, two-day Piano Synergy Festival on Friday at Seabury Hall’s ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center in Makawao and on Sunday at the Maui Music Conservatory in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
The festival will feature 20th- and 21st-century works for multiple pianos and other instruments, as well as commissions, open rehearsals, gatherings and recording sessions.
“This one is particularly ambitious with two concert events,” says Ebb & Flow Arts director Robert Pollock.
Friday’s program, “Premieres for Two Pianos,” includes the world premiere of an E&FA-commissioned work for two pianos, “Dodici Tono Barolo,” by visiting composer Sarn Oliver, a member of the first violin section of San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
The concert also features the world premiere of Maui composer Pelarin Bacos’ E&FA-commissioned “Prelude and Groove” for two pianos. In addition, there will be the Hawaii premieres of works for two pianos by Dina Koston (“Dialog”), Arthur Berger (“Three Pieces for Two Pianos”) and George Walker (“Music for Two Pianos”). Two modern classics, Aaron Copland’s “El Salon Mexico” (arranged for two pianos by Leonard Bernstein), and Igor Stravinsky’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” complete the program.
Pianists performing include Adam Tendler, Joan Forsyth, Bacos and Pollock.
Sunday’s “Five Pianos and More!” eclectic program includes Earle Brown’s “Corroboree” for three pianos, and Morton Feldman’s “Five Pianos,” with video with this lengthy work provided by Peter Swanzy.
Also on the program, Charles Wuorinen’s “Sonata” for guitar and piano, Claude Ballif’s “Solfeggietto No. 3” for violin, Pollock’s “Romance-Fantasy” for guitar and piano, Bela Bartok’s “Three Etudes” for piano, Emil Awad’s “Fouad” for solo guitar and others.
Performers include pianists Tendler, Forsyth, Marti Kluth, Bacos and Pollock, guitarist William Anderson and violinist Ignace Jang, concert master of Hawai’i Symphony.
“It’s a wide-ranging program,” Pollock continues. “Berger’s piece, ‘Three Pieces for Two Pianos,’ asks for strict rhythmic coordination down to less than a 10th of a second. While Feldman wanted to rid us of anxiety about time, so there is no concern for ensemble coordination in his ‘Five Pianos.’ Never before have we convened many of our frequent performers, some from off-island, in one place at one time. We will record the concerts for a possible future CD.”
* Friday’s concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday’s begins at 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.ebbandflowarts.org.
Soul Kitchen will celebrate its fourth anniversary with a party at 7 p.m. Friday at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea. The evening will help raise funds for the band to record its first original music CD.
Special guests include guitarist Tom Conway, steel guitarist Joel Katz, Travis Rice on doumbek and congas, and belly dancer Raina. There is a suggested donation of $10.
* For more information, call Mulligans at 874-1131.