Matisyahu: You disappointed me


Dear Matisyahu,

Tonight you performed at the Windstar World Casino in Oklahoma, seventy miles from my Dallas home.  The distance may seem far, but in Texas proportion it is right around the corner.  I did not attend your concert.  I could not. Frankly, I do not plan to see you again.  You have disappointed me greatly.  I will play your CD’s from time to time and hum your songs when the mood sets in.  But you have let me down.  All my life I’ve been waiting for and praying for a Charedi Jew to offer a message which resonates with America, a blessed country built on Judeo-Christian values but now listing towards secularism, and helps right it.  How appropriate it would be for a member of one of the proudest, most observant Jewish groups to water the spiritual roots of American culture and give nourishment to its base.  When your song One Day was chosen to be the theme melody of the NBC 2010 Winter Olympics my heart fluttered with pride.

Charedi, to me, means a Jew to whom Judaism – Torah values, Torah practice and Torah study – is numero uno and everything else is numero dos.  It means someone to whom Judaism is not an identity but a life, not an ethnicity but a purpose.  It would have to someone who could capture the God-centeredness of the Charedi lifestyle and express it in lyrics that America could sing.  With your flowing beard, passionate vigor and   refreshing creativity, I thought you were the one.

When your beard came off and your large black yarmulke remained I took pause, but your reassuring Tweets kept my hopes high. The pictures you recently Tweeted of you and Wiz Khalifa – you with dyed blond hair sans yarmulke and Wiz smoking a joint – made me realized that you are no longer singing z’miros in Reggae. You are singing a different song.

I drive by the Windstar World Casino often.  It is just across the Texas state line, in Oklahoma, built on an Indian reservation where the Judeo-Christian values of the Heartland don’t have jurisdiction, but close enough to tempt the millions in the Dallas Metroplex to turn gelt into glitter, savings into flashing lights.  The dreamy theme of the building is a concrete version of the joint Wiz was smoking.  It is not the place to offer even the most watered down Jewish values. 

Your transition followed a path that has been traveled before.  A creative Orthodox message becomes a broader universal message, and a broader universal message becomes a self-centered message.  What was “Look at God” becomes “Look at me.”

“Me” is the currency of our pagan-light pop-culture.

I grew up in New York where God is glorified in the religious community but chided and derided in the surrounding culture.  12 years ago my wife and I left the Northeast to move to Dallas where we joined the Dallas kollel and subsequently started a meat business.  It is a land like I have never seen growing up; God is revered and Jews are respected.

Over the years, I came to the conclusion that we need not be as insular as we were in New York and can speak values to the world around us, as our Patriarch Avraham did.  The culture is utterly receptive; if it is listening, should we not speak?  You, Matisyahu, were an example of what could be done if only we would speak. 

But now I am discouraged.  You recently tweeted: “I felt it was time to walk a new path. What that exactly means or looks like I am still figuring out, and will be for the rest of my life, I hope.”  Saying those words at this point in your life says, to me, that you have been sucked into the culture you were trying to influence.  You have become connected to the hedonism which abhors rules and undermines values.  And it says that I will too, if I go it alone as you did.

Sometimes I lay under the moon and think each observant Jew should reach out and touch the world. Now I see that community is the protector of God-centeredness, and that discipline is the precursor of Kiddush Hashem.

I still believe that the American ship is listing precariously and the inspired Charedi community has a lead role to play in righting it.  I still believe that if we speak the world will listen.  But I now appreciate, more than before, that it needs to be within a framework of community.  And I pray that God helps us create and sustain a community that rallies behind the banner of Kiddush Hashem, living passionate Charedi Judaism in a way that the world can observe, understand, and appreciate.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt “tends the flock” literally and figuratively, as the CEO of AD Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi at NCSY – Dallas

Early bird deadline for LimmudLA


Israeli reggae/rock, the New Testament taught by a Jewish Orthodox scholar, Reform social action, art, cooking, dance, yoga, technology, archaeology, literature and film — all this may sound unrelated, a little too something-for-everyone — but these all will be among the offerings at the upcoming LimmudLA taking place over President’s Day weekend in February. It’s all part of what makes the four-day conference so powerful, organizers say.

“There is a whole universe of people who have decided Judaism is X, and there is no better place to kind of get an eye-opener of what the wider potential is than at this conference,” said Caroline Kelly, chair of LimmudLA.

This will be Los Angeles’ fourth year hosting a Limmud conference, a Jewish learning and cultural initiative that began in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago and in the last few decades has spread to 50 locations on six continents. Last year, 750 people attended LimmudLA at the Costa Mesa Hilton, where it will be held again in 2011.

The conference is planned and run almost entirely by volunteers, and all but a few presenters are drawn form the ranks of participants who pay their own registration to take part in nearly round-the-clock sessions — usually there are at least 10 going simultaneously.

This year’s program is still in the works, as participant-presenters continue to register, but some guests are already lined up.

LimmudLA is responding to calls for greater Reform participation with David Saperstein, head of Reform’s Religions Action Center in Washington. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University, is an Orthodox scholar who has described herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

Rabbi Arthur Kurzweil — scholar, magician, genealogist and entertainer — represents Limmud’s eclecticism, as does Yavilah McCoy, an Orthodox, African American Jewish educator and founder of Ayecha, a nonprofit organization focusing on multi-dimensional Jewish identity.

Longtime Limmud favorite Clive Lawton will teach his eclectic Torah, and instructors from Israel’s Pardes Institute and Shalom Hartman Institute will bring scholarly weight.

The music scene — late-night concerts, jam sessions and small discussion groups — will be headlined by Israeli songwriter Nurit Hirsch and Aharit Hayamim, an Israeli band that has dominated the festival circuit in recent years with a funk/ethnic/reggae/rock sound that includes the shofar, the Irish flute and African drums. Five comedians are on the presenter lists so far, and Kelly says programming will stretch late into the night with films, poker tournaments, networking sessions, and music and dance.

LimmudLA’s teen population has tripled since the first conference, and teens at Jewish high schools in Los Angeles have been training throughout the year to lead sessions. For the first time this year, LimmudLA has hired a youth director to create a mini-conference for children.

The cost of the conference is $500 per adult until Dec. 31, and $600 thereafter. Children and teens are less, and scholarships from a $25,000 pool are available through Dec. 31. A limited number of two-day passes for Sunday and Monday are available, but there are no single-day passes.

Matisyahu’s ‘Miracle’ Chanukah song [VIDEO]


A message from Matisyahu from

A certain magic


Chasidic reggae and rap singer Matisyahu just released his fourth album, “Light” — his first full-length work in three years. He discussed his new music, God, spirituality, sex, drugs and Israel in a phone interview with Rabbi Naomi Levy, spiritual leader of Nashuva and author of “Talking to God” (Knopf, 2002)  and “To Begin Again” (Ballantine Books, 1999). A longer version of the 45 minute interview will appear here shortly.

Naomi Levy: I was just really impressed to see the variety of people who listen to your music at a concert and how you’re able to reach so many different sorts of stereotypes of people, from surfer dudes to rap fans to hip-hop and reggae, and clearly ultra-Orthodox people, all in the same room together. How do you think you’re able to achieve something like that, which very few people are able to achieve?

Matisyahu: I guess in general reggae music is a type of music that people listen to regardless. It’s kind of like a universal kind of style of music. And, then, I’m not specifically just producing reggae music. I definitely cross over into different genres. I’m 30 years old now, but the younger generation, and also my generation, we grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop music, to rock, to different stuff. And then there’s the message, and I guess the spirituality behind it, which is also kind of like that — crosses over into all different types of people.

NL: Yes, I’m curious how you think your words affect Jews and non-Jews.

M: Well, I think there’s definitely a certain kind of pride that Jewish kids get from my music, but I think everyone’s going to come to it from a different place. There’s definitely a large amount of young, Jewish kids out there that might be affiliated, [or] might not be, and the music is their kind of bridge into combining their Jewish identity with mainstream culture. When I was a kid, there was never anything really like that. There was never really any kind of a bridge between those two things, and they were always kind of at odds with each other, coming from a secular background. So I think for those kids, it’s a beautiful thing to have those feelings and that pride.

NL: Most performers, even if they are Jewish, they’re not out there being Jewish while they’re performing. With you it’s so out there, which gives your audience a different kind of connection.

M: Yeah, totally different thing altogether. And then for people that are not necessarily Jewish, you have to give people credit. People, when they’re into music or into something, they investigate it, they study it, they just feel the way it resonates inside of them, and it’s just as powerful for a non-Jew as it is for those kids.

NL: So what is your hope for how your music can affect people, Jews and non-Jews? What would be your dream of what your music could do for people?

M: Obviously I want to be able to sell out stadiums and to sell millions of records and all that and have all those opportunities, but for me the vision part of it is really about being able to really make something happen, something real, and then everything that would come along with that, it would be a reflection.

NL: What would be that thing?

M: It’s like a certain magic that happens sometimes on stage or in the studio, and it’s when you have that moment. It’s this kind of real emotional experience that takes place where it’s kind of a unification, that’s sort of a transcendent experience.

NL: Is it God?

M: No. I mean, I think it has to do with … I mean, it’s all God, you know? But I wouldn’t say that it’s God. I’d say it’s really a musical thing, and an interaction between the musicians, myself, and the people that are there. It’s all from within.

NL: What is the relationship in your mind between your music and prayer?

M: It’s sort of having an emotion or a feeling and then expressing it, and then in the expressing you kind of get caught up in it and you put it out there.

NL: And so, it’s similar in some ways to prayer.

M: Yeah. And then there are those moments in the show that I feel like I’m actually addressing God. I feel some moments of the songs are me speaking to God.

NL: When is that?

M: I think it happens more in the improvisations than anywhere else, when something is happening fresh, when something is happening new for the first time.

NL: What does it feel like at that moment to jump into a crowd? What does that feel like?

M: Well, it’s awesome…. There’s actually a song about it, like going over the wall. Instead of trying to go around the wall, go over the wall, and I think that … in some ways it’s almost like a shortcut, or it could be that I have the feeling for the crowd of people and then that draws it out of me, and then it’s like a climax by jumping in.

NL: As somebody who’s Chabad — or not Chabad or wherever you are with your religion now — have you taken heat? How do you feel about the whole connection between your music, sexuality, gorgeous girls throwing themselves at you and all of that?

M: It’s funny. I have a certain thing inside that it’s almost like a block, and it’s my own trip. When I look out into the audience, I feel like the women that are out there, they don’t want me to hit on them.

NL: They do. Trust me. They do.

M: Well, that’s funny … because that might be the case, but I get this feeling that that’s not really what they want from me, and that I feel like they want to trust. They want to trust me like I represent myself, as a religious person having certain beliefs, and I don’t think that people want me to compromise that. I kind of don’t allow myself to get lost in that.

NL: Your attire, the way that you look, in what ways is it a hindrance to you; in what ways does it help you?

M: In terms of the beard, it keeps me a little bit less focused on how I look, you know what I mean? I want to look good, but it kind of makes me less focused on that a little bit. And then I guess when I get into the music and I’m moving around or I’m singing or whatever it is, it’s like there’s a lot in it, a lot of emotion, and there’s excitement and there’s love, you know what I mean? And I guess all those things can be translated as sexy. But I won’t go out there and sort of like … I’m not looking to be sexy. I’m looking for this kind of spiritual experience.

NL: It seems like in reggae music altogether, the connection to pot is so intrinsic to the music. Do you have an objection to that?

M: I have feelings about it. For me, myself, I used to smoke a lot, and I used to experiment with a lot of hallucinogens and stuff, and I had experiences where I feel that it really completely opened me up to deeper dimensions of reality, and then I’ve had experiences where I felt it really hindered me and kind of distracted me. So, at this point in my life, spirituality for me, it’s kind of work, and it’s kind of about trying to get to those places without the substance. In terms of other people that are at my show or that are listening, I don’t have really an objection to it. I think that’s for everyone to figure out for themselves, and I think that music in itself is kind of like a high….

NL: And your song “One Day,” speaking of [Bob] Marley, it just seems like in one way it’s a slight departure for you in terms of being much more like a very singable anthem. I think it’s an amazing song, but it’s a much more commercial song than anything that I’ve heard of yours so far.

M: Yeah. It’s basically like exactly what you’re saying. It’s basic, just like really the theme, it’s something that I relate to, that I think pretty much everybody can relate to, and it’s the theme, the lyrics, the music, it’s just accessible. I wanted to write a song like that. I wanted to try to sum up some very basic idea about faith and about staying positive and kind of just create a song about exactly that. You don’t have to think too much. You can just put it on and feel those feelings and relate to that part of yourself.

NL: I do have one more question. Since so many kids from L.A. go to the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, how did that place affect you?

M: Well, I would say it was more about being in Israel than specifically that place, but that was when I was 16, and that was when I was just really starting to figure out ‘who am I?’ — and identity — and then being in Israel, I was able to make that connection between my Judaism being relevant to me and informing who I am, my history and all of that. So it was pretty massive for me.

Chasidic beatboxing keeps Matisyahu moving


Matisyahu is in a delicate place right now.

Not emotionally (although in conversation he is raw and perceptive — he always seems to know what you’re thinking, and he’s two steps ahead of the question you’re about to ask) and not physically (on the night we speak, he’s in Norfolk, Va., where soon he will play to a packed crowd of 1,500 in a refurbished 1920s theater). On Nov. 18 he’ll be at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

Careerwise, however, he’s straddling a chasm.

On one side is the possibility of being a one-hit wonder — his debut single, “King Without a Crown,” appeared on all three of his albums to date, and after a strong first few weeks on the Billboard charts, his most recent record, the major-label debut “

The source of häMAKOR — it’s all in the family


When Israeli band häMAKOR headlined the Israel Day Concert in Central Park, front man Nachman Solomon walked onstage with an Israeli flag draped around his shoulders and blue-and-white souvenir sunglasses tucked into his jeans pocket. As the band launched into their melodic rock tribute to Jerusalem, “Im Eshkachech,” the 21-year-old singer and rhythm guitarist urged the sun-baked crowd to “get moving,” and concertgoers obliged.

This infectious energy — which will be on display when the band plays The Mint in Los Angeles on June 28 — also comes through on the group’s self-produced debut CD, “The Source” — that’s häMAKOR, translated — which features a progressive mix of electronica and trance fusion. The pulsing synthesizer, steady drumbeat and distorted guitar sound like frenzied club music, and the vocals evoke Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

According to Ben Jacobson, a Jerusalem Post freelance music critic and founder of jerusalemite.net, a Web site covering Jerusalem’s music and nightlife, häMAKOR occupies an unusual position in Israel’s music scene.

“There’s a real void here in Israel for alternative Jewish rock that’s creatively edgy — they’re one of the few doing it,” he said. “häMAKOR has a very outside-the-box approach to their Jewish identity. A lot of bands posture themselves to court a religious crowd and others avoid the issue. There’s a lot of spirituality in their music, a lot of liturgy and Jewish philosophy in their lyrics, but they’re not ramming it down your throat. It’s accessible to everyone, even non-Jews.”

Jacobson, who has been writing about häMAKOR from its inception in 2006, is struck by the group’s unusual sound.

“They mix all of these different things — if you describe it on paper it sounds like it should be a terrible, disgusting salad with ’90s grunge rock, trance, folk and classic rock, but when it all comes together, they pull it off, and it’s really great.”

Growing up on Moshav Me’or Modi’im, the community in central Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Solomon was surrounded by musicians. His father, Ben Zion, co-founded the Diaspora Yeshiva Band; his oldest brother, Noah, launched Soulfarm; and three other brothers — Yehuda, Yosef and Meir — formed the Moshav Band.

“I guess it was a career path,” Solomon said. “My dad being involved, we naturally took it over.”

Solomon started playing piano at age 4. “When I was 6, I had a band with a couple of my friends, and I’ve been shredding music ever since.”

He also performed with his family in a band called Ben Zion Solomon and Sons and played Carnegie Hall when he was 13.

Solomon formed häMAKOR when he was 19. “In high school I played just with my dad. I’m kind of a shy boy, so it took me awhile to push myself and do it.” Like many rock front men, he releases his timidity in performance. “When I’m onstage, I’m in my own world, doing my thing,” he said.

Aptly, the singer was named for Chasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who incorporated joyful song and dance into ritual observance. For Solomon, the principal songwriter, connecting to divinity is a recurrent theme. As he sings on the title track, “The lion will roar to remind us of the one above.”

This dedication to music and spirituality impressed häMAKOR drummer Jono Landon, a 29-year-old Toronto transplant who made aliyah (immigration to Israel) two years ago.

“Aside from great musicianship, I need the right intent behind the music. I believe in Nachman. He’s trying to make music for the right reasons,” Landon said.

In the bluegrass-inflected song, “Just Smile,” Solomon expresses his faith and confidence in divine providence: “I’ve got my sunburned face/And I’m looking just a little bit bluesy/Because when it ain’t my day, my week, my month or even my year/I think I’ll just sit back, cut back, relax and let God do his thing.”

Explaining how häMAKOR creates unusual sonic effects, Solomon said, “Ben Frimmer, who’s also the keyboardist, plays what’s called a Virus. It’s like a keyboard, but it gets psychedelic sounds for a trance element.”

Bassist Jonathan Fialko, who was raised in Texas and made aliyah six years ago, grew up playing in bands spanning genres from blues to country. New lead guitarist Bruce Burger, a recent oleh (immigrant) to Israel, blends seamlessly with the band’s eclectic musical personality. Also known as RebbeSoul, Burger played a mix of world beat, rock and jazz with his namesake band in the Bay Area.

Like their material, the band’s venues are wide-ranging. Last year häMAKOR played Fat Baby, a Lower East Side bar, and the Upper West Side’s Carlebach Shul. For the mixed secular and religious bar audience, they played hard-rocking tunes off their album and covered classics from The Who and Grateful Dead. At the shul, they performed a kumsitz (sing-along) style, Carlebach-heavy show.

Last Chanukah, häMAKOR headed to Poland. Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who recruited the band for a 10-city tour, said, in an e-mail message, that “häMAKOR is filled with neshama (soul) and hitlahavut (enthusiasm). They excited old and young, Jew and non-Jew.”


häMAKOR: ‘Im Eshkachech’ live @ Shemeshfest 2007

Remarkably for an Israeli band, five out of the CD’s eight songs are in English. Hebrew songs include liturgical standards “Eliyahu Hanavi” and “Im Eshkachech” and an original composition, “Malachim.”

“When we started, our core audience was American kids who came to study in Israel for a year, so that’s what we aimed at,” Solomon said. “For me, it’s more natural to write in English. In the moshav I grew up in, they’re Americans that made aliyah. I only spoke Hebrew in school.”

Currently, häMAKOR plans to conquer dual markets, creating English-language songs for mainstream rock fans and Judaic music for the religious crowd. Their latest single, “Illusion,” will soon be released on Bigwheel, a new Israeli media company founded by Geva Kra Oz. “Illusion” is a classic rock tune infused with electronica that explores timeless themes of overcoming challenges and finding love.

While häMAKOR courts mainstream success, Landon says, “That’s not the most important thing. The music is a means to teach people around the world about spirituality and how to connect to their creator. If it happens, it’s all from Hashem.”

Melding world’s sounds, Ben Ari seeks harmony


MUSIC VIDEO: Beyond the Pale in ‘The Jamaican-Jewish Wedding’


He’s a nice Jewish boy, she’s a nice Jamaican girl, but what will happen when klezmer meets reggae at the wedding?

 

Matisyahu — reggae king without a crown?


Has Orthodox reggae star Matishayu severed his ties with Chabad-Lubavitch? Is he a bad influence on religious youth? And is he still frum?

Blogs have been buzzing over these questions since Matisyahu appeared to distance himself from Chabad last month.

“My initial ties were through the Lubavitch sect,” he told Miami New Times. “At this point I don’t necessarily identify with it anymore. I’m really religious, but the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself. I felt boxed in.”

In the article, Matisyahu — who’ll perform in Irvine on Aug. 19 — said that to prepare for concerts, he prays and meditates, then sips wine and listens to rapper Jay-Z.

Some Orthodox readers saw red: “I’m officially off the Matisyahu fan club train,” Chaim Rubin wrote in his “Life of Rubin” blog.

“His lyrics no longer really reflect deep Jewish spirituality, and his behavior onstage is becoming increasingly secular,” Rabbi Levi Brackman wrote on his blog. “Now that he has publicly distanced himself from Chabad-Lubavitch, I am admitting that I was wrong to ever promote Matisyahu. It is my hope that he keeps his faith and does not go off the deep end and thus take others with him.”

Other bloggers fiercely defended 28-year-old Matisyahu. Y-Love, an Orthodox rapper, said that the musician is experiencing the typical growing pains of a baal teshuvah: “The first few years after making the transition to Torah are often marked by a lot of soul searching.”

Matisyahu could not be reached for comment, but previously has said he spent part of his youth as a self-professed “Deadhead,” taking hallucinogenic drugs and following Phish on tour. He became observant around 2001 after discovering Chabad, and has become perhaps the quintessential frum hipster, performing songs that merged Jewish spirituality with popular music. Billboard named him top reggae artist of 2006.

Around the same time, the musician raised eyebrows when he left his managers at JDub records, a company that promotes Jewish artists; at that point he said he left for more experienced representation. If he is again sparking debate, it’s perhaps because some of his appeal lies in his efforts to bridge two very different worlds — the fact that he, at times, has difficulty navigating them means he is only human.

Chabad insiders interviewed say bloggers have taken Matisyahu’s recent quotes out of context — and blown them out of proportion. They say that the artist is continuing to stay with (and pray with) Lubavitch friends and rabbis at times on his current tour. At a recent concert, Matisyahu reportedly alluded to the New Times controversy, then, as if to answer questions about his Judaism and his feelings about Chabad, he launched into a Lubavitch melody.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, said he first met Matisyahu before the musician performed on the national Chabad Telethon several years ago where Matisyahu sang his hit “King Without a Crown” and some Chasidic niggunim (melodies).

The two men have kept in touch since.

“Matisyahu is a beautiful, honest, straightforward person, and he is largely misunderstood by the Jewish community, especially those who obsessively follow his every move on the Internet,” Cunin said. “When he became a household name, he never saw himself as an official representative of Chasidis, or Chabad or the Jewish faith. He’s a man who is on a very personal spiritual journey, and he’s sharing that in a creative and meaningful way with the world. That’s why people connect with him, and that’s something that should be embraced.”

MUSIC VIDEO: Moishe Skier Band — ‘Baruch haShem’


It’s Police-style power reggae as the Moshe Skier Band rocks ‘Baruch HaShem’

Reggae grows another Jewish branch


One of the most meaningful Jewish gifts would have to be the planting of an elan, Hebrew for tree, in Israel in one’s honor.

And in the case of Los Angeles-born musician Elan, no other name would suit him quite as well.

His reggae and dancehall-inspired music has firmly planted him in the genre, and after a handful of years fronting for Bob Marley’s mighty musical outfit, The Wailers, Elan is reaching out to audiences worldwide with his mid-2006 debut solo release, “Together as One.”

Elan Antias, 31, was born in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district to a Sephardic Moroccan father and an Ashkenazic American mother.

“Because of my parents’ different Jewish backgrounds, I got to eat gefilte and hot fish,” Elan said with a laugh.

The clashing cultures at home inspired Elan’s interest in world music. At 20, he was introduced to the head of A & R at Virgin Records.

“My two friends had told this guy that I was a singer and he just assumed that I was a professional,” Elan recalled. “The truth was, they’d only heard me singing for fun. I didn’t have anything recorded, so at the meeting I told him what I would like to do, which was a mixture of roots and dance hall.”

While under deadline to produce a demo for the music exec, Elan ran into The Wailers’ longtime guitarist Al Anderson. Anderson was so impressed with the way Elan could duplicate the emotional tenor of Bob Marley’s vocals that he asked Elan to tour with The Wailers.

Elan performed his first show with the band in front of 6,000 people without so much as a single rehearsal, and he stayed as their singer for three years touring the world.

In 2003, Elan recorded a reggae-inspired version of Bryan Ferry’s 1985 hit, “Slave to Love,” for the Adam Sandler film, “50 First Dates.” Around that same time, Elan got to know Tony Kanal, the London-born bass player for the O.C. pop group, No Doubt. The two made fast friends and vowed to work together. When No Doubt went on hiatus in 2003, Kanal signed Elan to his Kingsbury record label and the two got to work on “Together as One,” an album that incorporates their common love for reggae, dancehall and alternative ’80s music.

Kanal and Elan enlisted the talents of such artists as Sly and Robbie, Fatis, DJ Cutty Ranks and even Gwen Stefani, the singer for No Doubt. The result is a tantalizing gem filled with beats, words and feelings that properly represent a genre that has suffered from a lack of commercial success ever since Bob Marley’s untimely death.

The second single to be released from the album will be the title track, and Elan is hoping to enlist the support of organizations like Amnesty International to put together a video for the song that depicts positive footage of people helping others in need. And despite his incredible success, which he passionately credits to God, Elan still lives in the Fairfax district where he grew up, perhaps proving that the roots of any tree are always a solidifying force in life.

Elan will perform a free concert in the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at 3726 S. Figueroa St. on Sat. Jan. 13, 2 p.m., after the USC-UCLA basketball game.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 21st

TV stars perform bonafide rock ‘n’ roll at a Ben Gurion Society

Keren’s Corner

It’s an old episode but a fairly new story. Last year, “Grey’s Anatomy” featured a plot line about the high risk of breast cancer among Jewish women. This year, Hadassah delves into the subject with an informative panel discussion about the episode, but more broadly, about this trend. “Can TV Be Good For Your Health? How One Show is Helping the Fight Against Breast Cancer” takes place on Tues., Oct. 24 at the University of Judaism.

Panelists include former “Grey’s” writer Mimi Schmir, cancer survivor and health advocate Selma Schimmel and genetic counselor Joyce Seldon. TV and film writer and director Linda Shayne moderates.

7 p.m. $25. University of Judasim, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 276-0036 or (818) 343-9316.

benefit this evening. Battle of the Network Stars Band features current and former TV actors, or “actors.” Bob Guiney aside, however, you’ll also catch James Denton of “Desperate Housewives,” Greg Grunberg of “Heroes,” Hugh Laurie of “House” and Brad Savage of … ummm … yeah, he falls into that “former” category. They rock it out for ya post cocktails, dinner and a silent auction.

7 p.m. $125 (tickets). Attendees must be current members of the Ben Gurion Society, which requires a minimum 2006 gift of $1,000 to The Jewish Federation Annual Campaign. Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3219.

Sunday the 22nd

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Monday the 23rd

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Tuesday the 24th

The dazzling compositions of Miriam Wosk come to the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Wosk’s first solo museum exhibition, “Euphoria,” features three large-scale pieces. The crafty works, paintings embedded with a bevy of everything from pearls, to crystals to starfish, walk the line between excess and exactitude. They are on view through Nov. 25.

Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 586-6488.

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The ambitious Arpa Film Festival aims to forum “films exploring Diaspora, war, exile, genocide, multiculturalism and dual identity,” according to founder Sylvia Minassian. Two such films featured in this year’s fest (both documentaries) have Jewish perspectives. “Awake Zion” explores the relationship between reggae culture and Judaism, and “Young, Jewish and Left” focuses on radical Jewish communities.

Oct. 25-27. Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 663-1882.

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Thursday is looking up as UCLA Live welcomes Fes Festival of World Sacred Music to Royce Hall. “The Spirit of Fes: Paths to Hope” features world artists including early music singer Susan Hellauer from Anonymous 4, South Indian vocalist Aruna Sairam, Lebanese American percussionist Jamey Haddad and Moroccan Sufi ensemble Daqqa of Taroudant, performing Judaic, Christian, Muslim and Hindu sacred music.

$15-$45. 8 p.m. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

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The uplift continues today with the opening of the film, “Conversations With God,” based on the 1996 book by Neale Donal Walsch. The movie stars Henry Czerny (“The Pink Panther”) and is produced and directed by “What Dreams May Come” producer Stephen Simon. The film tells Walsch’s true journey from homelessness to best-selling author and spiritual guru.

The New ‘King’ of KROQ


Could you name the No. 1 requested song for the past three weeks at L.A. rock station KROQ (106.7 FM)? If you’re thinking about current hits like “Dance Dance” by Fall Out Boy or “Hypnotize” by System of a Down, guess again.

The most requested song features these lyrics:

“Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing

Want Moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing.”

And, no, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin did not hijack the station.

The lyrics are from “King Without a Crown” by Matisyahu, the sensational Chasidic reggae artist whose CD, “Live at Stubbs,” is already No. 3 on the Billboard reggae charts. (“King Without A Crown” stands at No. 24 on Billboard’s modern rock chart.) The song tells of a man connecting with his God, and speaks about Hashem, the Torah, Moshiach, and various Chasidic concepts like nullifying oneself. Since it started getting airplay, local sales have topped 2,000 a week. Total CD sales have surpassed 100,000.

“I think it is a little crazy that we have a song that has lines about the Moshiach playing on KROQ,” said Aaron Bisman, Matisyahu’s manager. (Matisyahu was playing a concert in London and could not be reached for comment.)

“I don’t know if I think it is strange, more than I think it is cool,” said Lisa Worden, KROQ’s music director. “Anyone who listens to the words can find some meaning to it, whether Jewish or not. To me if you have spirituality you will relate to the song. I am not Jewish, and I think the song is awesome.”

Matisyahu never tries to sermonize his listeners, Bisman said. “Christian Rock is about missionizing people….Matisyahu is never about ‘You need to be like me.’ It’s more about where [he is] at.”

So how did KROQ discover the song in the first place? Well Matisyahu has three record labels collaborating for him — the nonprofit JDUB, Or Music and Epic Records, which is owned by Sony.

“Getting him onto KROQ was a combination of years of work and a strong fan base,” Bisman said. “The buzz around Matisyahu has been going for a long time.”

 

Livin’ La


Singer-songwriter Diex sees himself as an ambassador, a
bridge between the unlikely worlds of the prayer filled synagogues and the
groove-shaking beats of J Lo, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin.

Since he moved to Los Angeles from Buenos Aires 18 months
ago, Diex’s reggae and jazz-tinged Latin melodies like “Desde Aca” (From Here)
and “Cuidad De Nostalgia” (City of Nostalgia) have been stealthily invading
college and noncommercial radio stations across the country. And while the
musical influences of his catchy songs come from Anglo and Latino songwriters
like the Beatles, Oasis, Fito Paez and Charles Garcia, it is also his Jewish
roots and his work as a musical arranger for synagogues in Argentina and Los
Angeles that inspires Diex.

“My mother is a singer who sings tango in Yiddish,” said
Diex, 30, who is known to his mother as Diego Goldfarb. “I have a lot of
melodies in my mind from her singing. I also like the Sephardi stuff — the
rhythm and percussions of Mizrachi music.”

Snatches of synagogue melodies too have insinuated
themselves into  Diex’s music. When he was 20, Diex started a decade long stint
as musical director in different synagogues. In Los Angeles, he worked at
Temple Etz Chayim in Thousand Oaks, but he says the American style of synagogue
music is too conservative for his tastes.

“I was more used to the Latin style with everyone singing,”
he said. “It is more messy, and more happy for my ears.”

Now Diex sees himself as a world citizen, a person whose
roots come from more than one place. His songs have a playful ambiguity about
them that reflect his roving identity and musical tastes, and he is not worried
that he sings in a language that many Americans don’t understand.

“Even if people don’t know what I am saying in the song,
they know that it is a love song or whatever,” he said. “I think there is
something international about music, and even without knowing the lyrics,
people can still feel the music.”

Diex will be performing at the Latin-Alternative Holiday
Party on Dec. 19 at the Alterknit Lounge in The Knitting Factory, 7021
Hollywood Blvd., at 9 p.m. $10. For tickets, call (323) 463-0204. He will also
be performing on Dec. 26 at Fusion at Club Good Hurt, 12249 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles,
at 11 p.m. (310) 390-1076.

For more information go to www.diexmusic.com .

The ‘Justice’ of Reggae


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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