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Hasidic star Matisyahu saving reggae with new disc
Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:10pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's not easy being a big celebrity in a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community.
Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu, who achieved unlikely pop success in 2005 with the single "King Without a Crown," tries to live a simple life with his young family in Crown Heights, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.
His two sons go to school across the road, the kosher pizza shop is around the corner, and he walks to temple three times a day. It sounds fairly idyllic, not unlike a "shtetl," the Yiddish term for a small Jewish town or village.
But Matisyahu can blend in only so far with his traditional full beard and dark suit. People often ask him for money, or accuse him of setting a bad example if he happens to be praying while not wearing his hat and jacket.
"I do get a lot of crap," Matisyahu, 30, -- whose real name is Matthew Miller -- said with resignation during a recent interview in his tour bus.
"It's the Jewish way. They don't care. There's no space. There aren't those typical sensitivities to people. Some people are (sensitive), but you get a lot of people who have no sense of boundary and are pushy."
The old Matisyahu tried to be accommodating, fearful of being labeled an arrogant celebrity. He is slowly learning to push back when people test his patience, but realizes the attention is the price you pay for your riches and fame.
"It's what you sign up for," he said. "When famous people are pissed off about all this stuff, it's like, 'What did you expect? Don't tell me you didn't want the fame a little bit.'"
SHINE A "LIGHT"
But the nosy neighbors are being replaced by cheering crowds for the foreseeable future as Matisyahu hits the road to promote his third album, "Light," due in stores on August 25.
He hopes the Sony Music release will establish him as a career artist rather than consign him to one-hit-wonder status. "King Without a Crown," a rap-style treatise about submitting to God in daily life, won heavy airplay on rock and top-40 radio stations in 2005. It was a rare feat for a reggae song, or for any song so avowedly religious.
Apart from late reggae pioneer Bob Marley, his various offspring, and the British band UB40, reggae never gained much traction in the United States. And Hasidic Jews were not exactly noted practitioners. Matisyahu sees himself as a savior
of the genre.
"Reggae music, in a lot of ways, got really stagnant," he said. "You see a lot of the reggae bands play today and it's the same horn patches on keyboards that they've been playing for 15 years, and not in a retro-cool kind of way. It's totally nauseating to me.
"We're taking elements of reggae music, but totally crossing over into different genres and blending different things." Continued...
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