Maui gig: Sunday, February 28, 5pm at the Lahaina Civic Center (Opening acts: Ooklah the Moc, The Throwdowns and The Alliez)
Web site: www.matisyahuworld.com
Essential tracks: “King Without a Crown,” “We Will Walk,” “Jerusalem”
Beards are the ultimate facial accessory. You can pierce, pinch and color all you want, but when it comes down to it, the beard was there first. Nothing says, “I’m cool, smooth and in control” like a beard. Think of Moses, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Bunyan—all figures who’ve achieved legendary status, as well as being fine facial hair connoisseurs. Coincidence? I think not.
With that in mind, who better to profile for our annual fashion issue than the gloriously bearded and incredibly talented Matisyahu?
Matisyahu wasn’t always the calm, collected, magnificently bearded musician that we know today. Born Matthew Miller (Matisyahu is the Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish pronunciation of Matthew), he spent part of his youth bumming around, following the band Phish and giving impromptu drum performances in parking lots. It’s rumored that he was almost kicked out of Hebrew school.
But he’s grown from his experiences—grown in his faith and, yes, grown some facial hair. Matisyahu can’t name a point in his life when he became interested in music. “I’ve always liked music,” he says. “I grew up with music, and I wanted to be involved.”
Among his influences, he names Bob Marley, The Allman Brothers, Phish, Nas, Outkast and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Fittingly eclectic for a Hasidic Jew reggae star who’s collaborated with everyone from P.O.D. to Akon. While you can hear the impact these divergent artists have had on Matisyahu, he adds his own sublime twist of faith and beat-boxing alongside reggae, rap and rock rhythms, to create a singular style.
“I don’t have a favorite place to perform,” says Matisyahu when asked about his impending Maui gig. “For me a venue can be a hit or miss. I just love to perform. It could just be in a random place, where ever in the world.” And while the star has found his own personal sense of self and spirituality, he manages to perform without preaching. Rather than prosthelytizing, Matisyahu offers universal themes. “I’m not about making people feel a certain way or giving a certain message. That’s too contrived,” he says. “I just want them to be able to relate to the music.”
Speaking with him, it’s obvious that, more than pushing his own agenda or creating an image, Matisyahu is in the entertainment industry because of his love of music. This is exemplified in his songs, which are full of soul and character. His perspective is refreshing, especially in an age when a musician’s bedroom affairs are often discussed more than his or her albums. Maybe if more artists shared Matisyahu’s outlook, we’d be hearing an outpouring of quality on the radio instead of mass-produced synth-pop garbage.
Febuary 28 won’t be Matiyahu’s first visit to the 50th state; he recalls having performed here in 2007. If you weren’t able to see him live then, this is definitely your chance to redeem yourself.
And for all you beard-hopefuls, here’s a little advice from the man himself: “Just go for it. It can’t look cool all at once.”