Culture

NYT Slams Matisyahu

Now I don’t want Matisyahu’s “Street Team” and legions of die-hard fans attacking me, so I’m just posting this for people’s reference, okay? I’m not even gonna quote from it, people. So don’t call me a hater, and direct your vitriol to the NYT, thank you very much!
Kelefa Sanneh tears Matisyahu apart on the Front Page of The New York Times Arts Section.

26 thoughts on “NYT Slams Matisyahu

  1. Odd that nowhere in the article does she [is Kalefa a she?] allude to his Jewish — that is, Orthodox — fan base. If she is puzzling over why this particular white reggae singer is able to sell out the Ballroom, you’d think she’d want to factor in his logical constituency.

  2. OK it is not a glowing review – but it is not a bad one either and do you realize what a watershed this is to make it into the Times? If I were M I’d be jumping all over the place with joy about now.

  3. I agree with ASC –
    But allow me to push further.
    The author of this article is not necessarily wrong. Matisyahu certainly did not come from a very frum background, is indeed of suburban origins, and is does definitely use a West indian affect in his music.
    What I take umbrage at is more that the author makes no mention of artists who affect similar fashions to their music, and attract similar audiences.
    Where’s the reference to MIA, whose album, Arular, borrows HEAVILY from Jamaican dancehall? There’s a Tamil Sri Lankan making music from a VERY similar perspective to Matisyahu: not W. Indian, attracting a non-W. Indian audience.
    New York hip hop artists have been using patois for DECADES – even and especially non W. indian hip hop artists.
    Hell, E-40 STILL uses it.
    What I’m saying is, the writer clearly went for the superficial aspects of both performer and audience when writing this article. I can almost HEAR a “Oh HAYL no – first Eminem, now THIS?!”
    So really, I guess what I’m saying is…
    Fuck this author.

  4. That wasn’t pretty. I still think it’s funny that it’s taken 2 years and till this point for the haters to come around.

  5. Yeah, I generally agree with Monk. It’s one thing for the reviewer to say his concert sucked. That’s an opinion, and he-she is entitled to it. I saw Matisyahu play once at the JCC of Manhattan and thought he sucked too (and have since chalked it up to a down night). But it’s another thing completely to say only Jamaicans can do reggae or dancehall, as is implied in the second-to-last paragraph. That would be like Jews bitching if black people starting playing klezmer, or if Madonna starting singing about Kabbalah…oh wait…what was my point? Oh yeah. That only Jews can play klezmer, so all you pretenders, STEP OFF!

  6. he also got slammed by pitchfork, the boston globe, and just about everyone else who reviewed his album, all for different reasons

  7. Proud Self-Loather is right. It would be fine if the author just said that Matisyahu’s concert sucked, but instead he had to go ahead and turn this into some white conspiracy to steal black people’s music, just as that asshole Benzino (though it should be Benzona) accused Eminem of stealing rap and turning into white music. But then again, Eminem has nothing on Nas, Jigga, or Kweli, to name a few. I mean, Eminem is good sometimes. But if I say he sucks, it’s because he’s just not a good rapper (and he’s got talent, I’ll give him that), but not because he’s a white guy doing black music. That’s what he grew up around, so that’s going to be the basis for his musical style. Same with Matis.
    But anyways, Sanneh just completely racialized much of the tension surrounding the image of a hasid playing reggae.

  8. stay tuned for something from me. i think a lot about this, maybe cuz I’ve collected reggae for so long. Sanneh’s deliberate omission of Jewish ethno-genesis in America smacks of cultural chauvanism. Especially since Matisyahu makes a point at every show to acknowledge the origins of reggae music, and his own, which lay among the masses of Yiddish speaking Ashkenazim, ancient Israelites, and suburban Jewish youth grappling with the inability to consume their own culture.
    – eli

  9. There’s a certain logical inconsistency in castigating Jews for playing reggae. If a Jew playing reggae is ripping off black/Rasta culture (not that reggae is Rasta music, but most of these people seem to think it is), then we can also criticize the Rastas for ripping their entire worldview off the Jews.
    Or, to come at it from another angle, why is it the color of your skin that predisposes you towards the right to play a certain kind of music? Would a middle-class suburban American black kid have any more right to play poor urban Jamaican music than a middle-class suburban American white kid, if playing music was indeed about right?
    And, of course, reggae, much like hip-hop, has become a completely global phenomenon. I’ve heard Russian reggae, Japanese reggae, Israeli reggae, you name it…and in the end, it’s about the talent of the musician, not about their skin color.
    Of course, it’s still possible that the album sucked. But criticize the music, not the melanin.

  10. I agree, Michael. He argues that Rastafarians ‘borrow heavily” from Jewish tradition but when anyone with White skin (like Matisyahu) attempts to sing reggae it raises “thorny questions about cultural appropriation.” The opposite is true. When Leonard Hall, founder of Rastafarianism and one time resident of Harlem, decided back in the 1930s that Black people were the true Jews, he was the one performing the ultimate act of cultural appropriation. Matisyahu is not claiming to be the true Black man, he is, like young people everywhere, borrowing artistic inspiration from the musicians of Jamaica.

  11. i agree with mr brenner. cultural diffusion is part of what makes musical and cultural traditions still valid even as their original phases pass by. It is not as though he is putting on a minstrel show: his content is thoroughly jewish as is his garb and speech. yes he adopts a musical style that originates from a certain land that happens to be largely populated by a people of a certain color… but welcome to the good side of globalization. i refer the reviewer to a film called 1 Giant Leap, a film by two british white guys who go around all over the world and construct a working “world music.”
    To raise a thorny issue: when i was in high school, everyone was a “nigga.” specifically, i, the one kid wearing kippah and tzitzit in a very ghetto school, was a “jewish nigga.” it seems to me that as long as one is not identifying predominantly with the mainstream white/european/american culture, that is to say, one has a distinct “other” cultural identity, then one has more access to non-white cultural forms. that’s the way it seemed to me at least.

  12. Sorry to see Matisyahu slammed–but I’m even sorrier to see the NYTs print such a racialist article. The review suggests we listen to another group, Jamaicans, if we want true reggae. Would he also suggest we go only to the Jews for money, Mexicans for tacos, Chinese for Railroads? Come on. The editors should have caught this one before it went out.

  13. all good points. this article should never had made it to print. it’s racism, pure and simple. plus, the writer doesn’t even get the facts right. she makes insinuations that fall on their face, like claiming “Matisyahu is by no means the first reggae star to sing of Mount Zion, although he might be the first one who has had a chance to go there.” luke perry and mad professor were in Israel in december (which took me exactly one minute to find out). she also implies that he hides his race with his hat. rediculous. if he was boring, fine. don’t like the cd? fine. (personally, and i’ve been listening from the beginning, i think it isn’t his strongest stuff, but enjoyable nonetheless.)
    this writer seemed to have an ulterior motive. she doesn’t even aknowledge that he was invited to headline carifest last year… but i go on to long.
    and by the way, mobius, thanks for introducing me to y-love. i can’t wait until he puts out something consumable.
    raising torah loving yid kids in soflo with my queen,
    Boruch Dovid

  14. yeah this article is pretty racist.
    btw, the people at carifest loved him.
    although, i will say, i didn’t like this album at first listen, b/c i was expecting a more reggae album and this album is not so much or at least, it’s a diff. kind of reggae. SOTDA was pretty roots reggae in its approach and i guess i was expecting something more like that, but now that i’ve listened to Youth a few times I understand it, and I love it.
    If you liked Youth, I would recommend also “Welcome To Jamrock”, Damian Marley’s newest album. Kind of similar styles.

  15. matisyahu sort of sucks I think.
    so does this author. I have been reading Sanneh’s drivel for years now. he’s basically an unabashed East coast nationalist with a particular proclivity for riding Jay-Z’s dick.
    props to Rahav Segev for a great photo, though!

  16. I could comment ad-infinitem about the continual decline in the NYT’s editorial standards over the past 10 years and how I’m not surprised that this racialist drivel made it past the ‘editorial team’. But I’m not, as I’ve no axe to grind with regards the NYT at the moment.
    However, it does seem to me that the author is viewing the world through incredibly narrow and dark lenses (pun intended). If you come to the UK not only is it exceedingly normal to see and hear white performers of Reggae and Ska (remember UB40? I try not to, but they are an example), criticism of your music based upon the colour of your skin just wouldn’t be tolerated.
    I hope my anti-Semitic radar is askew on this one, but I can’t help wondering if the criticism would have been different were Matis not Jewish. And an observant Hasid Jew at that.

  17. The article is wack, and the way the author says it is completely wack. I do think that somewhere in the wackness, there’s a point. I like Matis and the way he’s put reggae together with his beliefs, but musically, there are reggae artists that I think are better. I spent a couple of years playing in a touring reggae band, we played up and down the east coast and in Europe, and there’s so much great stuff out there that’s simply not getting the pub that Matis is, and I think about why. Groups like Morgan Heritage, performers like Luciano, even legends like Burning Spear, Lee Perry and the Mad Professor are not getting the publicity, not getting on the late shows. Why is that? The point is NOT that other people cannot do reggae, but would you be listening to Matis if he was Matt Miller, part of another college reggae band? Or hooked up with Morgan Heritage? Honestly? Do you listen to groups like John Brown’s Body?
    Ignoring that part of why Matis reaches people is because he personifies cognitive dissonance is foolish. It’s great that Reggae is everywhere. It’s great that Klezmer is everywhere. I think it’s awesome that Don Byron plays klezmer; but I also listen to Naftule, Statman, the Klezmatics. I think that music is universal; but we must respect the cultures that create it.
    Monk- After Elvis made millions singing the same songs the same way black musicians who died broke did, it’s not hard for me to see why some would respond “hell naw”. I think it’s foolish to say all of Eminem’s popularity is due to his skin color, the dude got skills, but the music biz markets white skinned artists to white america, it’s not new.
    eli- I know Matis is all about letting people know about the roots of reggae, every time i’ve heard him interviewed, he gives love and props. But how may people who listen to Matis are also checking fi his progeniturs and contemporaries?

  18. Yeah, the whole tone of the article is a little troubling. I think Sanneh’s main beef is that it’s not fair that Matisyahu outsells his Jamaican counterparts.
    There is a long history in this country of White artists appropriating Black art forms and being more successful with them, usually by sanitizing them in some way. It happened with Jazz in the 1930s, Rock n’ Roll in the 1950s, and Sanneh sees it here, I guess, because Matisyahu is using an accent to sing his music.
    It’s all about the money.

  19. i’m not an expert on reggae like many of you, and i haven’t been there since the beginning with matisyahu, but i love music, i dig his music, i’m not easily offended and i’m VERY offended by the NYT article. especially this part:
    “And the imagery of Rastafarianism borrows heavily from Jewish tradition: Matisyahu is by no means the first reggae star to sing of Mount Zion, although he might be the first one who has had a chance to go there.”
    what??!?!?!?!?!?! this sucks on so many different levels, i’m not sure where to begin. he’s talking about reggae stars, so either he’s saying that reggae stars who don’t look like hasids are too poor to travel to israel (beyond ridiculous) or that they are forbidden to visit. who would forbid them? last i checked, there’s no restriction on reggae stars traveling to israel. so is it that most reggae stars are black? no restriction on black people travlling to israel. oh i see, this writer must be saying that israel, “the new nazi state” oppresses all dark people.
    my guess is this guy made up his mind before the first note was sung. then he cast about like a rabid dog seeking “justifications” for his pre-conceived attitude.
    what a colossal lump of crap passing for a music review.

  20. Glad I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t believe what I was reading. I have my issues with the band, but the way it was phrased in this article was ridiculous.

  21. Yourpalsal: I don’t think Sanneh meant to imply that Israel was somehow preventing Rastafarians from traveling to Israel. Actually, I don’t think Rastas even mean the same place when they say “Mt. Zion” as the place we mean.
    But I agree mostly with everyone else’s criticisms of the article. Having seen Matis for the first time this week (the night after Sanneh saw him, again at Hammerstein), I have to say that my attention drifted at times, and his lyrics really are occasionally quite weak.
    On the other hand, I don’t see a problem if a large part of his publicity and fame is due to packaging and uniqueness. He’s not just pretending to be a Hasid, he really is one; unless someone proves that he only joined Chabad to eventually further his recording career (which would seem on the face of it like a pretty ridiculous gamble), he is real and not a poser. And his presentation as a Chabadnik with religious lyrics and message is a huge part of why people like him. If he starts making songs against gay people or in favor of the occupation or that the rebbe was moshiach, I think you’ll see a sharp drop in his popularity as he gets grouped in with the Christian rock outfits preaching messages that are uncongenial to the reggae audience, to say nothing of the jam band audience that really does make up a lot of Matis’s fans.

  22. I was at the Hammerstein concert mon. nite and enjoyed it a lot. It def. says somethign about the writer of that article, that he mentions in passing ” And it may also explain why some listeners find his music so exciting. Certainly no one seemed disappointed after Monday’s concert.”. Uhm, the fact that the fans actually liked the concert was mentioned in passing, while the history of reggae and how , in so many words, it’s not the place for a Hasid, was expanded on . Please, like the author of this article didn’t already know what he was going to say about the show before he even saw it.

  23. Now, I must admit– I have to give props to the writer for managing to turn “JEWZ R THEIVES!!1 ZOMG, CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!” into an entire article. Because that line was all I got from a now-ex-friend of mine when I mentioned going to a Matisyahu show.

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