The Music Issue: Matisyahu, Gogol Bordello, and Zydepunks
I'm not a huge fan of Matisyahu's music, but I'm in awe of the concept of Matisyahu. I saw him at an amphitheater opening up for 311 on Sunday. It was the night before Tisha B'av, which poses the question of why he was performing music during the Nine Days, but it was cool to hear him give a little speech about why the band wouldn't be playing the next couple of tourstops because of Tisha B'av as he introduced "Water." I saw him on the first night of Hanukkah in 2005, and it was a wonderful experience watching him light a menorah on stage at D.C.'s 9:30 Club. I first found out about Matisyahu about four years ago when I sat a few seats away from him at a Pittsburgh Chabad House Shabbat dinner and he did some a capella singing and beatboxing. A while later, he attended some Israel Week programming at the University of Pennsylvania and my friend Sherri had him call me using her cell phone. I didn't think it was him when he said, "What's up? This is Matisyahu," but I was a believer when he said, "Baruch Hashem," and Sherri mailed me an autographed copy of his CD shortly afterward. There's an unconfirmed rumor out there that Matisyahu is vegetarian (I didn't start the rumor), and Heeb once reported that he turned down the opportunity to do a Burger King ad saying something along the lines of "I can't eat this, but you should" while holding a cheeseburger. What I love best about Matisyahu is the opportunity to see him play a concert and think to myself, "Go, Jewboy! Go, Jewboy!"
I got Gogol Bordello's brand-new CD, Super Taranta, last week. "Suddenly (I Miss Carpaty)," "Forces of Victory," and "American Wedding" are Eastern European folk-punk at its best (well, maybe tied with Golem). The band's frontman, Eugene Hutz, played the role of Alex in the movie Everything Is Illuminated, was named an "honorary Heeb" by Heeb, and has worked with PETA to speak out against the use of animals in circuses. Israeli guitarist Oren Kaplan is vegetarian, as is the band's drummer; he's also Jewish, as are the band's former saxophonist and bassist. Several Gogol Bordello members, including Hutz and Kaplan, have a side project called J.U.F. (Jewish Ukrainian Freundschaft).
I saw the Zydepunks twice on the Hanukkah Tour that I covered for the Forward in December, and I'm excited that I'll get to see them again next week on their East Coast tour. This New Orleans folk-punk band combines zydeco and punk rock with various other types of folk music, including klezmer. They have songs in six different languages, including Yiddish. The music is sophisticated, highly danceable, and fun, and it's a lovely mix of traditional and rockin'. None of the quintet's musicians is Jewish, but when you're rocking out to their "Romanian Hora," what difference does that make? As I wrote in my Forward article, "Bassist Paul Edmonds proudly wore a yarmulke on the second night of the tour, and Jewdriver quipped that he’d be Jewish by the end of Hanukkah."