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Deborah Voigt Headlines Mahaiwe Gala
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Famed Spiritual Teacher to Speak on Nonviolence
Mother Maya in free talk at Sruti Yoga in Great Barrington, Mass., on Friday May 20 at 7pm

Special Effects Wizard to Be Honored by Film Festival
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Weekend Preview May 12-16
Cultural Highlights of the Berkshire Weekend

Talk about a small world
Elaine and I grew up together, but only just recently met....

Berkshire Living to Cease Publication
A Farewell from Publisher Michael Zivyak

twiGs Branches Out
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[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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Matisyahu spearheads new Jewish music revival

Unorthodox, but kosher
Contemporary Jewish music communicates Judaism through varied styles

By MICHAEL LISI, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, October 12, 2006

Matisyahu matters to Sheera Tanzman.

Rapping spiritual lyrics -- some taken directly from the Torah -- with a Jamaican accent over reggae-tinged hip-hop beats, the bearded singer with the wide-brimmed hat resonates with the 19-year-old sophomore at the University at Albany.

The Hasidic rapper expresses his yearnings for the Promised Land, his desire to follow Hashem (Hebrew for God) and his love of the Jewish culture and religion. And Tanzman, who returned from a 10-month stay in Israel in August, relates.

"What he says hits home for me," said Tanzman, who saw Matisyahu perform in Israel. "His song 'Return to Zion' makes me cry. You feel what he's saying."

She's not alone. Even before his single "King Without a Crown" broke through last year, Jewish teens and 20somethings have embraced Matisyahu, whose debut studio album "Youth" has sold around a half-million copies. The 27-year-old rapper, who plays the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany on Tuesday, has appeared on MTV and played Lollapalloza.

His success has brought attention to other members of the contemporary Jewish music scene, a diverse mix of musicians who communicate their Judaism through varied musical styles, attracting fans even as they raise the eyebrows among skeptical traditionalists and a few rabbis.

Balkan Beat Box is a mash-up of electronica, Eastern European sounds, rock and hip-hop, with horns, DJs and belly dancers. Hip Hop Hoodios is a Latino-Jewish hybrid that plays Latin funk and klezmer. Joshua Nelson melds soul and Jewish liturgical music -- a blend he calls "Kosher-Gospel."

Klezmer pioneers The Klezmatics, who play The Egg in Albany on Sunday, and Jewish funk-rockers Blue Fringe were two of more than 60 performers at last month's Oy!hoo Festival, a weeklong contemporary Jewish music celebration in Manhattan.

"One of the unique things about Matisyahu, and in their own way, Phish, is that they find ways of injecting Jewish DNA into their music," said Seth Rogovoy, a longtime music critic and Jewish music authority, who wrote The Essential Klezmer in 2000.

"At its best, it's really effective and people respond. That's what Bob Marley tapped into 30 years ago."

Sacred and secular

For young people like Tanzman, contemporary Jewish music offers an alternate way to embrace their faith and culture -- secular-sounding music with a spiritual side. It's similar to what Christian rock is for young Christians -- although the subject matter can be less than orthodox.

"I've seen that happen, especially when The Beastie Boys are rapping about matzo and Manischewitz wine," said Rogovoy. "That's something a 14-year-old boy can feel proud of."


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