Matisyahu’s concert motivated by politics receives mixed reaction

By Aaron Navaro, Assistant news editor for daytime

“Every politician is a human in disguise,” Jewish Reggae artist Matisyahu, real name Matthew Millersang as he opened his set at the Canopy Club on Tuesday night.

It’s a bit of a lyric and bit of a statement that appears to resonate with Matisyahu as of late. Last August before performing at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain, Matisyahu was asked to sign a letter of support towards a Palestinian state and a promise to not bring up Israeli politics on stage. What followed was a series of controversy and criticism against both the festival and Matisyahu. 

Tuesday afternoon, a couple of hours before the concert, Matisyahu, his manager David Serber MGand opener Nadim Azzam stopped by the Illini Hillel to talk with a selected group of student leaders.

Questions about the incident in Spain came up and Matisyahu emphasized his disapproval of it, and politics in general.

“They basically coerced me into signing a political document,” Matisyahu said. “I’m not a fan of being coerced into something, and I’m also just not a fan of politics. So I tried to stay away from that as much as possible.” 

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Azzam, an Arab-American artist echoed Matisyahu’s statement. He doesn’t “agree with the approach of treating Matisyahu as an extension of the Israeli government.”

In the session, Matisyahu said this experience spurred his current nationwide college tour, which was co-sponsored by Hillel chapters at colleges.

“We started this tour based off an idea we had to try and bring together different groups on campuses, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine,” Matisyahu said. “Trying to bring them together and have an event they could share and could inspire some understanding or conversations as opposed to, ‘You’re on this side’ and ‘I’m on this side.’”

The Illini Hillel teamed up with several RSOs such as the Illini Public Affairs Committee to help run the event. Tickets were five dollars with a valid student I.D. Comparatively, tickets for his Thursday show in Florida cost $30. Matisyahu came on stage around 10 p.m., donning the same long blue tie-dyed sweatshirt from his stop at the Illini Hillel. His themes of unity dominated his Q&A echoed through his lyrics during the set.

For Elan Karoll, freshman in Engineering, the messages about “building bridges” and “finding commonalities” are inherent to the tour.“That is what a lot of this tour embodies, is having a Jewish artist tour with a Palestinian artist to show we can be united through music,” Karoll said.

It was a message that was never explicitly said by Matisyahu in between songs. He mainly stuck to the music, having little direct interaction with the audience.

However, not all attendees thought the overriding themes were intentional.

Ehsan Khan, junior in Engineering, also was unsure about this theme and felt like it was just another concert. “I didn’t feel a particular sense of unity or togetherness. He didn’t mention it at all,” Khan said. “He only said like two things when he wasn’t singing and one of those was ‘See ya!’ as he left the stage.”

Kahn said in the second half of the concert Matisyahu became passive, at one point playing the congas behind the drum set, hidden from the crowd. “I like to think of the first half of his actual performance as pretty damn good and then the second half as mediocre,” Khan said.

Though the crowd size lessened as Matisyahu played his encore set, most of those still at the venue enjoyed the performance and atmosphere. An older couple even used this new empty space to ballroom dance, hand-in-hand.

“All-in-all for five dollars you can’t really complain; I only wish he had finished strong,” Khan said.

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