Matisyahu: Bringing Light to the Darkness

Rototom Sunspash is a huge concert event for European fans of reggae music, and is hosted in Spain. The event organizers recently became embroiled in controversy after demanding, as a condition of his performing, what amounted to a BDS loyalty oath from American musician, Matthew Paul Miller, who performs under the stage name Matisyahu:

“The festival organizers contacted me because they were getting pressure from the BDS movement. They wanted me to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people. I support peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music. Music has the power to transcend the intellect, ideas, and politics, and it can unite people in the process. The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda. Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements. Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc, my goal is to play music for all people. As musicians that is what we seek. – Blessed Love, Matis”

Miller, who is Jewish, but decidedly apolitical in his public persona, refused. The organizers then barred him from the event. The actions of the event organizers were so blatant, and so clearly singled out the “Jew”, that it drew comparisons of some more unsavory chapters in Spanish history towards the Jews.

In the face of international criticism, Rototom Sunsplash eventually relented, issuing a slippery non-apology, wherein they pointed the finger elsewhere:

“…Rototom Sunplash admits that it made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià because it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened…”

Re-invited, Matisyahu went onstage and suddenly, first one, and soon nearly twenty “Palestinian” flags appeared in the audience before him. People were on each others shoulders and flipping him off.

He performed one of his hits; Out of the Darkness Comes Light, aka Jerusalem. Here are the words:

[Chorus]
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
fire not gonna come from me tongue.
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.

In the ancient days, we will return with no delay
Picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We’ve been traveling from state to state
And them don’t understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be
And they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea
Not the country but the dwelling of his majesty

[chorus]

Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory
Years gone by, about sixty
Burn in the oven in this century
And the gas tried to choke, but it couldn’t choke me
I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep
They come overseas, yes they’re trying to be free
Erase the demons out of our memory
Change your name and your identity
Afraid of the truth and our dark history
Why is everybody always chasing we
Cut off the roots of your family tree
Don’t you know that’s not the way to be

[chorus]

Caught up in these ways, and the worlds gone craze
Don’t you know it’s just a phase
Case of the Simon says
If I forget the truth then my words won’t penetrate
Babylon burning in the place, can’t see through the haze
Chop down all of them dirty ways,
That’s the price that you pay for selling lies to the youth
No way, not ok, oh no way, not ok, hey
Aint no one gonna break my stride
Aint no one gonna pull me down
Oh no, I got to keep on moving
Stay alive

[chorus]

A few days later, Matisyahu, still fighting the darkness by “bringing light”, doubled down: He performed at the tiny “Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot” synagogue in the Polish town of .Oświęcim.

Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot

Oświęcim?

You may remember the town by its other name…

Auschwitz.

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3 thoughts on “Matisyahu: Bringing Light to the Darkness”

  1. I think Matisyahu is about to learn a variation of something many people in this country are learning. The old saying “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean they don’t take an interest in YOU!” In Matisyahu’s case, when discussing what happened to him at the festival ““I’m not a political scientist, and I don’t claim to know all the details and the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I haven’t chosen a side,” he told The Daily Beast.”

    He has not yet learned that the conflict has chosen his side for him. He is a Jew. For someone blind to what this movement really is, he handled it with a lot of chops and I applaud him! In fact I’m quite sure I need to go buy some more music, soon.

    There is another thing he might want to consider whether it’s ever been part of his thoughts or not.

    “People were standing on each other’s shoulders with flags giving me the middle finger. It was intense. It was not peaceful. It was like ‘F*** you, Matisyahu.’ I’ve never had the experience of anything like that, as a Jew or anything in my life.”

    He said that the performance was one of the only times he’s ever felt unsafe onstage.

    “I just assumed everyone in the festival was going to be regular reggae festival-goers, so I got really nervous. I felt totally open and that anyone could do whatever they want,” he said.

    He WAS unsafe, and now a lot of very peaceful people might have it in their mind to be less than friendly.

    A group I’m familiar with had a similar experience last year. They are part of a festival that that is made up of 56 countries. And from what I’ve heard, most all the countries work together very well, putting world views of each other aside. But last year during the Israeli folk dancing performance the final song is community dancing and anyone that wants from the audience can come up and join them. Two women knew this and hopped up on stage in the front of the group wearing “Free Palestine” t-shirts, they didn’t do anything but they danced with the group. My friend that told me about said she was determined no way no how were they getting near the mic. She was the MC.

    No other group had anything like this happen to them. It seems this is perfectly acceptable to do this to the Jewish performers. I’m sure if anything had been said they would have been told not to be so “sensitive”. To calm their “emotions”.

  2. My brother in law worked for him on a tour a few years back.
    Said he was one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet.

  3. I’ve been haunted by this post since I first read it, Y.B.

    Both sympathy for Palestinians and objections to some actions of the Israeli state are perfectly reasonable. But it’s clear that both are being used as a “respectable” cover for virulent hatred of Jews and all things Jewish.

    Scary. All my life until recently, decent people recognized Jew hatred for the poisonous, deadly thing it is. Now it’s actually becoming hip and trendy to be anti-Jewish — as long as you overlay a thin disguise on it.

    I feel very bad for Matisyahu, but even worse when I think about where this can easily lead — as you note at the end of your post.

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