Matisyahu brings rap and reggae improvisations to Sonoma
Grammy-nominated Jewish-American rap and reggae star Matisyahu plans to perform two nights in a row next week at the Reel Fish Shop & Grill in Sonoma, but don’t expect the same two shows.
“The main thing that excites me about music is the improvisation element at a live show, because a live show is a unique experience, so the music should also be unique,” Matisyahu said by phone from his home in Nyack, New York.
“I make a point when we’re doing two nights in a row to do a different set list every night,” he said. “We just recently did three nights at the City Winery in Chicago, and I don’t think we repeated even one song.”
With a couple of live albums and seven studio recordings — including the most recent, last year’s “Undercurrent” — to his credit, Matisyahu can choose his material from a large repertoire.
“I have enough albums and enough songs that we can do that,” he said.
Working live as a duo with Aaron Dugan, his guitarist for the past 15 years, improvisation comes to Matisyahu readily.
“We started making music together and we sort of played off of each other,” he said. “We know how to listen to each other and relate to each other in a way that I don’t know how to do with any other musician that I’ve worked with. Even though we’re improvising and doing things for the first time, there’s chemistry and trust that comes through to the audience.”
Matisyahu began experimenting with more musical improvisation during the recording of his “Undercurrent” album.
“Every record that I’ve made has been pretty much different, with different writers and producers. I’ve always made a different record than I made previously. I never felt like I had material left over that I needed to put on another record that sounds the same as the last one,” he said.
“With ‘Undercurrent,’ I decided not to use an outside producer and not take on any writers, but to work specifically with the band I had put together to create a sound,” he explained. “I worked backwards. Instead of writing songs and then trying to get a band to re-create those songs live, I picked the musicians and recorded our improvisations on tour, then came back and used those as a basis for new songs. Then we made a record.”
Matisyahu continues to improvise in a series of new live shows with Dugan as an acoustic duet.
In addition to his long recording career, Matisayhu also has spent some time on the movie screen. He appeared in “Unsettled,” about the Israeli military in the Gaza strip, which won the grand jury for best documentary feature at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival.
He also won some attention as an actor, playing a Jewish exorcist in the 2012 supernatural horror film “The Possession.”
Matisyahu (born Matthew Paul Miller) first hit the American Top 40 in 2005 with the single “King Without a Crown.” Now, at age 39, he considers himself well into a new chapter in his life.
“I moved back to New York, where I’m from, and bought a house. I started over in a way,” he said. “This is a time in my life of settling, re-establishing myself and coming home after 15 years of traveling, moving around and touring.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or email@example.com. On Twitter @danarts.