Hanukkah (or if you’re more of a traditionalist: Chanukah) is an eight day Jewish Festival of Lights. On the third day of the auspicious holiday, reggae superstar, Matisyahu held a very special acoustic performance at Center Stage. It is his sixth year on his Festival of Light Tour and only four of his city dates are acoustic. Atlanta had the privilege to be one of those cities.
The show began with guitarist strumming very complicated chord combinations that felt modern but mixed with hints of familiar Jewish tonal melodies. A cellist joined him on stage, whose beautiful string playing evoked emotion and brought an ethereal ambiance to the set. The combination was beautiful and powerful. Flanked by the instrumentalists, Matisyahu took the empty stool in the middle and sang acoustic versions of his songs mostly from his Spark Seeker and Light albums.
In celebration of life, identity, and personal discovery, Matisyahu proclaimed that we are our own light. As “I Will Be Light” began, the large menorah on stage was lit with three candles to commemorate the third day of Hanakkah. The audience each held a lit candle to symbolize that they are their own light and no one should ever blow it out.
The music that emitted from Center Stage that night was nothing short of breathtaking. As Matisyahu sang/rapped/beatboxed songs like “Obstacles” and “Crossroads”, the acoustic set further highlighted his lyrical creativity and musical prowess. His songs talked about empowerment and finding your true self but without the preaching dilemma. On Matisyahu’s acoustic version of “Searchin” he aptly interjected, “If I had one advice for teenagers, it would be this…Let go of what you know, let go of what you know…” and he continued on with his powerful message.
The advice stemmed from the Q&A segment where audience members had the opportunity to ask Matisyahu anything they wanted. The questions ranged from “Why did you shave your beard?” to “Will you marry me?” with the answers being either very prolific – in answering the beard question – or very sarcastic as he didn’t know how to answer his marriage proposal. Most of the other questions targeted on the advice or the message Matisyahu was trying to convey in his music. To many audience members, Matisyahu’s music held a special meaning in their lives and they were seeking guidance.
There is no specific message but only the right to be free to do what you want in life. Matisyahu continued to explain that his songs were his own guidance to his life. He wrote the songs to help him find his own identity. He talked about embracing his past but also searching for his future in describing his evolution from beard to bald. But we should never forget our beginnings. When Matisyahu sang “Jersusalem” he reminded the audience that there needed to be roots.
Matisyahu’s music transcends age and race and even religious views. Although he is probably the most well-known Hasidic Jew, he does not use his beliefs as a barrier, but as only a marker – from where he has been to where he wants to go.