Recently, there's been a lot of speculation on Yahoo JewishMusic about who will be performing at the upcoming HASC benefit concert on Jan. 9th in NYC. One of the names being floated is Matisyahu, who bills himself "the Hassidic Reggae Superstar."
I happened to be in a seforim store yesterday where I noticed that Matisyahu's album is being marketed just like the other typical JM fare. It was on a listening station together with Shimon Craimer's new album, Emes 2, and the like. I think that there is a problem with that, and I think that having Matisyahu perform at HASC, should it happen, would be a hugely irresponsible act by the producers. Matisyahu has chosen to bring his music into the club scene, performing at bars and clubs around the country. Here's his schedule of upcoming performances. I believe that HASC (and, for that matter, any organization or promoter who markets an event to the frum community) has the obligation to ensure that the event is appropriate for the entire community its being sold to. The HASC concert is sold as acceptable kosher entertainment to the NY Jewish community including the Chassidic and Yeshivish segments thereof. This means that the performers ought to be appropriate role models for the entire community.
I want to be clear. I don't think that there's anything objectionable about the style of music Matisyahu performs. I also don't think that his music or any song he'd perform at HASC would be offensive. I have no problem with a Jewish distributor selling his music; what I do object to is selling it as though it's just another flavor of frum Jewish music.
I do think that there is a huge need for hip Jewish performers to be out there performing Jewish music -- especially on college campuses. And I think he made a huge Kiddush Hashem when, on one of his TV appearences, he told comedian Kevin Nealon that he wouldn't perform on Shabbos for any amount of money. Readers of this blog know that I have no problem with secular music per se. However, I do feel that performers need to make a decision on how they're going to market themeslves and where they're going to focus their performing efforts. If a performer chooses to try and make it on the club/bar scene, then I feel that they ought not be marketed to sheltered frum youth, who are ill-prepared for the club scene and all that it means they'd be exposed to.
As I've written before, I believe that parents have the right to expect that a performer put up by a tzedakah organization -- or by anybody for that matter -- and sold to frum families will be a positive role model for their kids. Matisyahu has chosen a career path of performing in bars and with left-wing Israeli rappers as well as with African-American and Palestinian rappers. I respect his right to do so, but I do believe that many parents in the Chareidi community would be outraged, and rightfully so, about his appearance at HASC, if they were aware of all this.
As I wrote about a year ago in regards to another band:
Is it reasonable to assume that a yeshiva kid who buys this CD in Eichler's, for example, might visit the band's website? If he did, a pop-up window informing him of the band's upcoming performance in a NYC bar could greet him. Is it reasonable to assume he might then go? For a teen from a sheltered background, going to such a venue and being introduced to the NYC nightlife scene could easily have a strong negative influence on his religious development, more so than on someone from a more "Modern" background who has the savvy to negotiate in such an environment.
Artists, promoters, and especially distributors need to be sensitive to the values of the community they are marketing to!