Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Beats and Bans

I don't read the Hamodia daily, but I was told that there was an interesting letter in yesterday's paper. Apparently someone was livid at them for printing an ad which featured Lipa Shmeltzer. To paraphrase "I heard some of his songs and it sounds just like the songs I hear when I'm waiting in the doctors office" and "I was happy to hear that one community banned his music" and other such quotes of peace and love.

Regardless of what I think of ridiculous bans and the doctor's taste in music, this reminded me of a conversation I had not to0 long ago.

I recently gave a middle aged, Orthodox man a ride in my car and I was playing Matisyahu's Live at Stubbs album (probably not the most intelligent choice of music given the passenger, but I've never been accused of being smart). He remarked to me that the music is just not Jewish music.

Me: "Matisyahu is Jewish".

Him: "That doesn't matter, it's the music I'm talking about".

Me: "Well, how do you define Jewish music"?

Him: "Music has a tremendous power, and some kinds of music bring out certain emotions. These kinds of songs are primal. Jewish music is written to bring out spiritual feeling."

Me: "Would you classify the good, old Chabad niggunim as spiritual Jewish music"?

Him: "Of course, that's a perfect example of it."

Me: "Do you realize that they sound exactly like the Russian folk songs that were sung in that region around the time these niggunim were composed"?

Him: "Um, maybe, perhaps, I don't know..."

The point I'm making is this. We are all affected by our surroundings. Our music definitely is. There is a reason why a beautiful Sephardic melody sounds like something you'd hear playing in Damascus and why the Chabad niggun sounds Russian. It's because they ARE. They are Russian or Arabic songs composed (I imagine) by a Jew, and with Jewish words. And there is nothing wrong with that. So Matisyahu sounds Jamaican. Is that a big deal? I can guarantee that if there were Jews living in Jamaica 150 years ago, their shabbos zemiros would sound like that and it would be called Jewish music.

D'ror Yikra, mon!