On the Spot: Matisyahu

July 4, 2012

You might not recognize Matisyahu in the photo at left. Last year, the Hasidic reggae-rapper not only doffed his traditional yarmulke and bekishe, but he shaved his beard, too. His forthcoming album, “Spark Seeker,” elaborates on that idea of transformation — physical, spiritual and musical.

What led to change as the theme for the new album?
I’ve been transforming all of my life. There are always people who think you’re not representing truth if you change, but I’ve always looked at it like we’re going to move through a lot of different forms in this life. This record, to me, is a return to something very youthful. There’s an aspect of not being afraid to go after what you believe in, even if you think you’re going to be misunderstood.

Did that change inform the wider musical palette you’re exploring?
I’ve never wanted to stick with one genre or one sound. Working with [producer] Kool Kojak was more a return to a hip-hop vibe, which was great because I haven’t really had an opportunity to write songs with great hooks and beats that I could dig into vocally.

How did recording in Israel inform the sound of the album?
We were in an old-school studio in Tel Aviv with world-class musicians coming in around the clock, and we were recording live percussion as opposed to samples. So, it has a darker, more mysterious feel, with a lot of extremely lush Middle Eastern instrumentation. There’s an element of searching to it, like you’re going into the desert and digging wells like Isaac.

Wolf Trap, Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna; with Dirty Heads, Sun., 3 p.m., $29-$75; 703-255-1868.
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Team Express · July 4, 2012