CD Reviews continued
...that this wealth of experience and expertise soaks through every cut on Amick Byram’s CD,
Encounter. Byram has been blessed with a world-class vocal instrument. He has taken that gift,
layered it with a technical control that’s set in cement, and proceeded to share it with
“Encounter” explores seminal moments in the lives of selected Biblical characters: John the
Baptist, Abraham, Joseph of Arimathaea, King David, Barabbas and ultimately, Jesus.
The CD has a lush, big sound. While there are moments of intimacy, the impetus of its depth
stems from open emotion, be it plaintive or powerful. Byram finds certain strength in each
character. The first cut, “One Voice,” rings with triumphant promise as John the Baptist announ-
ces the coming of the Christ. Cut two is from Byram’s performance in the film “Prince of Egypt.
Cut three stands slightly apart from the rest of the album. One, it’s an adaptation by Byram of
an existing song, and two, because “Make a Way” wrings the agony out of Abraham’s story as
he pleads to God to spare him the sacrificing of his son. “I will hope. I must try. Give me
faith or I will die. Say you hear. Don’t you see? He’s my son.” It’s a gut-wrenching “encounter”
“The Days of Noah” gives Byram a chance to show an unexpected affinity with the Christian Rock
sound. Further, it’s a palate-cleanser for what may be the best overall song on the album: “My
God, My God.” The song encapsulates Barabbas’ realization that the King died in his place on
the cross. A three-act play contained inside of one song, it’s remarkable musically, lyrically and
CD Review by Lisa Bowman
2006 Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Walk into a hip clothing store today and you’ll see a television tuned to MTV, on which
bling-encrusted rappers surrounded by gyrating eye candy spit lurid messages of violence
and sex. But take heart, there’s a new reggae/hip-hop artist currently playing on MTV.
His music videos are both hip and spiritual, and give new meaning to the term, “cross-over
artist.” You can’t miss him: He’s tall and has smoldering eyes. And oh, yes, he’d be the
young Lubavitch Hasidic man singing hip-hop with a Jamaican accent.
Although his parents sent him to Hebrew school, his teen years are more markedly
remembered for his dreadlocks, Birkenstocks and his playing the bongos in the lunchroom.
But in his junior year of high school, he made a camping trip to Colorado where he found
God. And when he further traveled to Israel, he deeply connected to his Jewish identity.
Upon returning to New York, he promptly dropped out of high school. Frustrated, his
parents sent him to a wilderness school in Bend, Oregon. The school encouraged
Matthew’s obvious musical abilities. He utilized the opportunity to explore reggae and
hip-hop. He continued studying music in New York and attended the Carlebach Shul,
a synagogue known for its hippie-friendly vibe. Here, Hasidic Judaism’s mystical ties to
the power of song became apparent to him.
Matthew was soon reborn as Matisyahu. At 25, his once-restless spirit is laser-focused on
God. He is fully embraced within and embracing of the Lubavitch Hasidic lifestyle, and he
doesn’t care who knows it. True, at first the idea of a nice Jewish boy singing hip-hop with
a reggae accent sounds disingenuous. And it’s also true that he moves like a very white boy.
But on further thought, it’s no more artificial than middle class-raised rappers pretending to
be street thugs.
Besides, Matisyahu’s musicality is undeniable. His singing style melds together Bob Marley
and the neo rabbinic singer Shlmo Carlebach of New York. In total, he is an original and
unique package. His latest CD, Matisyahu Youth, is daring and creative. He and his
collaborator-musicians seize their rhythmic motifs by the throat. The accompanying melodic
lines sink deeply into the rhythm, driving the songs to unusually high musical levels for hip-hop.
And then there are the lyrics. These would set Matisyahu apart even if nothing else did.
Aimed squarely at today’s youth, they exhort and encourage. From “Youth,” the CD’s title
Young man--the power’s in your hand / Slam
your fist on the table and make your demand /
You gotta make the right move / Youth is the
engine of the world / Storm the halls of vanity,
focus your energy / Into a laser beam,
streaming shattered light unites to pierce between the seams…”
The message imparted in Matisyahu Youth is grounded in Judaism. It speaks of divine
strength and personal responsibility. And it’s always about man’s relationship with his Maker.
From “Fire of Heaven / Altar of Earth:”
One person cries out but the other one sings /
You walk around like everybody owes you something / Take what you got, thank G-d for
all life brings.
Available at: www.matismusic.com