Matisyahu has come a long way since 2005 when he released his breakout album, Live at Stubbs (which reached #1 on the
Reggae Albums Chart and #30 on the Billboard 200). Since then he has pushed himself dynamically and creatively, breaking with
expectation at every turn and remaking his musical image with nearly every album. And his latestAkeda (Uh-kay-duh)is
no different in this regard.
Akeda is depth and naturalness; it is by far Matisyahus most personal album, and the one over which he has had the most
creative control. Quoting Matisyahu, Akeda is the kind of album an artist makes when there is no other creative choice
but to turn oneself inside-out, to scrape the insides and reveal everything raw.
Though he achieved early success as The hasidic reggae superstar, Matisyahuthe man and the musiciansoon
began to chafe under the constraints of that label and the projections that went with it. The music was continuing to evolve,
and so was his spiritual identity. Reggae was just one strong influence in the sound he was seeking; and the mystical teachings
of Hasidism had soaked-in to a degree that he felt the external trappings were no longer necessary. As he says on the new
album, Got it on the inside, dont need to wear it out.
By the release of Spark Seeker in 2012, Matisyahus appearance and sound had changed drastically from the days of his
first success. And though his music was more successful than ever, having an even broader, multi-influence, cross-genre appeal,
the backlash from his early reggae- oriented fans, and those who saw him as a bearded Jewish icon was overwhelming
and deeply painful to him. The pressures of success and constant touring, coupled with this onslaught of superficial criticism,
drove the singer into intense feelings of isolation and introspection that eventually resulted in Akeda, his most self-
reflective and purely conceived album to date.
Written on tour, and in his Los Angeles home, Akeda was recorded in Brooklyns Studio G with his touring band, Dub Trio
(Dave Holmes, Stu Brooks, and Joe Tomino), and was produced by bassist Stu Brooks (with assists from Studio G owner, Joel
Hamilton, and Dave Holmes). Matisyahu also worked on a number of tracks with long time friends and collaborators Aaron Dugan,
Rob Marcher and Mark Guiliana.
When asked about the writing and recording process for Akeda, Matisyahu says: On this record, I really just wrote from
my guts. I wanted everything to come from the inside . . . I didnt want to make any compromises with the music or the
recording process. It was all done at my place, or at Studio G with my bass player, Stu Brooks, who produced the record. Our
musical tastes are so similar, and weve been working together so long, there was no need to go out looking for the right
producer or the right beat . . . Everything just came to us, and it was always right on the money.
The result of this collaboration is a wide-ranging, radically experimental album that adds a new layer of sophistication to
Matisyahus body of work. On past albums, Matisyahus songs and lyrics were often drawn from inspiring themes and
teachings in Hasidic Judaism; in Akeda, the lyrics are far more personal and Hasidic ideas play a smaller, supporting role.
Theyre definitely in there, says Matisyahu, but theyre a lot more integrated than before. In
some ways, I think I used to disguise myself behind them. But on this album, I was able to step into the world more, to come
out from behind the glass and write more emotional songs, dealing with the real events and people in my life. And when I did
this, I found that all the Hasidic and kabalistic ideas Ive studied for years came up naturally and were able to enter
into my real life.
This is clear throughout the album, especially in intensely personal songs like Reservoir. In talking about this
song, Matisyahu says: In that song, Im really dealing with the pain I feltand continue to feelfrom
my brothers who were so quick to throw me under the bus because of my changes. As usual, I make a lot of references
to stories and motifs from Torah; only now, they are more internalized and deeply personal. The title, Reservoir,
refers to the reservoir in Central Park that Ive found myself walking around at different times in my life.
One day, it occurred to me that Id never gone all the way around it, never completed the circle. It made me realize
how much I wanted closure and a sense of completeness in my life. Another important song for Matisyahu is Broken
Car, which sets up a theme found throughout the album. This is really a song about refuge, says Matisyahu,
about finding a home in the world; its about acceptance of oneself and otherswith all the problems and flaws.
It comes from the sense of profound brokenness Ive experienced in my own life over the past few years, which
Ive come to look at without judgment, with a kind of acceptance, patience and love. At this point, I just want to be
grateful to God for the blessing of being able to continue growing and doing what I can to create a place of healing in this
This, of course, brings us to Akeda, the albums title. Akeda (binding) is a Hebrew word that refers to sacrifice,
or rather the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham in the Bible at Gods command. But for Matisyahu, it is also
a powerful symbol for the toll such acts of faith take on ones lifeeven for a musician following his
own heart and musical instincts. The success of following the muse brings its own problems, forcing an artist
to look deep inside for the original purity that gave life to the music in the first place. This is the theme that shapes
Akeda; for the songs on this new album deal with the intense loneliness and isolation of life on the road, processing complex
feelings of betrayal from former friends and fans, as well the breakdown of longstanding relationships. But far from wallowing
in these feelings and trials, the songs on Akeda deal with them, exploring them in the depths, and finally find their way
back to the surface, where they achieving a kind of wholeness amid the brokenness of the sacrifice. In the end, It is
music that comes from the inside-out, and that somehow makes you feel cleansed in the listening.