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Reporter's notebook

Jerusalem rocks out with Matisyahu despite security fears

Thousands cram into Sultan’s Pool outside the Old City to enjoy performance by Jewish-American reggae rapper

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

American reggae rapper Matisyahu performs at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem on October 10, 2015. (Flash90)
American reggae rapper Matisyahu performs at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem on October 10, 2015. (Flash90)

Several thousand people pushed their fears about the current wave of terrorism sweeping Israel out of their minds for a few hours Saturday night to attend a much-anticipated concert by the Jewish-American reggae rapper Matisyahu in Jerusalem. With the stands and mosh pit at Sultan’s Pool, an outdoor venue just outside the walls of the Old City, filled to capacity, it was evident that the security situation had not kept fans home.

More than the music, the full-house turnout despite the attacks — including two stabbings earlier that day in Jerusalem — was the real highlight of the evening.

Following energetic opening performances by two local acts, rapper Nechi Nech (aka Ravid Plotnik) and Ethiopian-Israeli hip-hop band Cafe Shachor Chazak (Strong Black Coffee), Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat took the stage to thank the public for sticking to their routines and coming out to the concert as planned.

“I want to take the opportunity to thank the Israel Police and the security services, as well as the emergency response services, for the wonderful work they are doing in Jerusalem and in the country as a whole. I want to thank the public that came here today. Everyone who came here today and is maintaining their regular routine is a partner in fighting terror,” Barkat said.

The tall, lanky headliner and his band finally took the stage around 10:00 p.m. Having given up his signature Hasidic garb a few years ago, the clean-shaven Matisyahu, 36, appeared in skinny jeans, white t-shirt and leather jacket. He wore a backward baseball hat, which he soon took off, letting his longish prematurely grey locks flop all over as he bopped around the stage.

At such a late hour, it was only the younger people, fueled by beer and cigarettes (tobacco and otherwise), who seemed to still have the energy to get up and dance. We older folks were already getting tired, and Matisyahu’s performance did not do much to pep us up. It was only the super-loud music and blinding flashing light show that kept us awake.

Fans of Matisyahu’s more commercially popular songs from earlier in his career, such as this reporter, were left disappointed that he chose to perform mainly his newer material. Those of us looking forward to singing along to the up-tempo peace anthem “One Day,” “Sunshine,” “Chop ’em Down,” and “Miracle” were left disappointed.

The one exception was his performance of the eminently appropriate “Jerusalem,” one of his first and biggest hits, together with guest artist Idan Raichel. Audience members, some waving Israeli flags, went wild as Matisyahu belted out, “Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do,” accompanied by Raichel on keyboards.

The artist said very little between songs. Aside from introducing his band members early on, he didn’t address the audience directly or introduce numbers. He did, however, say, “It’s our pleasure,” when Raichel thanked him for coming to perform “here in these crazy days.”

It wasn’t the concert some of us expected, but the very fact that Matisyahu, who was recently discriminated against by concert organizers in Spain for refusing to answer questions about whether he was in favor of a Palestinian state, honored his commitment to perform in Jerusalem was reassuring. Even those of us who were unfamiliar with most of the music he performed (and who had been hearing “One Day” in their heads for days leading up to the concert) were nonetheless grateful for his having provided us an opportunity to rock out and forget about our security troubles for a few hours.

As the concert continued on past 11:00 p.m., those of us who had to get up early the next morning for work left before the end. We could still hear the loud music as we walked up the hill and away from the venue, moving quickly, scanning the area around us, and constantly looking over our shoulder.

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