Sacred-secular remixSacred-secular remix

Matisyahu to sing with female cantor

The ‘One Day’ the reggae star puts aside kol isha has arrived

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

Matisyahu on a visit to Israel. (photo credit: courtesy)
Matisyahu on a visit to Israel. (photo credit: courtesy)

The ever-evolving Jewish reggae star Matisyahu will perform on stage with a female cantor for the first time next week in Redondo Beach, California.

The singer, who was a Hasidic Jew and observed kol isha (the religious prohibition for a man to hear a woman’s singing voice) until late in 2011, when he surprised fans by posting online photos of himself sans beard and yarmulke, has sung publicly in recent months with women, but never with a female cantor.

Matisyahu responded positively to an invitation from soon-to-be cantor Jessica Hutchings to sing with her at her senior recital on May 18 at Temple Menorah.

“Music is music. It goes above and beyond the limitations of gender, race, religion or culture,” Matisyahu wrote the cantor.

Hutchings, 29, who already has an MA in Jewish education from the American Jewish University, will receive cantorial ordination and an MA in Jewish sacred music from the Academy for Jewish Religion, California this month.

Hutchings, who has served as cantorial soloist and music director at Temple Menorah for four years, got the idea to invite the beat boxer to sing with her after seeing him perform last May.

Cantor Jessica Hutchings will sing with Matisyahu at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, California on May 18. (photo credit: Rose Pierce, Just Add Color photography)
Cantor Jessica Hutchings will sing with Matisyahu at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, California on May 18. (photo credit: Rose Pierce, Just Add Color photography)

“I realized that he was singing to a secular crowd, but that his music was Jewish,” she told The Times of Israel. “It wasn’t about the typical sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”

This realization inspired Hutchings to write her thesis, titled, “Who Needs Synagogue Music Anyway?” on how Jewish music has been kept holy even as it evolves over time.

“I knew that I wanted to write my thesis about the need to bridge the secular with the sacred for the contemporary generation of Jews,” the soprano said. “That is something Matisyahu has done without intention.”

Using connections she had to a music agent, Hutchings was able to reach Matisyahu’s representatives. The singer liked the cantorial student’s ideas and responded positively to her invitation.

“At that point, the main thing was trying to coordinate with his touring schedule,” she explained. The singer’s next album, “Akeda,” is due for release in early June.

With Matisyahu flying in to Los Angeles on a redeye flight just prior to the concert, the two singers, along with a youth choir, will have to pull things together during a quick rehearsal.

“Ideally, he’ll make it here in time for a run-through,” Hutchings said hopefully.

Hutchings, who soon heads to her native Las Vegas, Nevada to serve as cantor of Congregation Ner Tamid (the temple she attended while growing up) will perform traditional hazzanut (cantorial music), Jewish blues, and modern compositions. Matisyahu and the youth choir will join her to sing the reggae artist’s hit song “One Day” as the finale.

Matisyahu will give a benefit Lag B’Omer concert for Temple Menorah open to the public immediately following the senior recital.

“He’s evolved away from halacha and Orthodoxy. Singing with a female cantor is a big step for him,” Hutchings reflected.

It’s clearly a step the now clean-shaven reggae star is ready to take.

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