Recently, Matisyahu found himself under a sort of crossfire when an annual reggae music festival taking place from August 15 to August 22 in Valencia, Spain withdrew his performance on the last day! The festival reportedly supports a movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which is an international campaign that begun in 2005 and allegedly boycotts Israel.
According to Max Kutner of Newsweek, the festival called Rototom Sunsplash, is currently underway in Benicassim, Valencia. Kutner stated that according to a Spanish magazine called, El Pais, Matisyahu was replaced on the last day of the festival for allegedly failing to endorse a Palestinian state.
I support peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music.
To that, Matisyahu released a response on Facebook on Monday, August 17, which stated:
The festival organizers contacted me because they were getting pressure from the BDS movement. They wanted me to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people. I support peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music. Music has the power to transcend the intellect, ideas, and politics, and it can unite people in the process. The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda. Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements. Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc., my goal is to play music for all people. As musicians that is what we seek. – Blessed Love, Matis
Although Matisyahu appeared to handle the situation respectfully, it brings up the current matter of how various messages in reggae music appear to unify various cultures, and yet still get caught in crossfires pertaining to politics and opinion.
It is no surprise that throughout social media and various outlets, there appears to be a discord regarding the sanctity of original reggae music and that of its global spread. To start, American reggae bands have in recent past gained enormous recognition and support, as opposed to their more influential brothers from Jamaica, the Caribbean, and even the U.K.
To these recent happenings, it seems that some labels, some promoters, and even some fans are dissecting the genre according to what is more righteous, more roots, more accepting, or possibly and simply, more entertaining. After all, what else draws a crowd to a giant music festival, a concert, or simply a local music show other than the music? All of these outlets have music in common, so first and foremost, the music is a preferred necessity.
For reggae music, however, it appears some people may need to credit a band’s background, message, and style in order to show interest or give respect. Not only that, the knowledge of roots-reggae music appears to be crucial; otherwise, the band is just another hybrid of another watered-down version of original reggae music.
Just as Bob Marley spread the message that his music has no borders, Matisyahu is also spreading the message that his music has no borders. In truth, one’s background cannot necessarily define one’s art, particularly when that art is meant to spread globally. Sure, it may be considered a piece to one part of the puzzle, but is simply and nevertheless, the creative fabric of a wider piece of art.
Those who choose to define rules and membership of a genre which has spread vigorously to various parts of the world without discrimination appear to be the ones who create an unnecessary classification of it. After all, it is not (or it should not be) about one’s background, one’s knowledge, and one’s affiliations that necessarily define a person or group’s art. It is about that person or group creating a canvas for himself, herself, themselves and possibly others to also paint.
Matisyahu may have spoken openly about his Jewish background while pursuing his musical endeavors, but it should be of no concern to those who wish to spread the various messages of reggae music, particularly that of peace and unity. Otherwise, the so-called reggae Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Valencia, Spain, appears to merely be a festival with a specific agenda supporting a specific movement. Not very “reggae” at all.