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New look, new outlook for Matisyahu

for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Let's just say Matisyahu's fans weren't exactly expecting this.

In December, the orthodox Jewish artist posted a new photo of himself on his web site, with no beard and a message declaring "No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me...no alias." In his subsequent video for "Sunshine," the first single from his new album, "Spark Seeker," his hair is dyed blonde and he isn't wearing a ritual yarmulka.

Suffice to say a legion of fans courted by his previous eight years of work were more than a little disarmed by the transition.

"To tell you the truth, I tried to not think about what people would think," explains Matisyahu, 33, who was born Matthew Miller in West Chester, Pa., and embraced orthodox Judaism during the mid-90s. "It was very much real, an outgrowth of real growth and development that was happening to me, and I knew that if I would think too much about who I was disturbing or how people would react to it, that would hold me back.

"So I really just came to it from more of an inner place, I guess."

Matisyahu says his beliefs and his continuing search for self-realization and spiritual awareness have not changed -- although he did sideline a planned recording project based on the teachings of the Jewish mystic the Bal Shem Tov in favor of the broader "Spark Seeker, which was helmed by hip-hop producer Kool Kojak (ne Allan Grigg). In fact, he feels his new appearance is a step forward and a statement that, in so many words, it's what's inside the package and not the wrapping that counts.

"Having a beard and a yarmulke and representing myself to the world as Jews and a spiritual being, a religious being, that's one path," Matisyahu says. "There's another path, which is to be sort of invisible, I guess, or just to strip all of that away and just say that spirituality or the meaning, whatever it is, is alive on the inside. I didn't necessarily feel the need anymore to represent that externally, or out of me. It was a process of stripping away all that identity but still being true to how I felt and what I wanted to say."

Matisyahu and the Dirty Heads perform Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-$40. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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