Zusha
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Zusha

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015

Brooklyn, New York, United States
Established on Jan, 2015
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"The Hasidic Hipsters Of Zusha Are Here To Rock The World Of Jewish Music"

The three members of Zusha were raised amid varying flavors of Jewish culture. But call Zusha a “Jewish band,” and the musicians will balk at the label.

“We don’t want to be a Jewish band that stays in the world of Jewish music,” singer Shlomo Ari Gaisin, 23, told The Huffington Post while sipping a beer at a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Percussionist Elisha Mlotek agreed, telling HuffPost over the phone, “The music is deeper than religion. It’s deeper than a faith. I’m Jewish, but I’m a person. Let’s start from there.”

Gaisin wears a yarmulke, a beard and payot -- the iconic curls Hasidic men commonly sport. Mlotek, 24, and guitarist Zachariah Goldshmiedt, 22, both now keep their hair short but also wear yarmulkes. On the band’s website, they refer to themselves as “three neo-Hasidic dudes with less passion for college and more passion for music” -- but even that hyphenated coinage, they say, is not an exact fit.

“Personally, I don’t like the term,” Mlotek told HuffPost. “I could see somebody saying ‘neo-Hasidic’ is taking what Hasidic really is and renewing it, whereas you could say what we’re doing is true Hasidism.”

“True Hasidism,” as the band describes it, looks back at the founding of the movement in the 1700s by Rabbi Ba'al Shem Tov, who many say reinvigorated Judaism by teaching simplicity, authenticity and the pursuit of joy. Zusha may shy away from being labeled as a Jewish band, but its message is deeply rooted in these ideals.

“People are seemingly down and missing the joy in Judaism and the joy in life,” Goldshmiedt told HuffPost. “But Hasidic teachings are about being happy, being truthful. We want to reconnect to what it means to be a person, and our music is coming to bring back the raw emotion of what everything is about.”

Just seconds into the band’s self-released, self-titled EP, which comes out on Oct. 28, the “raw emotion” is palpable. There's a quality that Rabbi Dov Yonah Korn, who has mentored the band at his East Village Chabad House, calls “swag” -- a “drop the mic” kind of coolness. Half of the songs on "Zusha" are wordless, though that does not mean voiceless: On those songs, Gaisin can be heard singing repetitive melodies that he said are aimed at reaching something deeper than words can convey.

“It’s all emotion,” Gaisin said. “When you take away the layers of word and go to the level of emotion, it can mean something different for everyone. We want to make music that can be received by anyone.”

The band's single, “Yoel’s Niggun” -- named after niggunim, a form of Jewish vocal music popular in the Hasidic community -- is a perfect example:



“A Hasid is always singing a niggun,” Korn told HuffPost at Chabad House Bowery.

When Gaisin, Goldshmiedt and Mlotek first arrived in his synagogue and shared their music, Korn knew he was hearing something that had both spiritual depth and commercial potential.

“I really feel, in their music, their search for the divine and their deep desire to share the divine,” Korn said.

Each one of the band members has been playing music his whole life. Mlotek’s father is the artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre in New York City, and his grandmother was a trained musicologist. He grew up singing onstage, immersed in the tradition of klezmer music.

Gaisin said his parents played classical music to him “in the womb,” and he later studied saxophone and fell in love with the improvisational style of jazz music. Goldshmiedt brings an edgy component to the band with a background in electronic music and a passion for reggae.

Together the musicians create a sound that they describe as both ancient and modern, drawing inspiration from many places. As Mlotek said, “We have one hand reaching back to our roots and one hand reaching forward to new heights.”

According to Jon Stratton, a professor at Curtin University in Bentley, Australia who has studied Jewish-American music, Zusha’s blending of traditions positions the band squarely in a lineage of 20th- and 21st-century Jewish multiculturalism.

“In the diaspora,” Stratton told HuffPost by email, “Jewish culture has always, inevitably, been syncretic, bringing together things identified as Jewish/Judaic with local traditions. From what I have heard [of Zusha’s music] they fit well these developments.”

By incorporating niggunim and other Jewish musical traditions into their sound, said Stratton, the musicians openly pay tribute to their religious culture, which is increasingly merging with local cultures in the diaspora.

“Zusha are part of a new Jewish tradition that affirms Jewish and especially Judaic life in the diaspora while utilizing elements of the local, here American, musical tradition,” Stratton said.

Zusha's multicultural approach may seem incongruous, given the typical image of the cloistered Hasidic Jew. That conservatism has caused many young Hasids in recent years to leave a community they find to be “extreme” and “encapsulated."

“Most of the Jewish institutions are having a hard time relating to young Jews," said Mlotek. "And in the Hasidic community, people are leaving."

But Korn, whose Chabad House aims to offer a “dynamic” approach to Hasidim, said that in some ways the band is quintessentially Hasidic.

“I would call Zusha ‘Hasidically neo,’” Korn said. “The ideas of Hasidism are timeless, and the band is applying Hasidic thought modernly while maintaining its integrity and maintaining its roots.”

Korn’s organization, which first operated just off the NYU campus before moving to the Bowery, caters to many students and young professionals. Before Zusha ever came into the picture, the rabbi had a reputation for being “zany, weird and fun,” in the words of the popular Jewish rapper Matisyahu, whom Korn once mentored.

Korn said that any given Friday night, as many as 700 people pile into Chabad House for services. The members of Zusha are occasionally among them. That said, none of the bandmates identifies with a single synagogue or tradition. Instead, each man embraces a spirituality that is both religious and deeply individualistic.

“I want to connect with Judaism in my own way,” Gaisin said.

One major avenue for this is music. The singer describes his melodies as being “divinely inspired,” saying they “come down” to him in moments of spiritual connection.

“There are these tunes upstairs that, at the right moment, are given to the downstairs. They’re all heavenly, and only at the right time are they gifted to down below," said Gaisin. "It’s like a download from the heavens."

Such a description might suggest that Zusha’s music is inherently religious -- an assumption that the band, in turn, would likely say is only partly true.

“I don’t think there’s any difference between religion and life,” said Goldshmiedt. If the music is about religion, he went on, it’s only because it’s all about life. And with a musical style that Mlotek calls “infinitely relatable,” the band hopes to nurture a diverse audience.

“Some people might be thrown off that we are Jewish-identified and that the music has Hebrew words,” Mlotek told HuffPost. “But our hope is that the music will be relatable to all because we sing it from a universal place in our hearts.”

The band has played in subway stations, living rooms, synagogues and small venues around New York and in Israel. Time and again at these performances, they said, people of every description stop and listen, sometimes closing their eyes and seeming to enter a trancelike state.

Gaisin even won over a relative who was initially against the “neo-Hasidic” label by introducing him to Zusha’s sound.

“He’s struggled to understand my journey,” Gaisin said, “but I played him some of my music and he was blown away.”

Gaisin tells this story with pride. It speaks to a desire that all three men expressed -- a desire to find a place both inside and outside of the Jewish community. They aren’t rebels in any dramatic sense of the word.

“You don’t have to throw down your yarmulke to relate to everyone,” Mlotek told HuffPost. “You can still be yourself. Our music is trying to bring that message back.”

The band members plan to maintain Jewish customs even as they tour, sell albums and get further exposure. Gaisin is currently studying kosher supervision and raw nutrition, which will help with sticking to a kosher diet on the road. Goldshmiedt and Gaisin said that ultimately these customs will be easier to follow if the band remains committed to its roots.

“My hope is that when our music gets big, we don’t lose our authenticity,” Goldshmiedt said.

To stay mindful of this authenticity, Zusha need look only as far as its namesake. Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, who served as one of the inspirations for the band’s name, lived during the 18th century and was known for his honesty and humility.

As one iconic narrative from his life goes, Zusha was weeping on his deathbed when one of his disciples asked him, "Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham."

The rabbi responded:

"When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won't ask me, 'Zusha, why weren't you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham?' Rather, they will ask me, 'Zusha, why weren't you Zusha?' Why didn't I fulfill my potential? Why didn't I follow the path that could have been mine?"

The regret that comes with not being true to yourself is something the band members seem determined to avoid.

“The biggest struggle in life is to make your ideal what you do in daily life -- the manifestation of your ideal self," said Goldshmiedt. "And the ideal self lives 100 percent for today.”

On Sunday, Oct. 26, Zusha will perform an EP release show at 6:30 p.m. at the Mercury Lounge in New York City. - Huffington Post


"Hasidic hipster band Zusha hopes to bring people of all faiths closer to God"

They may share the same long beards, curly pe'ot (sidelocks) and come from a similar Hasidic background, but don't call Zusha the next Matisyahu.

While they site the Jewish reggae singer as one of their inspirations, this bearded band of neo-Hasidic hipsters are shaking up the music industry with their wordless melodies aimed at bringing people of all faiths closer to God.

"We're playing music for unity, for connection, to bring all of the inspiration we got from our Judaism [to others] in a more universal way," lead singer Shlomo Gaisin told FOX411.

The band knew their tunes were making a mark when their first EP debuted at No. 9 on Billboard's World Music chart.

"My dad was freaking out," guitarist Zachariah Goldshmiedt recalled. "He made a cut out of Billboard, but he had to cut out a picture of Nicki Minaj because it was inappropriate."

Gaisin and his bandmates follow the traditions of Hasidism, a sect of Judaism which places on emphasis on practicing Jewish law and living every day life with added spirituality.

"Hasidism is-- it's a celebration of life," explained Gaisin. "It's making sure that our eyes aren't focused on the darkness of the world, but on the lightness of world even if it's tiny."

While most of Zusha's songs contain no lyrics, they are not voiceless. Gaisin's voice can be heard singing repetitive sounds to convey emotion such as "bim-bim-bum." The style of singing is typical of Hasidism.

"We do like to veer to the wordless because of it's universalism," explained percussionist Elisha Mlotek.

"Well the wordless in it's very nature relatable to all people because there's not specific language that connotes a connect to one specific people," added Gaisin.

The 23-year-old Maryland native and his New Jersey-born bandmates come from different Jewish backgrounds, but were united by the teachings of the band's spiritual advisor, Rabbi Dov Yonah Korn of New York City's East Village Chabad House.

"[Rabbi Korn] been a huge inspiration in terms of the band itself," explained Goldshmiedt. "His message is basically not to shy away from the world to confront the world...you should have the ability to bring joy to the world in an authentic way. He calls it 'Jewish swag.'"

The band is taking their "Jewish swag" and using it in their music to help relate to people of all kinds.

"We're all Jewish so proud of it and we're connected to our roots," said Gaisin. "And that inspires us in an incredible way to connect to the world. So yeah, technically by very nature we're a Jewish band, but we're connecting with the entire world. Our music is not just Jewish."

"We want to bring that message of Hasidism, which is joy, which is simplicity, which is finding the meaning in every day life. We want bring that to everybody and not just a certain group of people," Goldshmiedt added.

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry. - FOX 411


"‘Hasidic Melody Is Like Wine’: A Pre-Purim Chat With ‘Hasidic Hipster’ Band Zusha"

They’ve been called a “Hasidic hipster” band, but Zusha is all about dispelling labels and bridging the dichotomy between the spiritual and secular. “Independent on all levels,” their wordless melodies are a self-described blend of “jazz, reggae, folk, ska, gypsy swing, and traditional Jewish soul.”

So, what exactly are we in for at their Purim Festival tomorrow at Bowery Ballroom? “A party,” agree guitarist Zachariah “Juke” Goldshmiedt and vocalist Shlomo Ari Gaisin, both 23. The performance, to commemorate the deliverance of Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire, should be just as meditative and soul-soothing as their previous sold-out concerts at the Mercury Lounge, Highline Ballroom, and Knitting Factory.

Could this trio, started in the East Village, be the next cross-over hit a la Matisyahu? We spoke to Goldshmiedt, Gaisin, and percussionist Elisah Mendl Mlotek about Hasidic music (including headline-grabbing Bulletproof Stockings) and the North/South Williamsburg divide.

Bedford + Bowery: What is Hasidic music?

Goldshmiedt: Hasidic music started in the 18th century. The main Rabbi of the dynasty would have their own songs. These songs would then get passed down. We sing the same songs [those Rabbis] were singing. It’s a way to transmit a feeling. But, it’s almost beyond that feeling. It’s transmitting [their] spirit through generations and generations. That’s something we grew up experiencing, experiencing other people’s ideas through meditation. It’s combining the feeling of someone’s essence and the essence of the moment.

Gaisin: Hasidic melody is like wine. The more you sing it, the better it gets. Just like wine, the older it gets, the better it tastes. The idea with Hasidic melody, like one of my rabbis likes to say, is that if you can’t sing it forever, then you shouldn’t even start singing it.



Bedford + Bowery: So are you or aren’t you composing something new?

Goldshmiedt: All these melodies have been sung before. They’ve been made popular by Hasidic masters. People have always been remaking them, though. The most famous one [being] Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Our uniqueness is being able to combine the dichotomy of the secular world with experiencing ecstasy and transcendence without necessarily making them dissolve into one another. It’s [about] creating something greater.

Mlotek: I think the first time we ever played music together, it wasn’t with the intention of creating music. It wasn’t even with the intention of starting a band or coming down with something new. It was with the intention of connection on the level of music because that was something so paramount in each of our lives. That’s inherently rooted in the music of Zusha.

Bedford + Bowery: How would you describe your audience?

Goldshmiedt: They’re always eclectic. We started out playing at our friends’ apartments. Slowly but surely, we’ve branded out. We have our foundation, our “peeps” and our “homies,” but we’re not xenophobic. We’re welcoming.

Gaisin: They’re kind of around college-age because that’s our social network, but it also seeps beyond. At our last sold-out concert at the Highline Ballroom, we had 800 people. There were young kids and grandparents.

Bedford + Bowery: Do people dance?

Goldshmiedt: I saw someone making out in the front row once. Right in front of us. Hardcore making out. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Goldshmiedt: That’s part of the hope and dream. It’s not the stage and it’s not the audience. Everyone is involved. Our hope in singing [these] songs without words is that you can go to a concert for the first time and be able to just sing along.

Gaisin: You don’t have to know all the words, it’s simple. As they say in Hebrew, it’s “פשוט” — Pashoot — it’s simple. You come and you express. You have your spiritual journey.

Bedford + Bowery: Apart from the Purim festival, are you guys involved in any new projects?

Goldshmiedt: We’re planning a summer tour that’s TBA. We’re planning to record a full length album. That will all be done before August.

Gaisin: [The album] will balance more of the improv and the arranged.

Goldshmiedt: We’re also working on a documentary. The plan is to fly around the world and document Jewish communities. We’re working on the pilot episode now and we’re working on getting funding. The goal is to work with a Jewish community say in India, for example. What sorts of similarities might we have? What sort of differences? Cultural? Religious? What transcends place and time? Things like that. We’ll be writing a song for each place that we go to. It’ll be a documentary with released video performances.

Bedford + Bowery: We’ve got to ask. What are your thoughts on the female Hasidic group that gained quite a following?

Gaisin: [Joking] I don’t want to say my opinions because I’m not supposed to have listened, you know?

Goldshmiedt: No, I mean their concerts are only for women. It’s about women’s empowerment. I think it’s beautiful. It’s a balancing act. On one end, you don’t want to forget about where you’re coming from, but on the other, you need to express music. They should feel blessed to be able to continue balancing those two worlds without sacrificing [their] moral beliefs or truths.

Gaisin: I’m happy they’re doing what they’re doing.

Bedford + Bowery: And the North Williamsburg/South Williamsburg divide?

Goldshmiedt: I would say that in general, there isn’t much interaction. We found a particularly friendly, open community. They grew up in South Williamsburg, but at the same time, they’re a little more modern and accepting. I think, generally speaking, [they're] more Hasidic because the idea of Hasidism is to love your fellow man like you would yourself — the Torah is based and we found a community that does that. Here’s the short answer: the slightly more open people that grew up in South Williamsburg love Zusha. They’re all about it. They would never come to a show at the Bowery Ballroom but they try to make us sing Zusha songs at Friday services. - Bedford + Bowery


"Wordless melodies to soothe the soul"

Neo-Hasidic band Zusha wants all kinds of listeners, not just Jews.

For these three twentysomething New Yorkers, making music — a mix of reggae, jazz, folk, ska and soul music — is about spreading joy and peace.

“Some people hear ‘Hasidism’ and immediately shy away because they have negative associations with the word,” said guitarist Zachariah ‘Juke’ Goldschmiedt, 23. “We want to connect with everyone; we want to spread light to the entire world.”

The threesome brings their experiences, messages and sound to their recently self-released album, “Zusha,” produced and recorded by Mason Jar Music. The six tracks of mostly wordless, lifting melodies are infused with spirituality. But there’s no need to be religious to enjoy the sound.

Zusha is trying to create universally relatable music by using fewer words and lyrics, and focusing on nigunim — those traditional, wordless melodies often used in the synagogue and at the Sabbath table, said lead vocalist Shlomo Ari Gaisin, 23.

“Nigunim beg the listener to invest his or her own narrative into the very fabric of the song,” Gaisin said.

It’s also an undefined and all-encompassing kind of sound, he added. That’s an important element for the band, which doesn’t like to be defined by any one label.

Guitarist Goldschmiedt said the nigun represents the “zero point where we all connect,” part of Zusha’s goal to connect with people on a level where they see the good in one another, rather than judging others and focusing on negativity.

Even their neo-Hasidic label is an oversimplified characterization, agreed all three.

“At this point we’re all a mix,” Goldschmiedt. “I think it’s wrong to be 100% Hasidic or 100% of anything for that matter, because it’s too closed minded. Nowadays, it’s important to be able to see the good in the other’s thinking.”

But the three, Gaisin, Goldschmiedt and Elisha Mendl Mlotek, the 24-year-old percussionist, did meet through their intertwined Jewish circles. Gaisin, who is originally from Maryland, met Mlotek at services at the Chabad House Bowery in New York City’s Lower East Side.

The two of them were later introduced to Goldschmiedt through Dani Bronstein, a mutual friend who is now their manager.

The band began rehearsing in a friend’s dorm room, and then moved rehearsals to the lower Manhattan Chabad House, after the rabbi and family welcomed them into the Jewish student and young professional hub.

But it was Bronstein, and Mlotek’s older brother, Rabbi Avram Mlotek, who encouraged the band to share their music more publicly.

“He said it was our responsibility to share this music in a very real way,” said Mlotek of his brother. “So it was his emotional push that first charged us to get our acts together and form Zusha.”

The band’s inspiration comes from many different sources, including American reggae and alternative rock musician Matisyahu, who has been creating music with spiritual messages since 2004, but no longer identifies himself as a Hasidic reggae musician.

“Matisyahu has been a personal role model, since we were all bar-mitzvah aged,” said Mlotek.

Before Matisyahu, said Mlotek, he first discovered music with his family.

“Our family would sing together at the Shabbos [Sabbath] table, in harmony, and I would drum on the table, like any drummer would,” he said.

Mlotek began practicing on drums at age eight and after years of “drumming on anything he could get his hands on,” focused on percussion, bongos and cajons.

Gaisin has been singing for as long as he can remember.

“It’s the way I connect to music, which is both so much a part of me, and so incredibly beyond me,” he said.

He was in a Jewish rock band, Judablue, from middle school until the start of college.

Goldschmiedt, who began playing guitar at age ten, was previously the lead singer and producer for electronic funk band Ch!nch!lla.

Gaisin and Goldschmiedt both provide backup vocals and harmony.

Gaisin, who also works as kosher food supervisor at a Chinese restaurant in Washington Heights, NY, said that while Zusha’s sound is Jewish, it’s also accessible.

“Sometimes when I check broccoli or eggs, I sing Zusha tunes that are ‘in-the-making’,” he said. “The first few times my co-workers heard me singing, they thought it was a little weird. But, now when I don’t sing, they ask me to sing… and sometimes I catch them whistling or humming while they work.”

When they see how their music reaches others, they shy away from the neo-Hasidic theme.

“We don’t want to be known as a Jewish band [just like] we don’t want people to think there is a Jewish God,” said Mlotek. “God is above religion, and we’re trying to reach that place, with our intentions, with our music, with our words, with our actions. The music is for all, for those enjoy the rhythm and the song.”

To hear Zusha’s tunes, check out their new six track EP, which was released on October 28 and is available on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and Zusha.com. They will be performing at The Knitting Factory on December 7 and Highline Ballroom on December 24. - The Times of Israel


"The Folk Band Named After a Hasidic Rabbi"

Selling out an early Sunday night show at the Mercury Lounge on Bowery is nearly unheard of. But on this past Sunday night, standing before a sold-out crowd, Elisha Mlotek told a sobering and existential tale of the Hasidic Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, his band’s namesake. Zusha, Mlotek explained, bemoaned his life on his deathbed with the self-admonition, “Zusha, when I pass from this world to the next, I will be asked, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’”

On one hand, the wordless original niggunim, or religious melodies, chanted by Shlomo Gaisin, the band’s towering, bearded, and frocked frontman, a forceful and far-ranging vocalist, struck me immediately as a tribute to Zusha’s Hasidic heritage. He offered at once crescendos of musical mastery and nuanced arpeggios of exploratory, religious incantation. He was at once the band’s main instrument and vocalist, offering a ceaseless melody and solo above the backing band, vocals, and harmonies. His voice’s range and character conjured a mix of Chris Martin and Regina Spektor, though he also channeled musical instrumentation—saxophone, guitar—in his wordless and practiced improvisations. During a vocal interlude, he suggested that the wordless form offers audience members the space to insert their own language into the melody—inspired by, perhaps, a Hasidic theology founded on a theory of experimental poetry.

Yet despite the obviously Hasidic origins of the band’s musical form, in interviews band members have been quick to dispute the label of “Jewish musicians.” As they describe it, they share a universal message of ecstatic and contemplative music outside particular religious definitions.

I watched as Zusha, moving beyond its liturgical roots, displayed a masterful comfort improvising and unfolding its complex melodies’ parts to fully realize a niggun—perhaps heeding their namesake’s call for an authentic, personalized self. Zusha’s audience also seemed to adapt well to the variations on the Jewish musical tradition, matching movements—if not dress—with the band’s members. Each niggun, accompanied by back-up vocals from Mlotek, a percussionist, and guitarist Zachariah Goldshmiedt, as well as a live band of bass, trombone, drums, and keys, became wildly intricate.

There was a heavy jazz influence in the band’s scales and propensity for exploration—and a nod, in its leisurely and calm pace, to the cadences and rhythms of reggae and surfer-rock. Each song felt fully developed, encoding memories in audience members for eternal looping, I’m sure. Indeed, while Zusha played for 75 minutes on Sunday, they didn’t play more than eight songs.

And visually, as with its music, Zusha surprises by projecting a folk-Hasidic sensibility infused by contemporary aesthetics—matching perfectly the eclectic mix of traditional and hip dress among last night’s audience members. According to Gaisin, the group’s modern, neo-Hasidic swagger is sourced in “ancient roots.” The audience, who Gaisin called a “holy eclectic gathering of souls,” followed the bandmates’ default pose: eyes-closed, shuckling, as if in a prayer trance. Goldschmiedt described the crowd as “so many holy people who are all thirsting for some positivity and meaning in their music and in their lives.” Zusha, through its striking visual presentation and musical complexity and contradiction, encourages in its audience a holy mission.

These recent college graduates are the latest, if most original, in a short line of recent innovators in the Brooklyn neo-Hasidic folk scene (Matisyahu, Sway Machinery, and Levi Robin, for starters). But Zusha’s music transports the listener. In the cavernous darkness of the swaying, drinking—and yes, bearded—crowd on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but imagine myself at a Rebbe’s tisch in, say, the darkened Slonim basement in Jerusalem or the illuminated, cavernous Bobov of Borough Park, chanting and being subsumed by an infinitely translatable wordless tune.

So if you do purchase and listen to Zusha’s EP, out today, I recommend you see them live as well: the difference between the two experiences lies somewhere between praying communally and praying alone. You can see them perform Nov. 5 at a reading of “Radzyn,” an illustrated series about shtetl life.

Hillel Broder is a doctoral student of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and a high school English teacher at SAR High School in the Bronx. - Tablet


"Hasidic Band Zusha's Wordless Praise"

Matisyahu – once the sole representative and ambassador of the Hasidic community to the world of popular culture – is now completely shorn and taking a less overtly religious approach to music. Meanwhile, a new group from Brooklyn may be promptly taking his place.

Singer Shlomo Ari Gaisin, peruccionsist Elisha Mlotek, and guitarist Zachariah Goldshmiedt – collectively, “Zusha” – just released an impressive EP produced by Mason Jar Music, the same musical collective that’s been busy collaborating with spiritually-minded minstrel Josh Garrels.

Their story:

“Zusha was formed in the East Village, by three neo-Hasidic dudes with less passion for college and more passion for music. While borrowing lines from ancient liturgy, Zusha’s music is a blend of jazz, reggae, folk, ska, gypsy swing, and traditional Jewish soul. The resulting sound is dynamic; at times it feels raw and rustic, at times gentle and poignant. And then sometimes you just can’t help but get up and dance. In Hebrew, the name for a wordless melody is ‘Nee-goon’. Zusha songs nurture this concept of the ‘nee-goon’, believing that when songs are unbound by words they can be infinitely personalized and mean different things.”

Matisyahu fans will instantly recognize these “wordless melodies” which filled his earlier albums like Shake off the Dust…Arise. As Goldshmiedt explains in the Huffington Post, as a musical form of praise it’s infused with a contagious and mystical sense of joy, something so often missing from religious music and religious life itself. “People are seemingly down and missing the joy in Judaism and the joy in life,” he notes. “But Hasidic teachings are about being happy, being truthful. We want to reconnect to what it means to be a person, and our music is coming to bring back the raw emotion of what everything is about.”

That raw emotion is palpable throughout the EP, from the whimsical “Peace,” to the introspective “Question,” to my personal favorite, “Yoel’s Niggun.” Gaisin’s wistful chant on this track, complemented by an equally sorrowful brass section, instantly brought to mind Psalm 137 and a feeling of longing amid captivity:

By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat weeping
When we remembered Zion.
On the poplars in its midst
We hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us
For the words of a song;
Our tormentors, for joy:
“Sing for us a song of Zion!”
But how could we sing a song of the Lord
In a foreign land?

Of course, none of this is in the song explicitly – this was just where the song happened to take me as a listener. But that’s the magic of the blank canvas Zusha is working with. In a culture in which “the old words of grace are worn smooth as poker chips,” and religious language lacks the shape and force it once had through use and abuse, they cultivate this more elemental realization of faith through song, conveying its weight and glory from the inside before actually articulating a thing.

The entire EP, thankfully, is not wordless – otherwise, the temptation would be to rip the chants from their context and give them any meaning whatsoever. This clearly is not what Zusha is going for – the canvas may be blank, but it’s also been claimed. “Yisgadal,” for example, takes its lyrics from a Hebrew prayer known as “The Great Kaddish,” which “refers to a world-to-come where the deal will be raised to eternal life” and is traditionally sung during a burial:

Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'mei rabbaw
B'allmaw dee v'raw chir'usei v'yamlich malchusei
(May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified
In the world that He created as He willed)

Whether with words or without them, Zusha delivers refreshingly believable and open-ended songs of worship. They sing not to a staid watchmaker or fussy rulemaker, but out into the joyful expanse of the eternal Creator, where the line separating our love of music and God’s love for us grows thin.

Where, as Zusha shows us: “Every song is a story. Every tune is a prayer.”


Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion. - Aleteia


"Zusha | Sound Of Our Times"

Zusha arrives on the scene at just the right time. The world is thirsty to access the spiritual fruits that Zusha has to offer. Behold a group of true musicians grasping the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life! Their music engenders a higher state of consciousness. Zusha transcends. Zusha delivers. - Hevria


Discography

  • Zusha (EP) - October 2014

Photos

Bio

Zusha is a Folk/World-Soul band made up of three FOX-labeled "neo-Hasidic hipsters," who have been seriously on the rise this past year, culminating most recently in playing to sold-out audiences in Manhattan (Bowery Ballroom, Highline Ballroom, and Mercury Lounge), Brooklyn (The Knitting Factory), Chicago, San Francisco, and Jerusalem.  Their debut eponymous EP launched to #9 on Billboard's World music chart, and their newest release "Festival" got over 10k views and special mention for NPR's Tiny Desk Competition.

Zusha—self-released on October 28th—is filled with melodies that heal and harmonies that inspire.  Getting cozy in Mason Jar Music's Borough Park basement with some glorious guests, a core trio rose to a fuller sound, about which the Huffington Post wrote that the "raw emotion is palpable." All while keeping their layered harmonies and Shlomo Gaisin's vocal soloing, which Tablet Magazine called "crescendos of musical mastery and nuanced arpeggios of exploratory, religious incantation," at the core.  With the tracking finished the band headed on tour in Israel, which brought them to the internationally acclaimed Safed Klezmer Festival, before returning to New York to release Zusha at a sold-out release show where the line ran down Houston Street, at the Lower East Side's Mercury Lounge.

While borrowing lines from ancient liturgy, Zusha’s music is a blend of jazz, reggae, folk, ska, gypsy swing, and traditional Jewish soul—The Times of Israel called them "Wordless melodies to soothe the soul.". The resulting sound is dynamic; at times it feels raw and rustic, at times gentle and poignant. And then sometimes you just can’t help but get up and dance.  In Hebrew, the name for a wordless melody is “Nee-goon”. Zusha songs nurture this concept of the “nee-goon”, believing that when songs are unbound by words they can offer infinitely personalized meanings.

Laying down the heartbeat for Zusha is percussionist Elisha Mendl Mlotek, providing his intuitive flow. Guitarist Zachariah “Juke” Goldshmiedt contributes a free-spirited rhythm that is almost a meditative melody unto itself. With all his heart and soul, vocalist Shlomo Ari Gaisin brings the music to life. His smooth, velvety singing and imaginative scatting take the simple neegoon to creative heights. Together their voices blend into an ocean of harmonious sound.

Zusha shows are meditative parties for people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds. The concert experience, whether pared down and acoustic or a funky horn-backed full band, is one that is moving for both the artists and the audiences.

Every song is a story. Every tune is a prayer.

Band Members