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29.04.2015

Top 5 contemporary Jewish musicians

Jews who have influenced the development of contemporary pop music

Drake

The future winner of the prestigious “Grammy” award and one of the most successful rappers today was born in Toronto in 1986. Aubrey Graham was born into the family of a Canadian Jewish woman and a black musician from Memphis – evidently it was Aubrey’s father who gave his son the “musical gene”.

Drake doesn’t look much like a stereotypical Jew, but nevertheless the young Aubrey studied at a Jewish school and even had a bar-mitzvah. Recalling his school years, Drake often says: “People from my circle didn’t understand how you could be a black Jew.”

At the age of 15, Drake got his first role in the TV Show “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” A casting agent who was a friend of his father’s helped him to get a part in the show. The future rap star’s father left the family when the boy was just five years old, so Drake’s childhood was not particularly well-off: “We were very poor…My mother was very sick. The only money I had coming in was off Canadian TV… A season of Canadian television is under a teacher’s salary.”

In 2006, Drake started recording mix tapes, taking the traditional path for young American rappers. These tapes are usually made cheaply, at home studios, and are very rarely successful. Drake’s case was no exception. The first tape by the young rapper didn’t even bring him local success, but his second mix tape, “Comeback Season” got a much better reception from the public, and people started talking about his music.

In June 2009, the rapper’s album unofficially appeared on the Internet, and immediately became popular. In September of that year, Aubrey released the mini-album “So Far Gone”, which debuted in sixth place on the Billboard charts. The album sold over 500,000 copies, achieving gold status.

Drake’s first full-length album came out in May 2010. “Thank Me Later” made it to no. 1 on the Billboard 200, and almost went gold in the first week of sales, with over 450,000 copies selling in the first seven days.

His next album, “Nothing Was The Same”, secured the young rapper a “Grammy” award for the best rap album of 2013. In January last year, Drake appeared on “Saturday Night Live” on NBC, where he performed a new version of the song that he wrote for his bar-mitzvah. Drake also discussed his Jewish ancestry on the show.

Drake is currently preparing to release his fourth studio album. On 12 February the rapper released the new mix tape, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz is one of the most successful musicians with Jewish ancestry. Some of his family traces their roots from Kiev, which brings him even closer to the Ukrainian listener.

Leonard Albert was born in New York in 1964. The mother of the future singer was an actress, while Lenny’s father worked as a producer on NBC news. Lenny’s grandparents on his father’s side were born in Ukraine. The musician himself has often talked about his interest in the “Jewish part” of his family’s history.

Leonard’s young years were not so happy: “In childhood I had to suffer a lot: I lost my mother at a young age, and my father and I often argued. Everyone has problems in their lives. But I preferred not to deal with the situation, and just move forward.”

Lenny’s musical career began in 1989, when his first album “Let Love Rule” was released. The album got good reviews from leading music publications, including “Rolling Stone” magazine, which in many ways determined the success of the singer’s career.

Kravitz has sold over 20 million albums in his career, which got him a place in “VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists”. Lenny also received a Grammy four years in a row for best male rock vocal.

Lenny’s songs are mainly about calling for people to unite in love. One of his most famous albums is “It Is Time for a Love Revolution”, and literally half of his songs are about love.

Kravitz is a multi-instrumentalist, who not only sings but also performs several instruments at his concerts and in the studio. Besides music, Leonard Albert also realizes his creative potential through acting, appearing in films and TV series. One of the latest film projects that he took part in was the “Hunger Games” trilogy, which is popular among young people.

Kravitz’s latest album, “Strut” was released last September. The critics gave the album mixed reviews – few of them were enthusiastic, but the album didn’t draw a negative reaction either.

Alex Clare

Alexander George Clare is one of the few Jewish musicians who achieved the peak of his popularity as an Orthodox Jew. Despite the fact that Alex wasn’t brought up in a religious family, the process of returning to religion became the natural conclusion of the musician’s search for the meaning of life.

Clare’s popularity peaked in 2011, when his debut album “The Lateness of the Hour” was released. Although the album didn’t get the success that was expected of it, the song “Too Close” became more than popular and went to no. 1 on the German charts. Additionally, the single “Too Close” went platinum in America.

“By that time I had already practiced Judaism thoroughly and profoundly, despite the fact that in my early youth, shall we say, I led a rather secular lifestyle,” says Clare. “My belief prohibited me as a Jew having fun on Friday night, and on Saturday as well, as I observed Shabbat.”

It was for this reason that Clare’s contract with the producer center was annulled – Alex could not devote enough time to presenting his musical works.

Clare’s second album proved less successful than his debut. The album was released in August last year, but did not even make it into the British top 100.

The singer, born in a suburb of London, now lives in Golders Green, the Jewish district of the British capital. He really performs and appears in public, preferring to lead the lifestyle of a religious Jew. In his free time, Clare visits Israel to pray by the Weeping Wall. Continuing to make music, Alex regularly studies the Torah and the Talmud, receiving a traditional Jewish education.

Clare’s biography contains one piquant detail – the British singer had a relationship with the scandalous singer Amy Winehouse for about a year. The relationship between the two musicians ended before Alex became popular. After the break-up, Winehouse feared that Clare would start to share intimate details of their relationship with the world in his songs.

The fears proved to be unfounded. Clare’s songs have never contained anything negative about the talented singer. Some sources claim that the musicians maintained friendly relations after they broke up, but this did not stop Alex from finding his true love, who became his wife.

“Some people think that I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or that I’m scared of germs, but I always honestly explain that the only woman I can touch is my wife, and I only allow her to touch me. My female fans are usually quite understanding about this, they find it very touching,” the musician says.

Amy Winehouse

The short life of Amy Jade Winehouse was full of incredible achievements, and descents to the very bottom. In the 27 years that the amazingly talented singer spent on this planet, Amy deservedly won five Grammy awards, the title of the most important British singer in the 21st century, and wide public disapproval.

Amy Jade was born into a Jewish family. Her father was an ordinary taxi driver, and her mother worked as a pharmacist. Winehouse became involved in music as child – practically her entire family was connected with music in some way. Amy’s grandmothers were singers, which had a great influence on her – as an adult, she had a tattoo of one of her grandmother’s names.

At the age of 15, Amy signed her first contract with the British media group EMI. She spent her first fee on paying the musicians that she went on tour with. During this creatively successful period, Amy was introduced to drugs and alcohol, which were destined to play a fateful role in her life.

Amy’s debut album, “Frank”, was very well-received by critics and swiftly went platinum. But the artist herself was not all that happy with the success – she often said that the label had included several songs on the album that she didn’t like.

Winehouse’s second album increased her popularity, making her a cult figure of the modern music world. The album “Back to Black” went platinum five times in the UK, and was the most popular album on iTunes for a long time.

Outward success was accompanied by serious problems behind the scenes – Amy’s drug addiction continued to get worse. In late 2007 Winehouse cancelled performances in Europe and America, citing health problems. In fact she went to a rehab center for treatment, where she only spent five days.

In early 2008, the artist had another wave of success, at the 50th anniversary ceremony of the Grammy Awards. Winehouse won a total of five awards. But there was also a scandal involved – the USA refused to issue the singer a visa, forcing the ceremony organizers to set up a TV bridge five times in the evening with a small London club where Amy was.

 Literally one month before her death, in June 2011, the singer cancelled her European tour yet again. The reason for the cancellation was an incident at a concert in Belgrade. Amy went out on stage and stayed there for over an hour, but didn’t even sing, forgetting the words of her songs and the name of the city she was in.

On 23 July, Amy was found dead in her apartment. The investigators’ theory of suicide was almost immediately rejected. Doctors determined the cause of death as alcohol poisoning.

The singer’s funeral was held at one of the oldest synagogues in London, Golders Green. Her grave is located in the Jewish cemetery in the district of the same name.

Matisyahu

Matthew Miller was born in Pennsylvania in 1979. His childhood was secular, although his parents were members of the reformed Jewish community. The young Matt was not an ideal pupil at school or in the courses of Judaism that his parents sent him to.

In his youth, the future reggae star learned to play percussion instruments and beatbox (imitating drums with the mouth). Matisyahu’s main interests were hip-hop and reggae.

Meanwhile, his problems at school increased, which forced Matthew’s parents to send him to a three-month religious program in Israel. When he returned from the Holy Land, the young musician began to behave much better, but he didn’t become an ideal boy – he took light drugs.

Tired of fighting their son, who continued to play strange pranks (once he even set fire to the chemistry class), his parents sent him to study at a special rehabilitation school for troubled teenagers. It was there that Matisyahu began to play musical instruments and improve his technique as a rapper.

After graduating from school, Matthew went to work at a ski resort. The future star spent his time snowboarding, and in the evenings he performed at a local café to a small audience, gaining experience of working on stage.

After working in the mountains, Matisyahu decided to move to New York. There he met the Rabbi Dov Korn, who introduced the musician to traditional Hasidic music. It was under this rabbi’s influence that Matthew became a Chabad Hasid and took the pseudonym of Matisyahu.

Under the influence of this religious movement, Matisyahu released his debut album “Shake Off the Dust… Arise”, which brought him his first local success. His second album, “Youth”, was more successful, reaching no. 4 in the Billboard charts and going gold. Additionally, it also received a prize as best reggae album of 2006.

Remarkably enough, all of Matisyahu’s subsequent albums were also the best reggae albums of the year according to many industry publications. Only his last album, “Akeda”, stands out from this list. This work shows him gradually moving away from reggae culture towards indie and experimental rock.

Changes have also taken play in Matthew’s religious life – the former Hasid has shaved off his beard and taken off his kippah, but he says that he has not stopped believing in the Almighty or going to the synagogue.

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