Popular artists reference Judaism in music

posted in: Entertainment, Features, May 2014 | 0
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By Nora Tarabishi

You would never guess that some of your favorite artists or bands come from Jewish backgrounds, but they do.

Picture Courtesy of VampireWeekend.com
Picture Courtesy of VampireWeekend.com

Many are surprised to find out that artists like P!nk, Adam Levine from Maroon 5, and Ezra Koenig, the lead singer and songwriter of Vampire Weekend, are all Jewish.

Vampire Weekend, a four-man rock band from New York City, was formed in 2006 when the four young men met at Columbia University. They released their first album “Vampire Weekend” in 2008 and the second “Contra” in 2010.

In 2013, Vampire Weekend released a third album “Modern Vampires of the City” that won a Grammy Award for the Best Alternative Music Album in 2014.

On this album is a song called “Ya Hey” that caused a bit of controversy. The lyrics subtly reference God, “You Wont Even Say Your Name/Only “I Am That I Am” which is the response God gives to Moses in the Tanakh.

Koenig, who writes most of the lyrics for the group, was born in New York City and grew up in Northern New Jersey with his Jewish family who immigrated from Hungary and Romania.

The name of the song is also thought to be a homophone for the Hebrew name for God “Yahweh.”

“The lyrics make me feel somewhat uncomfortable,” said Moriel Daniel, an early childhood education and family science double major. “I feel that the lead singer was reiterating that Jews are unwelcome in different parts of the world.”

Other students felt differently.

“I think it’s pretty cool that Vampire Weekend was able to incorporate their religious attitudes in at least one of their songs,” said computer science and psychology major Stephen Morris. “Based off of the lyrics, I feel that the lead singer was trying to express his uncertainty of the existence/power of God.”

Ari Goldfarb, a senior English major, said he was not offended by Koenig’s choice for the title of the song.

“I think it’s an interesting use of wordplay,” Goldfarb said. “I don’t find it offensive at all.”

Some lyrics include “The motherland don’t love you/The fatherland don’t love you. So why love anything?”

The song’s music video consists of people dressed in robes spraying champagne and breaking champagne bottles in slow motion.

“The video doesn’t really relate to the message of the song,” Daniel said. “It’s a little cryptic.” Daniel added she did not like the association of drinking alcohol with God.

Another Jewish artist currently in the limelight is Drake. This famous Canadian rapper started off as an actor at the age of 15 on the TV series Degrassi: The Next Generation; where he played the role of Jimmy Brooks, a high-school basketball player who became paralyzed after being shot by a classmate.

Drake has an African-American father and a Canadian-Jewish mother. He attended a Jewish day school and had a Bar Mitzvah.

In the music video of “HYFR,” one of Drake’s many hit singles, he re-enacts a Bar Mitzvah featuring rappers Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, Birdman, and DJ Khaled at Temple Israel in downtown Miami.

The video consists of dancing, drinking, Drake reading from the Torah, and a scene where Drake is lifted up while sitting in a chair like in the Jewish traditional chair dance known as the Hora.  The video seems to mix Drake’s Jewish culture with his African-American culture.

Students had opposing opinions on the video.

“I find it offensive,” Daniel said. “He is not an appropriate representative of the Jewish faith.”

Other students like junior journalism major Jessica Evans said she thinks Drake is using the video to honor his Jewish culture.

“It shows he’s not ashamed to be Jewish,” Evans said. “I think it was very tastefully done.”

Morris said he found the video funny.

“I don’t find it offensive because they weren’t making fun of Judaism,” Morris said. “The humor came from seeing all those rappers at what is traditionally a children’s ceremony.”

Goldfarb said that Drake was making an attempt to connect with more people.

“I think he was just having fun with his multiple heritages,” Goldfarb said. “I don’t think it’s offensive at all because he was probably just trying to relate to a larger audience.”

 

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