Boom Shiva: A Review of Rapture by YashAkasha

Netanel Miles-Yépez

"The Dance of Shiva" by Netanel Miles-Yépez

"The Dance of Shiva" by Netanel Miles-Yépez

“Hip-hop . . . is to cause peace, love, unity . . .”

—   KRS-One

So opens Rapture, the debut album of YashAkasha (a.k.a., Yasha Wagner), a Colorado-based “medicinal hip-hop” artist and rapper. Just twenty-one years old, YashAkasha is already a veteran of the festival scene, deeply embedded in the culture of South American medicine work, and connected to various radical spiritual lineages. He announces his syncretic spiritual and musical inheritance at the outset, calling on “the ancestors,” a crowd of spiritual masters, poets, and hip-hop artists, all thrown together—Lao Tzu, Hafez, Pushkin, the Roots, Shakespeare, and Immortal Technique—“for teaching me to speak . . . for the benefit of all beings.”

Unique to the artists connected with the festival culture—whether folk, reggae, or hip-hop-influenced—are various degrees of “conscious lyrics,” lyrics reflecting exposure to diverse spiritual traditions, yoga, indigenous medicine, and sacred activism. In the upper echelon are artists such as Nakho and Medicine for the People, Trevor Hall, and Matisyahu; but these are just the names of a few successful artists riding the crest of the wave of conscious music today.

Rapture is the pure impulse born of the festivals, a do-it-yourself musical throw-down of youthful enthusiasm and commitment to change-making possibilities that will drive a crowd of ecstatic dancers.

Opening with “Boom Shiva” (feat. Hannah Apollonia)—a bass-driven song with an “invocation to the spirit” from Taino elder, Maestro Manuel Rufino—Rapture gets off to a rousing start with a whirling soup of rhyming spiritual references—from "Kabbalah," "Mahakala," to the “Heart of Allah”—all anchored in a chorus dropping the Hindu divinity, Shiva, on the listener like a bomb—“Boom! Shiva, Shankara, Om Nama Shivaya”—somehow invoking and combing the destroyer of the Hindu trinity with his other identity as shankara, the ‘giver of joy,’ at one and the same time. 

The other binding element of the lyrics come from the Hasidic spiritual tradition of YashAkasha’s Ukranian Jewish ancestors, with its emphasis on ‘the broken heart which speaks and heals,’ reflected in the opening lyrics . . .

 

Words that are spoken

from-a heart-that-is-broken

open-but-copin’-and-thus-invokin’

the-spirit-in-every-lyric-you-hear-it

 

And then a nearly direct reference to the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism (in Hannah Apollonia’s repeated refrain, “So many worlds inside these words”) that in every word of prayer are entire worlds.

Perhaps the strongest track on the album, “Transtribal Codex” (feat. Tr9nsfer) follows immediately after, with its beautiful chorus from Liv Phoenix and Steven (Newmanium) Newman repeated in English and Spanish—“I am opening my heart, I’m singin’ from my heart”—and a complex assemblage of standout rapping in English, Russian, and Italian. Wagner, who is fluent in Russian, manages a compelling set of lyrics in that language which he then follows with an impressive adaptation into an equally compelling English . . .

 

Love without end,

like a tale without end,

stretches out to vast—distance

around every bend.

We struggle and strive,

yeah, we laugh and we cry,

but only this love will live on when we die.

 

Equally strong is a richly complex, symbolically deep, and musically original guest appearance from Tr9nsfer (the MC name of rapper and slam poet, Daniel Battigalli-Ansell, known for A Love Note), who raps in Italian . . .

 

Incantata al Massimo dale luce lucido di dio.

Un sogno di esere uno io quando tutto e tutto e tutti sono nessuno.

(Enchanted to the maximum by the lucid light of God.

A dream of being ‘I’ when everything is everything and everybody is nobody.)

Also rising strong above the mid-line is “Animystic Linguistics,” an homage to the divine feminine, with its epic feature from Lily Fangz (the sharp-edged, popular hip-hop artist and rapper out of Denver, known for her equally strong singing, rapping, and layers of conscious lyrics), who brings in her own powerful and pulsing story of empowerment, almost an anthem for the re-emergence of the voice of divine feminine in all women, in all men, and in the planet. First calling out the abuses of women and the feminine in the past and present, she then lets the electric light of shakti, the divine feminine energy, erupt . . .

 

She was told not to blossom or bloom as a rose,

she was left in the cold in a room all alone [. . .]

but [. . .] the lighting has spoken, no room for a token,

locked-out, she was locked-out, but she broke in,

shakti awoken, now she’s spoken, spoken!

 

Finally, Fangz brings us a message from the Mother who has no intention of going back into hiding . . .

 

We must listen to the ancient words she say:

“A million ways to kiss the ground,

A million ways to pray.

We must keep steady for a world where children play.

Stand up tall like trees, we can lean and we can sway,

But never bend and never break,

We’ve got a brilliant world to make.”

Hey, ey, ey, that’s what she say.

That’s what she say.

She’s spoken.

She knows it.

She’s chosen.

She’s spoken.

She knows it.

She’s chosen.

She’s broke in.

Amid a series of interesting esoteric and activist-themed tracks—“Red and Yellow Brick Road,” “Temple of Solomon,” “The Holy Grail,” and “To the People”—referencing Sufi sages, warriors of peace, toad lickin’ psychedics, and muggles, is the crowd-pleasing “International Anthem” (feat. Felicia Chavando and C. Waters), often performed in public with the audience enthusiastically singing the chorus—“Earth, tribe, medicine, rainbow warrior, rockin’ on the beat in the sweet euphoria!”

Indeed, “sweet euphoria” might be the best expression for the experience of listing to Rapture, after which, like the festival dancer who, spinning ecstatically in the grass to the music coming from the stage, suddenly, in its absence, feels dizzy and falls to the ground, exhausted, a playful smile on her face.

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.

 

For Love of the Music: A Review of Matisyahu’s Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III

Netanel Miles-Yépez

Ten years after the release of his breakthrough album, Live at Stubb’s (which reached #1 on the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart), Matisyahu has again returned to the well-known Texas venue to record Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III. The result is a picture of artistic evolution, filled with the kind of texture a performer only acquires after years on the road, gathering myriad life-experiences and exploring new musical influences.

From 2005 to 2015, Matisyahu’s artistic and personal transformation has been nothing less than epic. Achieving early success as a hasidic reggae superstar, he later went on to craft a broader, multi-influence, cross‐genre musical style that broke all the rules, bringing him greater success and an equal amount of criticism from early fans. Having survived the backlash from the die-hard reggae set, as well as those who saw him only as a bearded Jewish icon, Matisyahu released Akeda (Uh-kay-duh) in 2014, his most creative, self-reflective and purely conceived album to date.

Now, with Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III, Matisyahu reveals yet another side to his musical personality. Whereas the original Live at Stubb’s (2005) produced a classic of live performance, and Live at Stubb’s II (2011) the super-charged concert experience at it’s best, Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III (2015) delivers the no additives beauty of a stripped-back sit-down show in which the musicians play just for the love of the music.

Recorded at the legendary Stubb’s in Austin, Texas, on March 7th, 2015 (just over ten years after the original February 19th, 2005 performance, with supplementary tracks recorded on March 4th, 2015 at New York City’s Winery), Matisyahu reunited with three friends from his days at The New School in New York and the early years—guitarist Aaron Dugan (who performed on the original Live at Stubb’s album); keyboardist, Rob Marscher; and percussionist, Tim Keiper.

Like a rare bootleg recording of Bob Dylan singing in a smoke-filled club in the early 60s, Matisyahu’s performance in Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III has the simple sound and appeal of a great poet-musician on open mic night. Together with Dugan, Marscher and Keiper, Matisyahu soaks in the music and allows it to take its own twists and turns, which he often accompanies with his signature beat-boxing. Opening with an edgy, tone-setting, guitar-dominated performance of “Searchin,” Matisyahu performs six songs from his earlier albums—Shake Off the Dust…Arise (2004) to Spark Seeker (2012). Notable on the album are newly interpreted versions of early songs like, “Lord Raise Me Up” (Live at Stubb’s), “Warrior,” and “King Without a Crown” (Shake Off the Dust…Arise and Live at Stubb’s), as well as a cover of Bob Marley’s “Running Away,” into which he blends his own, “Dispatch the Troops” (Youth).

As part of the 10th anniversary of Live at Stubb’s, Matisyahu and his band will be out on the road performing a series of intimate sit-down shows highlighting the songs on Live at Stubb’s, Vol. III.

 

* Netanel Miles-Yépez is a poet, artist, and Sufi spiritual teacher residing in Boulder, Colorado.