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March 6, 2012 2:56 pm

Restore My Soul: The Music of Shtar (VIDEO)

avatar by Erez Safar

Hip-hop group Shtar has been defying stereotypes ever since its inception inside the walls of rabbinical college. Consisting of Brad Rubinstein (producer and songwriter), Ori Murray (hip hop lyricist), Dan Issac (vocalist), Avi Sommers (bassist), and Tzvi Solomons (drummer), Shtar boasts a unique blend of hip-hop and rock with lyrics grounded in spiritually elevating themes. They have already garnered fans from all denominations as a tight live band that could easily rival veteran acts like The Roots. Their debut album, Infinity, hits stores worldwide today via Shemspeed Records.

Shtar’s distinct sound draws on their impressive and diverse musical backgrounds. Before relocating to Israel, Rubinstein was a sought-after musician around London’s buzzing music scene. Most notably he served as guitarist, songwriter and producer in the band Lisp, who were signed to London Records (The Rolling Stones, All Saints, New Order). Meanwhile, Murray was quickly gaining popularity as a resident MC and master of the spoken word in his hometown of Seattle; Dan Issac was honing his vocal skills with distinct influences from his Middle Eastern cantorial background; Sommers and Solomons were building their live chops by performing at music festivals around Israel. On a spiritual journey to explore their Jewish heritage, they individually gravitated to Jerusalem, Israel, where they found a profound source of creative inspiration. Eager to combine their musical talents with this new spiritual focus, they formed Shtar (Hebrew for “contract,” the foremost indicator of acquisition in Jewish law).

Their expert fusion of a wide range of music genres shows itself throughout Infinity. The title track, as well as current single “Restoring My Soul (Modeh),” have drawn comparisons to the Gorillaz, while “Adon Olam” has an R&B groove and “Ashrei”echoes Beck with its lo-fi, distorted funk sound. Issac’s vocals color the songs “Kel Adon” and “Nagila” with haunting Middle Eastern inflections. In addition to hip-hop and rock centered tracks, Shtar present a more tender side on “Oseh” and “Shira Chadasha,” acoustic numbers which highlight the band’s melodic prowess. Blending in with these various styles, Ori Murray’s deft, cerebral rhymes command the listener’s attention. “There’s a beacon sign / Plant the seed in time/ And the tree will climb,” he raps with conviction on “Tikun Olam”.

The Algemeiner sat down with Shtar to discuss their music and the Jewish hip hop scene in Israel.

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A: Is there a Jewish hip hop scene in Israel?

S: Is there a non-jewish hip hop scene in Israel? I assume by “Jewish” you mean infused with Judaism it-self and not just jews making hip hop. If this is what you mean, than were one of the originators of the Jewish Hip Hop scene in Israel.

A: Do you feel like a part of that scene or that you are doing something totally different?

S: I think I can count the number of artists is said scene on one hand. To tell you the truth we feel like we are paving the way in Isreal from the inside. And once we do that it will open up for others to follow.

A: There seems to be a lot of folks in the Jewish world infusing urban elements into their music now more than ever. How do you think you all are different from artists such as Matisyahu, Y-Love and Nosson Zand?

S: Shtar has a depth, especially live, that dare I say is something that not even The Roots have (we are all huge Roots fans). 3 front men all with completely different style is massive. The beauty of our Album (and next album which we are 1/2 into) is, it is like a movie sound track where the music is all moving in the same direction but it feels like different artist are contributing to keep it fresh. Forget the Jewish music scene you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone like us in the entire music scene.

A: How did you two meet and what sort of music motivates and inspires your music?

S: Really there are 5 members of the band. Brad and I happen to be the founding members of the band. We met in yeshiva. I had just gotten a Halachic (Jewish Law) Ruling that it is forbidden for me to quit rapping. So I was trying to put together a band that fizzled out and in the process of working with that band I learned of Brad’s extensive music background. So when the other band fizzled out it was a matter of me harassing Brad until he agreed to start working together. And as they say, “the rest is history.”

A: What sort of messages do you take from Judaism and mix into your music?

S: Music is an expression of who you are, so what ever Judaism is ingrained in us expresses itself in the music. It just depends on the topic.

A: Who do you feel is the target audience with this music?

S: When we made infinity we did’t have a target market in mind. We hope people will listen to the music for the sake of the music. But as far as who I know listens to our music…. It’s international, interracial and ignores the lines drawn by faiths.

A: What’s next?

S: Just got out of the meeting with the Elders of Zion and… We’re taking over the world. Next album will drop, G-d willing, late summer early fall. And get ready America, next winter we’re comin’ atcha!

With their universally engaging songs, Shtar shatter the preconception that being religious Jews and making hip hop music are mutually exclusive endeavors. “It’s not a contradiction in our eyes. The music…is an expression of who we are,” Ori said in an interview on Israeli TV show Hakol Tarbut. Having toured extensively around Israel and England, Shtar’s widely diverse audiences attest to the band’s ability to transcend labels. Infinity will no doubt propel them further to global acclaim.
Shtar have been featured on Israeli television, radio and in national newspapers including Ynet, IBA International News and Haaretz. In addition to upcoming shows in Israel, they are slated to make their live debut in the US later this year. “Restoring My Soul (Modeh)” is available for free download at Shemspeed’s website.

Watch Shtar’s “Restoring My Soul (Modeh)” music video below:

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