This week’s Singles Party tackles a highly unique song: “Happy Hanukkah” by Matisyahu. Released on Nov. 20, all proceeds through the end of Hanukkah will be donated to Hurricane Sandy relief. So in the spirit of the holiday and in the spirit of spreading the word about a charitable endeavor, we wanted to give the Hasidic MC’s holiday-inspired track a listen.
Also, we’re kinda on a Matisyahu kick on Pop-Break, after having interviewed him over the summer. We’re excited to let our East Coast readers know that he’ll be returning to Asbury Park, N.J., on Valentine’s Day, Feb.14, for a special acoustic show at The Paramount Theater. (This show is also a kind of make-up for his canceled Starland Ballroom date from earlier in the month.)
Here’s what our Singles Party panel had to say about this new track, whether it should be “added to your playlist” for regular rotation or if it’s a “one and done” type song, where it’s fine to download for charity, but it isn’t something we’d recommend repeat listenings.
Jason Kundrath: If you’re anything like me — a Jew raised as a Christian who now considers himself a secular humanist — you’ve probably marveled at the staggering wealth of wonderful Christmas-themed holiday songs and perhaps felt a little bad for your Jewish pals this time of year. Besides Adam Sandler’s hysterical classic “The Chanukkah Song,” they’ve got next to nothing you’ll hear on the radio or the TV or in the mall. But this year, I’m happy to report we can chalk one up for the Jews! Sort of. Matisyahu has delivered the first Hanukkah-themed contender for a spot on the pop-holiday playlist with his new song “Happy Hanukkah.”
If you’re not familiar with Matisyahu, he’s a religious Jew who does this positive pop/reggae/dancehall thing. And it’s actually kind of awesome. “Happy Hanukkah” sounds like it could be on the radio. In fact, I’ve listened to it five times already, and it keeps getting better. It’s got a very sticky hook, a bouncy groove, and Matisyahu’s unique and authoritative delivery. But ultimately, it’s Matisyahu’s “higher authority” that inevitably limits the appeal of this track to a wide audience. Let’s face it, all the best Christmas songs have the least religious references (read: none). But the Jews have yet to commercialize and secularize their Festival of Lights.
And although Matisyahu made a big move earlier this year when he left the Hasidim, shaved his beard, and released an album of secular-leaning pop, his biggest inspiration remains Judaism. So while he sings about the joys of love, celebration, and giving gifts on this track, he also makes references to Mt. Zion, King David, and the Maccabees. “Let me unwind while I light up a flame in the name of the Lion of JUDAH!” It sounds awesome. But not everyone belongs to that tribe. Regardless, proceeds from the sale of this digital track go towards Hurricane Sandy recovery. And the song will get stuck in your head regardless of your particular religious hangups. Verdict: Add to the Playlist.
Kelly Gonsalves: Think of a picture of Kanye West. Then imagine that picture of Kanye West but with a Santa hat photoshopped on. That’s kind of what “Happy Hanukkah” feels like — the same ol’ lesiurely, not-very-interesting Matisyahu reggae-rap with a gratuitous holiday twist. The song has a bit of novel charm to it in that it’s nice to hear some hip and happening Hanukkah songs for the current generation, and who better to do it than the Jewish “king without a crown” himself? The lyrics are not the most exciting in the world, but it is a holiday song after all. When it comes down to it, the quirky, festive beat definitely makes for a fun jam. This is a great little tune for the holiday house party, but not much else. Verdict: One and Done
Lauren Stern: Since Hannukah is one of my favorite holidays of the year, I have a lot to say about this new Matisyahu track. But before I go into it, I have to say that I will always love Matisyahu’s music. He’s a hell of a singer and musician, and I’m glad he is somewhat representative of the Jewish community in the music world. That being said, I’m really sad to admit that I think this song is really, really terrible.
When I think of Matisyahu, I think of spirituality. I think of passion. I think of catchy songs that have this distinctive flow that no others could ever match. Essentially, I think of all the qualities this song lacks. It’s choppy, unmemorable, and just plain annoying. Seriously, “Happy Hannukah” sung like that should be a crime in all 50 states. It’s awful and it makes me want to cry, scream, and kick things.
On a more serious note, I think the biggest problem with the song is that it’s too commercial sounding and I know EXACTLY who to blame for that. I think I can speak for most of my fellow Jews out there when I say that Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukkah Song” NEEDS to be put to rest already. It’s an awful song by an awful actor and it’s just plain stupid and misrepresentative of the holiday. So I get that Matisyahu probably went into this thinking that he could be the one to change things up a bit this holiday season. But with this song, it’s just never ever going to happen.
I really tried to like this song. I even listened to it a few times and once my ears started bleeding from the annoying “Happy Hannukah” line, I realized it’s probably best if I just said it sucked. Sorry, Matisyahu. I like your other songs, but this one just doesn’t cut it. Verdict: One and Done
Brent Johnson: Go ahead: Name the Top 5 Hanukkah songs of all time. One is by Adam Sandler. Two is about a dreidel. Three is? Christmas has a monopoly on holiday tunes, so I’m all in favor of Matisyhu adding one to the mix. To be honest, the Hebrew MC’s combination of rap and reggae has always seemed a tad novel to me. And taken the wrong way, this song could even be mistaken for the soundtrack to an SNL Digital Short. But ‘Happy Hanukah’ had the key ingredient for all holiday hits: It’s damn catchy. And how can I fault any song with the lyrics: “Let me unwind as I light up a flame in the name of the lion of Judah / Drop like a hammer when I feel the Rimson shovel.” Verdict: Add to your Playlist
Bill Bodkin: Holiday songs are a novelty. And unless your name is Nat King Cole, it’s hard to make them not have a little smidgen of campy and corniness to them. So, while the Super Mario Bros.-inspired beats of Matisyahu’s “Happy Haunkkah” might be a little schmaltzy — the rest of the song is super solid. It’s got great lyrical content bolstered by the lyrical gymnastics Matis performs with aplomb and intensity. Give him the credit he deserves for creating a song representative of a holiday that gets overlooked in the musical world. And outside of its Jewish roots, it’s a damn fine holiday song. Put this up to the flavor of the moment’s version of “Jingle Bells” (I’m looking at you One Direction, Justin Beiber, Carly Rae and the rest of you Tiger Beat clones)…and you’ll realize that the man we discovered Live At Stubbs has created something special here. Verdict: Add to Your Playlist.
Joe Zorzi: The day after Thanksgiving, we’re pretty much beat over the head with the same Christmas tunes for the next month. But it’s rare to hear many songs dedicated to Hanukkah (other than the incredible Hanukkah song series by Adam Sandler). Thank goodness we have Matisyahu to bring us the fresh and super catchy track, “Happy Hanukkah”. There’s nothing wild and crazy going on here but it’s a great holiday track that’s guaranteed to put you in a good mood. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, check out this song. Not to mention, all the proceeds go to Hurricane Sandy relief, which should give you some incentive to download the track. Verdict: Add To the Playlist.
Final Verdict: We feel as though Matisyahu’s “Happy Hannukah” is worth the download, not just for the charitable reasons, but because it’s a damn fine song.
Matisyahu’s December Festival of Light Dates:
12/8 San Francisco, CA – Nob Hill Masonic Center
12/10 Atlanta, GA – Gwinnett Center for the Performing Arts
12/11 Stroudsburg, PA – Sherman Theatre
12/12 Philadelphia, PA – Electric Factory with The Dub Trio
12/13 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club with The Dub Trio
12/15 New York, NY – Terminal 5 with The Dub Trio
12/16 Port Chester, NY – Capitol Theatre
“Acoustic Evening with Matisyahu” 2013 Tour Dates:
1/19 Miami, FL – Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
1/29 San Marcus, TX – Texas Music Theatre
1/30 Tucson, AZ – The Rialto Theatre
1/31 Santa Fe, NM – The Lensic PAC
2/4 Louisville, KY – Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
2/5 Bloomington, IL – Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts
2/6 Skokie, IL – North Shore Center
2/7 Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theater
2/10 Pittsburgh, PA – Carnegie Music Hall
2/13 Huntington, NY – The Paramount
2/14 Asbury Park, NJ – Paramount Theatre
2/17 Hartford, CT – Bushnell Center
2/18 Morristown, NJ – Mayo PAC
2/19 Annapolis, MD – Rams Head On Stage
2/20 Wilmington, DE – The Grand Opera House
2/21 Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
2/23 Tampa, FL – Tampa Theatre
2/24 West Palm Beach, FL – Kravis Center for the Performing Arts