(December 29, 2022 / JNS) Few singers can seamlessly shift from clean cantorial to meditative Middle Eastern, to greasy grunge.
Only a handful can, with equal ease, quote the Baal Shem Tov and Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam. Yehuda Solomon grew up in Israel’s Moshav Mevo Modi’in, aka the Carlebach Moshav, and moved to Los Angeles around 2000, counting a slew of divergent influences in shaping his musical mindset.
Solomon and his Moshav band will perform at Brooklyn Made on Dec. 29 and at Rutgers University on Dec. 31. The collegiate concert will help raise money for Tomche Shabbos, which works to make sure the needy have food for the Sabbath.
Consider how Solomon, who leads prayers at the Happy Minyan in Los Angeles, can sound like a chazzan who touches your soul as he sings a portion he normally chants for the High Holidays, “Simcha L’Artsecha,” with harmony by Shlomo Katz.
Then there is the Sephardi sensation in his version of “Abba Shimon,” which he starts by playing the hand drum.
There’s an uncanny similarity to Vedder in the chorus of “Dancing in a Dangerous World,” which also has an Israeli-style intro and refrain.
How does he slip through genres and still sound authentic, and when did he know he wanted a career in music?
“When I was about 10, people told me I was gonna be a rock star,” Solomon told JNS, adding that his father sang in the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and was also a “hard-core baal teshuva” or Jew who became religious later in life.
“I was around Moroccan and Yemenite Jews, so I had the Sephardic influence; I was around Ashkenazis and heard chazzanus [cantorial music] and I listened to American rockers. So I think that all comes out in my music,” he said.
Solomon said he attended many Pearl Jam concerts, and Vedder was a hero to him.
On July 11, 2014, Pearl Jam performed in England and after the song “Daughter,” Vedder told the crowd, “…there’s some people out there who are looking for a reason to kill. They’re looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them and they should get the [expletive] out…”
He also said tax money went to “drop bombs on children.”
Though Vedder did not mention Israel by name, the Gaza war known as “Operation Protective Edge” began a few days earlier, on July 8.
“I was so disappointed,” Solomon said. “It was heartbreaking because he was my favorite singer of all time. He went on this rant, but God, I know he was just brainwashed by Roger Waters.”
Waters, who co-founded Pink Floyd, has said Israel is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and is an apartheid state, and he supports the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Known for hits such as “Eliyahu Hanavi” and “Higher and Higher,” a song about getting energy from God, Moshav had a song called “Stop,” performed in the hopes of ending violence and in honor of a close childhood friend who was shot and murdered by a terrorist. Solomon said the incident was devastating.
Asked whether antisemitism has spiked, especially in the city where he lives, he said it’s a tough question.
“I can’t explain it,” Solomon said. ‘It seems like some people’s brains are hard-wired to hate Jews. They hated us when we were poor, and hated us when we were rich.”
He said that at a few college shows, people have shouted at him, including an incident where a student asked why he was singing about killing Arabs. None of the group’s song lyrics condone any kind of violence.
Solomon always works himself into a sweat as Moshav’s live shows are high energy and seem less like a concert and more like you walked into the middle of a party. He at times breaks out into animalistic chants while playing the hand drum, which is done to a greater extent by his brother Noah Solomon, a co-founder and frontman of Soulfarm.
Another special aspect of Moshav comes when co-founder Duvid Swirsky sings solos in a number of the group’s songs. His voice is sweet and still powerful but more folk than Solomon’s rock edge.
“I’m an easygoing guy and the point is to reach people and inspire people,” Solomon said. “If Duvid has a song and wants to express himself, that’s great and I do harmonies. We grew up together, we’re great friends and we have a special bond as great friends as well as musicians. Sometimes, people just click.”
Solomon said the group got the name because when they were first performing in Israel, people referred to them as the Moshav guys. The first album was “The Things You Can’t Afford” in 1998 and the group released 11 more albums with the most recent being “Shabbat Volume 2” in 2018. He said he is excited to release the new album, “World on Fire,” soon.
In 2013, in what is one of the most cinematic Jewish music videos ever, “World on Fire” featuring Matisyahu was released and garnered 2.4 million views on YouTube.
Moshav has performed across the globe with a large portion of the fan base being Orthodox Jews, but Solomon said it was also gratifying to get great responses from fans who were not Jewish when the group performed at festivals.
He said he considers himself blessed to do what he loves for a living.
“With what we’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work,” Solomon said. “I had this rocket fuel coming out of Israel and it’s been great to energize the crowd in America. It’s a gift from God to be able to do this.”
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