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By Paige Kollock
Washington
30 August 2007
 
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For many people around the world, religion and music are inextricably tied.  The Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley became famous for singing about faith, God and the Bible.  He also sang songs about freedom and devotion.  Now another reggae artist of similar devotion, but a much different religion, is gaining popularity for his spiritual songs.  Paige Kollock reports. 

Matisyahu
Matisyahu
You would not know it by looking at him, but this man rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. 

You also might not guess that he was once a high school dropout named Matthew Miller, for whom religion was an afterthought.

But now, he is Matisyahu, a Hebrew name that means "gift from God." 

"My whole life I dreamed of making music."

Matthew Miller
Matthew Miller
Matisyahu grew up outside New York City.  An ordinary American teenager with a rebellious side, young Matthew left high school to follow Phish, a music group with zealous and sometimes drug-friendly fans.  "In a lot of ways, all of my music stems out from that place -- that kid on the street just experiencing life in such a raw way.  Like when it rains, you're getting rained on."

By age 22, he had traveled to Israel and discovered that Judaism was the core of who he was.  He returned to New York and enrolled in a school to study the Torah. 

One day, it occurred to him that he could combine his devotion to Judaism with his love of music, and Matisyahu the artist was born.

Now 28, he is married with two sons.  He maintains a Hasidic Jewish lifestyle -- praying three times a day, eating Kosher food and not performing on the Sabbath.

Matisyahu performing
Matisyahu performing
Some people labeled him a "gimmick" when he started performing because his traditional attire was so contradictory to his rap and reggae beats.

But fans at a concert in Philadelphia, in the eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania, know he is genuine. One fan said, "I'm Catholic so I think it's ironic that I like Matisyahu so much, but I think he brings a belief, a pureness. It's really what music should be about."

Matisyahu says he is more interested in spreading his message of hope, love and faith than in fame or wealth. 

His message to aspiring musicians?  Believe in yourself. "I came from this place in my life where I felt totally stuck, like I didn't know how to make any of it happen And at that point I made this huge, tremendous change in my life and I become religious and I moved away.  I changed my life, like, 380 degrees."

And in doing so, he found a way to become the musician he always wanted to be. 

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