Jewish-American reggae and alternative rock artist Matisyahu joined Ann Arbor native Nadim Azzam, a Palestinian-American performer, for a concert intended to promote peace and unity at the University of Michigan Monday night.
Following the event, many students said they were impressed by both Azzam and Matisyahu’s presence and musicality. However, several also noted a lack of content explicitly engaging with the theme of unity. The stop was part of a nationwide college tour for Matisyahu, who is known for his political and social activism, with the self-professed aim of promoting peace.
The concert, hosted by the University's Hillel and the student organization MUSIC Matters, drew a crowd of roughly 500 students to Hill Auditorium.
In a March interview with The Michigan Daily, Matisyahu said he conceived the college tour idea after he was asked to make anti-Israel comments at a music festival in Spain last summer.
After he refused, he said he was kicked out of the festival before being invited back to Spain to play another concert amid the controversy. He then played despite protests from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement protesters throughout his performance.
“This concert series and these shows is really not about politics,” he said in March. “One of the main points that I’m trying to come at is it’s not about choosing sides, but it’s about being honest with yourself and trying to learn about all the different sides and trying to connect to something human.”
LSA freshman Timothy Mayer said he was drawn to the event for its unique attempt to promote unity through music. He said while he enjoyed the performance overall, he thought there was an apparent lack of discussion on peace and inclusion.
“I don’t think it did as much as it could have,” Mayer said.
LSA sophomore Kevin Wolf said he enjoyed the concert, but also echoed Mayer’s thoughts concerning the lack of discussion of unity and inclusion.
“I thought it was great. I thought there was a lot of positive energy,” Wolf said. “I’m a big Matisyahu fan.”
But in particular on the topic of inclusion and peace, Wolf said he noted a lack of attention.
“I wish it came through a little more,” Wolf said. “He was a little quiet, so to speak, during the show. He didn’t really say hi to the audience.”
He did note, however, that a subtle message of unity was depicted in a collaborative song between Azzam and Matisyahu.
LSA junior Seif Saqallah expressed a similar sentiment, saying the performance could have been stronger had the two performed more numbers together.
For LSA sophomore Natasha Desai, a MUSIC Matters member, the performance was overall impressive.
“Honestly one of the best shows ever,” she said. “He was so into his music. He was so into everything he was doing.”
Matisyahu declined comment immediately following the event.
In March, he said the concert would not take a specific political stance on any issue, but would instead focus on fostering acceptance, peace and love.
“You can talk about love, you can talk about politics, you can speak about right and wrong, but when it comes to art and to music, it bypasses all of it and resonates inside of you and makes you feel a certain way,” he said.