Just when it seems there’s nothing Shemspeed can’t do, they take another bite of the Jewish music plate and grind it between their teeth. Shemspeed was originally an outgrowth of the hip-hop music label Modular Moods Records, run by Erez Safar, who’s an observant Yemenite Jew. For just over a year, they’ve tried to be the go-to folks for Jewish music, producing hip-hop albums, keeping a bustling Jewish music calendar, and keeping an exhaustive database of Jewish musicians and bands.
Their latest effort, 40 Days and 40 Nights, is an ambitious undertaking — a massive national tour in (you guessed it) 40 days that brings together musicians, rappers, and learning sessions visiting local Hillels and taking over for the day, and then putting on a show that night. We spoke to the seemingly never-sleeping Safar about putting together the tour, what he plans to do with it, and some guest stars who you might recognize from late-night TV…
So, tell me about 40 Days and 40 Nights.
I was talking to Daniel Seliger from 12 Tribe Sound about doing a tour with Y-Love, who I was producing and his group Riddimtion which was the group who did the first Matisyahu record–a sort of rap and reggae tour of Jewish artists and values, calling it 40 Days and 40 Nights. Fast forward 3 years, I was riding my bike and it hit me–Shemspeed should produce a massive 40 Days 40 Nights taking the performance idea with artists to the next level: a more diverse line up, and include education and such into the mix, playing on the DAYS part. I hit up Dov of Blue Fringe about it and jumped on board right away, and we started meeting with people who were equally stoked.
What other parties are involved?
The core group is Y-Love, Dov, myself and [Israeli reggae band] Aharit Hayamaim–although logistically we arent sure how many shows we will have with Aharit. We had to be very modest, since Hillels seem to have less budgets than ever before. We needed to pick artists that were able to perform with the energy of a full live band, but come without one. So Dov will be doing his new solo act, and Y-Love, who does hip hop, doesn’t require 4 extra musicians playing backup.
But Aharit Hayamim has, like, 11 members….
They are 4 to 5, depending, and will be joining us for the Cali shows and NY shows…Matisyahu’s agents actually got in touch about wanting to jump on the tour, so we are working out a few big budget shows with Matis on. Hopefully those will pan out with his tour and his budgetary needs.
Will you have any educators touring with you?
Glad you asked — that was the other reason i chose Dov and Y-Love. Y-Love tours the world, running worksops and incorporating his story telling into education, and Dov does the same with his band Blue Fringe. He will be heading one workshop which will be a sort of spirituality-through-music type thang, where he will explain how he incorporates scriptures and different Biblical stories into his compositions.
So it really is the same people, days and nights — sort of a Spider-Man, teacher by day, rock star by night thing.
Exactly. We wanted to choose artists that could also teach. That way, the students really connect to the music and the message. The idea is that it will grow year by year with new bands, more international bands, and more sponsors on board, to become bigger and bigger. We want to be like Birthright, but not put you on a plane.
What sort of learning things do you have prepared? Without “official”-type teachers or rabbis or something, are you at all worried about the content being diluted, or not measuring up to the level of the performances?
The idea is not for us to lecture. It’s to have workshops with the artists as moderators, so the students get a sense of what the artists are thinking as well, and get a chance to connect to the artists. We are also going to offer students to be invovled with us after the tour is over, posting videos and write ups from the students on Shemspeed Daily. We will also give students a chance to submit writing, to become contributors, and chances to intern at Shemspeed.
Is it really going to be 40 schools in 40 days? When do you plan to launch?
Not 40 schools, but yeah, 40 days. As many schools as we can logistically do–we’ll be in Austin, then Boston, and probably take the day off between. We launch around February 8th! We plan to throw a few special surprises their way this year.
What sort of surprises?
It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you. You’ve just gotta come out and see.