Not to reveal any surprises but do you have any ideas of what you’re going to play? Are you gonna do any new songs that you’ve been working on or is it gonna be sort of a retrospective thing?

I’m not gonna do any of the new songs yet. I want to hold off on that. We’re gonna be playing a different set every night. Rob and I wrote up the setlist this morning and went through a bunch of songs. There’s definitely a lot of my songs that have the light theme in them “Darkness Into Light,” “I Will Be Light,” “Step Out Into the Light,” a lot of light themed, Hanukkah themed songs. So we’re gonna be doing that, but definitely jamming songs out. Playing the Hanukkah hits, playing all the songs people want to hear like the old stuff from Shake off the Dust, and Live at Stubb’s, some reggae tunes, and just a full mix every night. We’re not gonna be repeating too much night to night, we’re gonna be changing it up and keeping it along the lines of that whole jam style we do.

Going into the history of these gigs, The Festival of Light shows started out as residency in New York, and you’ve taken it on tour in the past. Now, of course, it will be in a different format. What have these shows meant to you and how have you seen them grow? 

Well, I think the very first show I ever played in Brooklyn at Southpaw was on Hanukkah and it was a Hanukkah show. At that time it was like 2000, maybe 2003 or 2004. I mean, I had played some other little shows at shuls and stuff like that, but this was the first “real” gig. It was always this crowd of people–at least in New York–that were not necessarily identifying as Jewish, or certainly not religious but looking for something to do on Hanukkah and Purim.

I feel like I just stepped into that spot. I was ready, I had been cultivating this kind of mixture of reggae and golden-era hip-hop that I grew up on, and the spirituality and the religion I was learning in Crown Heights at the time was bubbling, and ready. And with my connections from The New School where I went with some really great musicians, and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe where I used to do the open mic night and stuff, I had met some good people so I had this great trio. This band was just so good, and they started doing shows with me.

Hanukkah at the Southpaw was the first one and then every year after that. As things blew up very quickly, it was always a thing that we always came back to; festival, Hanukkah, Hanukkah, New York, Hanukkah, New York. We built it out a little bit, but to be able to not take the year off and be able to do it this year, and do it in the way that we can do it in the best possible way is awesome. To have it at The Capitol Theatre is just the icing on the cake, it’s perfect. And you know what? I always feel like our best shows have been shows where we come back after not playing for a while and taking a break from a heavy tour. I feel like those are always the best shows. I don’t know if it’s that way with every band. We literally haven’t played music since Purim, and we’re gonna explode on these shows.

I would imagine that excitement you guys have is gonna almost overcome the crowdlessness.

I think so, it’s gonna be so pure and music centered. Just about the love of being able to make music and as much as I love having an audience, the interaction and the energy from people and I can’t wait for that moment again, that moment isn’t here yet. In the meantime, this is the first step for me at least because there are other bands that have played together, especially in the jam scene, but we haven’t played. We haven’t played music fully as a band with a kit and lights and all that since Purim, so that’s the longest I’ve gone without playing music since my career started like fifteen years ago or whatever. It’s gonna be awesome, I can’t wait.

I’m curious about what your consumption of music or anything has been really during the pandemic, like what have you been listening to? Have you been tuning into any of the livestreams? Like, did you watch any of Trey Anastasio’s ‘The Beacon Jams,’ or have you been like you said, sort of focusing on your family and on your own stuff?

Yeah, I’ve been pretty much in somewhat of a total home-body mode, and focused on my art. Like I said I’ve been recording a lot, so basically that’s been the focus. I find that the time leading up to the recording, and for me that’s been quite a few years now, is all about listening and consuming the music that’s out there, because that’s hugely important to me, at least in terms of my creative process. But the last six months or so have been pretty much focused inwards on the music that I’m making. Leading up to that, I started listening to a lot of artists from like the UK grime scene and some from the African- afrobeat/dance hall/Drake kinda thing that’s happening. I don’t know what the term is for that, I’m sure there’s tons of categories on Spotify but they have the right terms for it. Going back to some of the classics and a lot of the roots reggae and a lot of dub music and stuff like that.

I’ve definitely been listening to a lot of music. But I would say that exploring some of those new genres that are blending and mixing different forms and a lot of it is Carribean influenced, which kind of really makes sense for me, I understand that music. So when it goes into different realms, I’m just so stoked to see it bring different styles together. It works for me in terms of where popular music is right now, because it’s kind of crossing through all these different places that I love.

Yeah, absolutely. Looking ahead, there’s been a lot of good news coming about the vaccine and stuff but it also seems like there’ll be at least a few more months of limited live opportunities. Do you see yourself doing any more livestreams or drive-in shows or anything, or will you kind of go back to the recording mode?

I’m not a scientist, I don’t know, but I’m hoping that in Spring/Summer of 2021, we’re gonna be able to play shows with an audience. That seems to me where we’re heading. Obviously we have no idea what the fuck is gonna happen with this virus and the vaccine. Are we gonna be attacked by aliens this year? Who the hell knows! Nothing would surprise me, but I feel like it’s in our very near horizon that we’re gonna be back out there playing live music for people.

I’m just stoked to try to get this record finished up—I think is gonna be one of the best records I’ve ever made, and get back out there again, start fuckin’ touring, playing some shows. After this Festival of Light, I don’t know how many more virtual things we’re gonna do. My guess is this is probably it until we get back out there.

We miss playing shows. It’s been tough, but that’s such a small sacrifice— such a small price to pay compared to what people are going through in terms of people that  have lost family members and are really really struggling. I definitely miss playing shows, but I think it’s gonna come back soon.

Yeah, I think so too, I hope so. Is there anything else you wanted to mention or highlight?

I’ll just mention Hanukkah. As we’ve been chatting, the whole thing makes a lot of sense: the story of Hanukkah, the darkness, the light. In the time of darkness, which you always find Hanukkah in at this time of year, where it’s like literally getting dark at three o’clock in the afternoon, and especially this year, with just tons and tons of anxiety and darkness all around us, you find this whole concept of huddling around this menorah in your home. It’s not a massive thing, it’s not a super big shiny thing, it’s something very humble and pure. And to huddle around that and find the light in those times when there’s this heavy darkness that’s just all around you– to me, that’s the main idea of Hanukkah.

I feel that that’s what we’re gonna be doing on the stage. As if the instruments and the stage itself is the menorah and we’re coming through this time of darkness, we’re just gonna be huddling around these instruments, and playing music in a way that a flame would. In a pure way, with no audience there, well not officially, but knowing that everyone is active. So it just feels like somehow this Hanukkah is big.

2020 is something that really feels very, very pure and real. Hanukkah to me, the concept of Hanukkah, the idea of it also feels so pure and real. You know what I’m saying? It shines! The whole idea of Hanukkah is light that shines in the darkness. It’s not about the light in the light, just sometimes the sun shines. You just jump into the sunlight and you’re just there, as it warms your whole body. But this is a very different type of light. This is the light where it’s just tons of darkness all around, and it’s a very small amount of light.

Yeah, and it’s something you hold onto I guess.

Yeah, it shines so hard when the darkness is so prevalent. That’s the year we’re all having, so everyone is huddled up around their menorahs, and grabbing onto the purest things in their lives that will get them through this.

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