New York City — Over the last few years Shlomo Gaisin has made a name for himself as a charismatic singer who quickly connects with his audience. The lead singer of the neo-chasidic band “Zusha” did so once again at a show on Aug., 25 to promote the band’s new album “When The Sea Split.”
But this was an especially gutsy performance, coming just over a month after his father died from cancer.
“The show was dedicated to him and I was thinking about him the whole time,” Gaisin said in an interview after the show at The Cutting Room in Midtown. “Any good things I am doing are from him. He taught me that no matter what is going on, life is a blessing.”
The 28-year-old who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn said he heard a teaching from a rabbi that in the Hebrew word “availut” (mourning), there is also the word “aval” (but). This can teach us a lesson for how to continue on despite the sadness, he says.
“It could be that everything is falling apart, there is a gaping hole my father left me and it is too horrible to feel good anymore,” he said. “At a certain point there is the other side of mourning, which is but, what about all I have gained from being gifted by their presence for the time I had?”
Zachariah Goldschmiedt, who founded the group with Gaisin and Elisha Mlotek about six years ago, said the new music represents an evolution. He said after Mlotek left the group to pursue filmmaking, they took a look at what they wanted to do with the fourth album, which dropped on Sunday.
“Whenever you lose someone or something, you’re forced to confront what you have left,” Goldschmiedt said. “I think in our music here, we were going for a less is more approach and a strip down to the essence.”
“When The Sea Split” is a dream-like delight that forces the listener to slow down and drift into reflection. There are no up-tempo songs and the instrumentation is simple and restrained. The track “Ad Shetehe,” features Gaisin’s trills and falsetto, and “Bnei Beitcha” has a surprising instrumental in the middle that evokes a feeling of being underwater. “From The Narrow Place” opens the most infectious niggun (wordless melody) you’ve likely heard in a while. “Wake Up New York” is a fun, albeit ironic tune to end the album with, while “Inner Worlds” offers a cool jazzy note. But the biggest gem here is the soulful “Tree of Life” with a vocal display that registers pain but also hope.
Goldschmiedt, 27, who also lives in Crown Heights, welcomed a son into the world a month ago. He said the duo’s success is largely because he and Gaisin are like brothers.
“We like to push each other’s buttons,” he said. “We balance each other out and we push each other’s notion of what it means to be a musician, what it means to be a yid (Jew), what it means to be a chasid, and what it means to be a friend.”
When the group first performed, Gaisin drew some comparisons to Matisyahu since he is tall, has a beard, and on stage sports a long chasidic coat and black hat. Sure, the reggae star did influence Zusha, as did Bob Dylan and Shlomo Carlebach, Gaisin says.
The group gained popularity for performing songs mostly without lyrics. Their self-titled EP reached No.9 on Billboard’s World Music Chart when released in 2014. Their 2016 album “Kavana” reached No. 2 and the song “Pashut” was used in a trailer for the film “Menashe.”
At The Cutting Room, the group performed “Mashaich” for its encore and off-stage Gaisin led the Maariv evening prayer, a rare sight at a club.
Gaisin said the group’s music style is shifting slightly from the long wordless niggunim (melodies) they are known for to more lyric-heavy songs. A lot of “swequity” went into the new album, he says, and he feeds off energy from the crowds who sing along with him.
“There’s a trust that we’ve built with our fans over time,” he said.
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Gaisin, who last summer graduated from Yeshiva University with a degree in psychology (he took a leave of absence and went part time) said he hopes his group’s music can be a model for positivity.
He would often play music at his father’s bedside in the hospital, trying out the new music for him.
“My father was a huge supporter especially when he saw that the music was not an escape but an awakening and a way to inspire the world,” Gaisin said. “I hope that’s what we can do.”
When asked by a fan the meaning behind the band’s name, Goldschmiedt explained it bore inspiration from Reb Zusha of Hanipol, an 18th century chassid known through legends for his selfless and humble nature.
They may embody that personally, but their powerful stage presence is anything but.