The Inner Worlds of Zusha
On Friday afternoons, as Shabbat draws near, I turn off whatever podcast or song I’m listening to and mentally prepare for the day ahead. I forget about my schoolwork and essays and my phone enters airplane mode. As the day winds into dusk, I turn inwards and focus on the spiritual. To each, there is a personal path toward this state of serenity, and for me, there is none more absolute and instantaneous than the music of one of my favorite bands: Zusha.
Zusha was formed in 2013 by lead singer Shlomo Gaisin, Elisha Mlotek, and guitarist Zachariah Goldschmiedt. They’re named after the Chassidic Rav Zusha of Hanipol and after about a year of recording themselves singing on their smartphones, they released their first EP. 9 years, 4 albums, and multiple singles later, Zusha has garnered an eclectic following. In fact, the group is scheduled to perform at YU this coming Yom Ha’atzmaut for what should be an exciting event.
Their music is non-negotiable for my entrance into Shabbat. There is something indescribable in Zusha’s music that relaxes and inspires. It helps me wind down and shake off the stress of the week and energizes me to enter Shabbat. Despite their music’s lack of classifiability, let alone the mystery of music more broadly, there are a few identifiable factors that draw me to Zusha’s soulful music.
First, the music is well constructed. The songs may initially sound like a few basic chords on the piano or guitar, but their depth and nuance extend far beyond simple notes. The music is multi-layered, treating the listener to bass lines, various instruments, harmonies and musical production artistry which continuously delight with each listen. Every time I play a Zusha track, I isolate a specific component and am amazed by the underlying elements which contribute to the vibrance of the song. One time it's the recognition that most of the vocals are accompanied by harmonies and another by the masterful drum accompaniment. The next time, I notice the nondescript bass line which I now realize holds the entire song together. Through yet another listen, I hear the use of a flute, accordion, clarinet or other unidentifiable sounds/instruments like a rattle or a natural soundscape, which all contribute to the complex tapestry that is a Zusha song.
On top of musical complexity, the melodies, or niggunim, are unforgettable. I walk to shul on Shabbat humming their songs and a smile spreads across my face. I recall the song's progression. What may have been a melody sung with a few instruments initially, grew stronger and stronger. The lead vocalist, Shlomo, passionately chants his melodies with several instruments, harmonies and percussion amplifying his tune and captivating the listener. The songs grow and fade in intensity and sophistication, weaving back and forth from a simple melody with piano and harmony to a full-body musical experience, demonstrating how much beauty and power can be produced from a single, seemingly simple melody.
Furthermore, Zusha’s music achieves a certain intimacy with the listener: the element most vital to interacting with the soul and entering Shabbat spiritually. The importance of the lead singer, Shlomo Gaisin, cannot be overstated in this regard. In the beginning of many songs, his singing style feels almost conversational. It is gentle and relaxed with no noticeable strain or exerted effort. However, throughout the latter parts of the song, one can feel the emotion in his voice — the quivers and emphasis on certain notes and the vocal trembles and fluctuating intensity. As the song grows louder and more vibrant, one feels the passion and energy through the volume and palpable force of his voice. As Shlomo takes breaths between verses, it is as if one is in the recording studio with him, seeing him swaying with his eyes closed — an image fans of the music know to be true as that’s exactly how he performs at his concerts. For the emotional songs, he veers from the words and chants the niggunim, stripping the music to its essence. He shouts the melodies at the top of his lungs in a fashion that resembles a form of catharsis. Singing feels like a form of tefilah for Zusha — an introspective and expressive act — and we are privy to their intimate self-expression.
Listening to Zusha makes you feel like you’re at a Kumzitz. The artist is guiding you through an encounter with the depths of his soul through the only way he knows how: song. With Zusha’s music, the listener is inclined to close his eyes and bask in the emotional tapestry to connect with himself. It almost feels intrusive and too intimate: the experience a proper, soulful kumzitz creates. Thankfully, Zusha’s music is recorded and functions as a Kumzitz on demand that we can listen to endlessly. I know I do.
Who better to describe their music than the artists themselves. The artist description Zusha has on Spotify is a perfect encapsulation of their craft:
For the soul
To reach this goal
Verses centuries to millennia old
We strum and sing from
In hopes of smiles and joy
For the global win
Zusha’s music is soul music — unbound by one genre or musical category. The lyrics pull from the most beautiful and profound verses across Jewish scripture, and they sing with vocals borne from the depths of their soul. The only way to classify Zusha’s unclassifiable music is as a unique kumzitz; One that simultaneously relaxes, inspires and invigorates through musical artistry. It is unlike any other music I listen to and it humbles me everytime. If your spiritual entrance into Shabbat has felt vitiated, and, like me, music provides direct access to your spiritual side, I highly recommend giving the music of Zusha a try.