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Zusha Has The Hooks and The Looks
From left, Elisha Mlotek, Shlomo Gaisin, Zach Goldschmiedt. Noam Chojnowski

The three members of neo-Chasidic group Zusha – front-man Shlomo Gaisin, drummer Elisha Mlotek and guitarist Zach Goldschmiedt – have created a soulful sound that has resonated with fans and has made them a band to keep your eyes on. Zusha sold out its first marketed New York show at Mercury Lounge in October. The group plays Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory on December 7 and opens for Soulfarm at The Highline Ballroom on December 24. The self-titled EP reached No. 9 on the Billboard World Music chart.

“We had no expectations,” Gaisin said. “Our goal was to be authentic. We’re not some poppety-boppety group. There’s joy in our music but there is also pain and struggle. We’re looking to break down walls.”

At 6’5, the 23-year-old recalls a younger Matisyahu, but said he is mostly desensitized to the comparison.      

“It happens all the time,” Gaisin said. “I don’t get mad. I guess sometimes it’s a little annoying because you know, I’m my own person. But we have love from him and a lot of respect for him.”

Mlotek, 24, likewise has big shoes to fill. His father Zalman, is the director of the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene. He trained at Juliard, studied under Leonard Bernstein and is a world authority on Yiddish music who helped bring it to Broadway.

“You just tapped into my deep psychological issue,” Mlotek says with a serious face, before laughing. “No, my father is very supportive. I don’t feel pressure. It’s more of an excitement. I grew up in up in a house where I was surrounded by a love of Jewish and Yiddish music. My grandparents, Yosl and Chana, who were musicologists who preserved and restored Yiddish folk music. So I definitely know where I come from.”

Zusha’s music is catchy. “Yisgadal,” is a surprisingly upbeat version of the kaddish, with a chorus that evokes a feeling of healing. “Tsion” is an anthem that makes you feel like you’ve been traveling a long time. The best song is “Yoel’s Niggun.”

 “It makes it more universal because there are no words,” he said. “Words are definitive and limiting whereas music and just a tune are open and can be everyone’s language.”

The neo-Chasidic group uses elements of jazz, which are showcased in “Yisgadal” and one of their English songs called “Dream,” as well as folk, rock and Reggae.

Matisyahu is an influence, as is John Legend, Eric Clapton and The Beatles.

Indeed, the members say they don’t like labels and don’t consider themselves a Jewish group, but rather a group that appeals to everyone.

The group gets its name from the Chasidic master Reb Zusha, who according to the Talmudic tale, was fearful as he was about to die. His fear was not that God would ask him why he wasn’t more like Moses but why was he not more like Zusha. The story is meant to show that one must be authentic and fulfill their greatest potential.

Goldschmiedt attended NYU, Mlotek went to Queens College and Gaisin attends Yeshiva University.

Gaisin said that while they consider themselves rockers, they don’t foresee hard drugs or jail on the horizon.

“When we’re onstage, it’s great to look out and see people rocking their heads,” Gaisin said. “But we don’t go crazy. We don’t curse onstage. We bless on stage.”

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