NEW YORK – When he first picked up a friend’s electric guitar at age 13, Levi Robin knew something important had happened.
“I struck some strings and felt the vibration go through my chest and, I don’t know, it moved me,” he recalled. “Music had always been around me, but more in a way of encompassing me my whole life, and at that age it started to enter me.”
From there on, the California-born now hassidic folk singer felt that music was going to be a major part of his life. Yet, he couldn’t foresee the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he would be given just a few years later, in a hotel room on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
After spending some time in Israel at the age of 18, Levi Robin returned to the United States to study in a yeshiva in New Jersey. One day in early 2014, Robin received a phone call from an old friend.
“Come hang out with me in Manhattan today!” the caller said. But it was short notice for Robin, who explained that he couldn’t just leave the yeshiva. The friend insisted in vain. That’s when a familiar voice picked up the phone. It was reggae singer Matisyahu.
“He really wanted to hear my music,” Robin tells The Jerusalem Post. “He was there with his manager and they were only there for a few hours until he was on a plane to go somewhere else. So I found a way to go and I’m glad I did.”
In the hotel room, Robins grabbed a guitar and played his original song “Breath Easy.” The song had a strong effect on Matisyahu, because three weeks later, Robin was on tour with the singer as his opening act.
“I don’t think anybody knew what to expect, including myself,” he said. “I was so surprised that they were willing to throw me on stage in front of thousands of people without knowing what would happen, only after hearing me once.”
Robin, who had been writing his own music and building a repertoire for years prior to this turning point, sang his own songs on stage.
“I really loved playing every night, I really got to learn that it’s not just something that theoretically I like to do, I really love what I do,” he tells the Post. “It’s also very vulnerable: I was touring as one man on a stool with my guitar. Being that vulnerable made me stronger and I think vulnerability often translates into a moving performance.”
Robin also credits music for opening him up to a deeper connection to Judaism over “a journey of a few years.”
“I wasn’t really sensitive to the arts or to philosophical ways of thinking, or to spirituality until I started opening up more with music. There is a strong place within hassidic tradition for music as a preparation for oneself to receive a new level of insight, of Torah wisdom.”
Last February, Levi Robin, who is managed by 424, a New York boutique artist management company ran by Yaniv Hoffman, released his new single, “Airplane,” which he wrote on his phone during a flight.
“I try to listen deeply to the undercurrents of life, of my life, of what I observe around me,” he explains. “A song starts with really listening.”
“I like to find a way of singing the ordinary as something extraordinary: the parts in everyday life that you might pass by or maybe never think about,” Robin adds.
The 24-year-old hassidic folk singer will be releasing a full album in the next months, after spending the last couple of years working on it and taking time to “grow” on his own.
“The album I’m going to be putting out this year, for those who have already been following my music, I think they are going to see so much more than what they thought,” he tells the Post, “I am presenting so much more of what I do in music.”
To really appreciate his songs, Robin says they should be listened to “with zero expectations, in a dark room, and just to be as open as possible.”
“I’m not necessarily just making music that sounds good, I’m trying to share certain parts of my soul in this music,” he said, explaining that songs are somewhat of “a looking glass to a musician’s soul.”