Maccabeats Perform at Congregation Shearith Isreal

The Maccabeats, a Jewish doo-wop group that has been a YouTube sensation for nearly two years, will perform a sold-out show at Congregation Shearith Isreal, 9401 Douglas Ave., on Jan. 29. I recently discussed the band’s success, religious ideologies, and upcoming performance with member Meir Shapiro.

WJG: Who all do the Maccabeats consist of?

MS: When we started the group, we were mostly comprised of undergraduates at Yeshiva University with only a few guys. Our first year, we were a club sponsored by the school, and they helped us fund our first album. Now most of us are in graduate school, and there are 14 members in the group.

WJG: When did the Maccabeats become a YouTube sensation?

MS: We would like to think we became a YouTube sensation in March 2010 from one of our first videos, but it only got 100,000 hits. With the release of “Candlelight,” we went viral. [The video now has nearly 8 million hits.]

Local Jewish communities began to recognize us, and we didn’t expect it! It was really the perfect storm, and as soon as the news stations started noticing us, we got very popular.

WJG: Did you self-promote yourselves to become viral?

MS: We sent [our videos] to our friends on Facebook and posted it to various blogs, but you can do that with any video and it won’t go viral. The video really just took on a life of its own, and I think that is how it has done so well.

WJG: How often does the group tour?

MS: We are doing gigs every single weekend. Unlike some bands that go on tour for a year then sit in a studio, we have been touring non-stop and are working on our next album. We did over 150 shows in 2011 and have many more in store for 2012.

WJG: What should we expect to see at your Jan. 29 performance?

MS: Seven of us are coming for the performance, and we’re flying in that morning and flying out that night.

For live performances, we do several things. First, we sing the songs that the crowd wants to hear. We have to sing “Candlelight” or people might kill us. Then we want to make our performances interactive and teach the audience a thing or two about singing a cappella. We show people how we break down our harmonies and how we beat box. We also plan to sing songs from our upcoming album that we are working on now.

WJG: What type of Judaism do you all appeal to?

MS: We profess modern Orthodox Judaism, but we try to bridge the gap between traditional and modern Jews. We believe in the continuation of traditional Judaism, but we also want to make things new and fresh.

But we appeal to a wide arrange of Jews and perform for various youth groups around the country. Something that appeals to everybody in the religion is music and Judaism, and we are trying to bridge the traditional and modern to current day.

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