Francine Wolfisz on the meteoric rise of the best-selling all-male singing phenomenon
From humble beginnings at Yeshiva University to performing for Barack Obama at the White House, the rise of the all-male a capella group the Maccabeats has been nothing short of meteoric.
Five years after they came together, the Orthodox crooners, who parody modern pop songs by giving them catchy Jewish lyrics, have a number of albums under their belt, more than 25 million views on YouTube and have toured their native US, as well as Hong Kong and New Zealand.
Next stop in the group’s hectic schedule is London, for a special performance next Thursday, 10 December, at Chanukah In The Square.
Speaking to Jewish News, which is media-sponsoring the event, group director Julian Horowitz says the Maccabeats are “absolutely looking forward” to their performance in Trafalgar Square. He adds: “London is an amazing city with an amazing Jewish community.”
Chanukah is a particularly special time for the group, who released their breakout hit, Candlelight, in November 2010. Just months earlier, the singers had put out their first album, Voices From The Heights, but it was their rendition of Taio Cruz’s then-popular club anthem Dynamite that really introduced them to the world.
Within a short time, the group had garnered 10.6 million views on YouTube for that video alone and before the next Chanukah had received an invitation to the White House. In May 2011, the Maccabeats performed at a reception in honour of Jewish American Heritage Month, where President Obama thanked them for “their outstanding performance”.
Horowitz tells me: “That was an overwhelming day – we kept asking ourselves if it was real. “Who knew that putting up a video of us making fools of ourselves in coloured boxes would get an invitation from the president? “But honestly, performing for and singing with a huge enthusiastic crowd is better than singing for any one individual.”
Since then, the Maccabeats have covered numerous hits including Matisyahu’s Miracle, which featured a brief cameo by their self-proclaimed biggest fan, Mayim Bialik, and released a second album, Out of the Box.
In 2013, the group released a medley of songs from the stage show of Les Misérables and covered Ellie Goulding’s Burn before unveiling a third album, One Day More. With their fan base reaching further afield globally, I ask Horowitz what he feels is the secret to the group’s continuing success. “There’s no one secret ingredient,” he says, “but we make sure always to send a positive message and be proud of who we are and our traditions.”
He also credits working with “the best music producers and the inimitable Uri Westrich”, the latter being the group’s video producer and former Yeshiva University student. With this year’s Chanukah almost upon us, the Maccabeats have unveiled their latest music video for Latke Recipe, which parodies Walk The Moon’s summer hit, Shut Up and Dance.
The audience at Chanukah in the Square can no doubt expect to bop along to the new track, as well as a selection of classics and songs from the new album, A Maccabeats Chanukah. With the group having more gigs lined up already for 2016, I ask Horowitz what else lies ahead for this ever-popular bunch, who bill themselves as “not your grandfather’s synagogue choir”.
His answer is tantalising. “I can’t release too many details just yet, but something big is coming in January,” he hints. “It’s possibly our most important project to date. Everything we’ve done so far might just have been leading up to this.” That’s probably the best Chanukah present Maccabeats fans could wish for.
• The Maccabeats will perform at Chanukah In The Square on Thursday, 10 December, 5.30pm to 7.30pm in Trafalgar Square