Shulem is the most recent rising star of the Jewish musical tradition that has been intertwined in the life, faith, and culture of the Jewish people throughout their history. Whether it's prayers, psalms, or contemporary classics, this youthful Brooklyn tenor finds in music something rich and affirming, an endeavor that makes the soul soar and the spirit rise and speaks to the human condition. In fact, Shulem feels music aspires to go beyond current historical context to illuminate what he sees as the perfect dream: when the world is at peace. There are some voices that have to be heard – and Shulem’s is one of them.
Marking the first time that a singer from the orthodox Hasidic community has been signed to a major label, Shulem’s debut album, The Perfect Dream, will be released on Decca Gold, an imprint of Universal Music Group’s Verve Label Group. Produced by Jon Cohen, the album is an arresting arrival of a fresh voice -- new to many --and yet already seasoned by years of performing for his congregation and the Hasidic community. The Perfect Dream finds Shulem masterfully embracing a broad range of material reflecting his varied musical tastes. His considerable vocal talents are supremely showcased in the two singles of the album, Les Miserables’ “Bring Him Home” and "Jerusalem Of Gold".
“When I sing and perform, everything that I believe in my heart and soul is part of each note and every phrase which is what I strive to share with
Photo: Meredith Truax
others. It's very exciting," Shulem says of this new step in his career, and I am looking forward to being able to sing for more people and develop as an artist. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity.” Decca Gold President, Graham Parker adds that “Shulem really does see himself as someone who can impact people in a meaningful, heart to heart way. People are touched by his voice and his ability to communicate a hopeful message. All the songs that are on the album come from a place of hope and inspiration -- of thinking of things bigger than yourself. That's what makes him so special.”
Growing up in Brooklyn's Boro Park neighborhood, Shulem was exposed primarily to the cantorial music preferred by his father as well as his older brother, who's now a synagogue cantor in Manhattan. Shulem, who was a featured child soloist in his community, explains, "There are many different kinds and forms of cantorial music. I was hearing a wide variety of styles and approaches which broadened my awareness.” Opera, particularly Luciano Pavarotti, also became an important influence, along with Michael Jackson that led him to artists such as Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, and Josh Groban. “I listened to a lot of different things,” Shulem says. ”I will look up certain people and study what they do -- how they achieve certain things either with their voice or in their career. I listen to their voices and think, 'Oh, I can do that or fit that in' and try to make that happen somehow.’ Music, like any creative endeavor, is fluid and is a river of influences that constantly evolves.”
His passion for music came when Shulem was young. He was a lead soloist with the famed Shira choir, while videos of him performing stylized arrangements of “Avinu Malkeinu” and the Passover song "Chad Gadya" became viral sensations. It was the latter, in fact, that Decca Gold's Graham Parker became "obsessed" with, leading him to investigate Shulem online and ultimately arrange for a meeting. “I kept looking at that video, staring at Shulem, watching him sing,” remembers Parker, a cantor himself. “Shulem’s voice was just so beautiful and you could tell by the way he was using his instrument that he was in total command. I looked at the other videos he's done and knew this was someone who was very special.”
At first, Shulem thought Parker's call was a prank. “I just could not believe that Graham was for real. What can a major record company want with a Hasidic singer like me?” he says now with a laugh. “But we had a great conversation about my career and what I was doing and what I wanted to accomplish.”
The song selection for The Perfect Dream was a careful, painstaking process, with all parties, including producer Jon Cohen, working to find the perfect material to both fit both Shulem's voice and persona. “We settled on a complete sound for the project. I myself am kind of surprised the album shows so many variations of my voice and it was exciting to be able to have that latitude.”
The release of The Perfect Dream extends Shulem’s reach further. A new world awaits and Shulem is ready to meet it and is equally excited about taking his music and message to even greater heights. “This has always been a dream, and I'm really happy," he says. “I look forward to how this will play out. I'm doing what I've done for years, and what's going on now is truly humbling for me. I'm really leaving it up to God's hands, and we'll see how it goes.”