Activist Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza brings his one-man show to Santa Monica
By Bliss Bowen
Born in Haifa, Israel, in 1955, David Broza’s music is inextricably entwined with his national identity.
Yet the trilingual (English, Hebrew and Spanish) singer-songwriter and guitarist, who spent formative teen years in Spain and lives in New York, is also arguably a citizen of the world.
Whether he’s setting unreleased poems by the late Townes Van Zandt to music, as he did for his 2010 album “Night Dawn,” or marrying Spanish flamenco with Middle Eastern instrumentation and rhythms, as he does on his recently released album “Andalusian Love Song” (a collaboration with the Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon), Broza’s music honors common humanity that transcends geographical and cultural barriers.
The controversial project that Broza coordinated before “Andalusian Love Song” most boldly exemplifies his worldview. Released in the United States last year, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” is filled with earnest goodwill, expressed in tracks like “Why Can’t We Live Together” (“No matter what color or creed or religion, you’re still my brother”), the reggae-vibed title track (with Wyclef Jean) and covers of Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem” (with Earle singing harmony) and Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny ’Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.”
Broza recorded the album with a mixed Israeli-Arab band in Sabreen Studios in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem; a documentary film made with kindred creative spirits such as Earle and ponytailed Palestinian filmmaker/musician Issa Freij chronicled the process.
In the words of producer Steve Greenberg, Broza’s goal was to “create a space of peace, a space where people can talk to each other, a space where people can listen to each other, a space where people can play together and just share time together. And in a way, by doing that, hopefully that will create a ripple effect.”
Broza, who estimates he spends 10 days to two weeks a month in Israel, is thoughtfully optimistic when asked if he believes “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” could be made in late 2015.
“That’s a very good, valid question,” he says. “I will tell you that it was really, really, really hard to put this together in 2013. And the fact is that even if I had to do it today, I would do it. I think people would actually be perhaps a little more cautious about joining in — but on the other hand more eager to be part of it because when everything is so bitter, a drop of sweetness attracts like bees to the honey. …
“Last week I had three days in East Jerusalem where all these people that were involved in the album were present. And on top of that, we have today dozens and dozens more who asked to be part of our barbecues and parties and get-togethers, and they jump border. Everybody wants to be part of it and they walk away on cloud nine when it’s over. That feeling carries on for days and days. That’s what we need.”
His response is more tempered when queried about the music school he’s been trying to start in the Shuafat Refugee Camp.
“That has been put on hold since the Gaza war,” he explains, “because the camp has become so violent. On a normal day it’s a very unsafe place, certainly for an Israeli, but even for a Palestinian. I was working there for 18 months straight and I was begged to stop by the Palestinians and begged to stop by the Israelis, but I wouldn’t because these kids are so precious. But as we say in the Middle East, you’ve got to let the dust settle. And it does. Then you can resume. … You’ve gotta know when to put down your eagerness and be a little cautious and listen to what’s going around and always be there. And I’m always in East Jerusalem. I may not go in the camp, but I bring some of the camp people outside so we can meet and continue.”
Looking forward, he’s negotiating logistical challenges for a collaboration with a young Palestinian artist named Ali Paris who plays the zither-like qanun.
“He’s a phenomenal artist,” Broza enthuses. “Along with him, I want to bring in a very interesting flamenco guitarist, who was Paco’s de Lucía’s right hand for many, many years, Niño Josele. The qanun is a very fine and very special instrument, a very old Arab instrument. I’m hoping to get very soon into the studio.”
First he’s bringing his one-man show to the Broad Stage, where he promises to “take the audience on a journey” from his first album up through songs from “Andalusian Love Song” such as the entrancing “Dangerous Autumn.”
“What I’ve been perfecting my entire career,” he says, “is that one-man show.”
Indeed, Broza’s made a nearly 40-year career out of engaging hope and encouraging peace and tolerance — activities perfectly in sync with the spirit of the holiday season, but wildly out of step with today’s political climate.
“In these times, when you light candles or put up Christmas trees, people waiting to see their loved ones and friends and family, especially family, and one gathers around a table with good food, it’s a time when people really need to touch each other, the ones who care for each other,” he says. “Because that’s the essence of who we are as human beings, I think, especially in the West. We’ve cultivated this and it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Muslim or Christian.
“This is a time of rejoicing in what we have, not what we think we’ve lost. It’s refilling our hearts with hope. I don’t dream this, I live it.”
David Broza appears in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. $30 to $55. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit davidbroza.net.