David Broza Returns to Peace Train, Despite Boycotters on Board

Forthcoming album 'East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem' unites musicians of different political stripes in an East Jerusalem studio.

Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov
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Mira Sucharov.
Mira Sucharov

What does a pop star say when a longtime fan - who also happens to blog at Haaretz - tells him that she can no longer listen to one of his most moving albums (Ha’Isha She’Iti) because she played the cassette on a loop for six weeks following a bad breakup during her university days?

“Maybe this will be your new album,” David Broza suggested to me during a recent phone interview, referring to his new effort called "East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem," scheduled for release early next year. The album brings Broza squarely back to his roots as a peace activist, and continues to connect listeners to the diverse, multilingual and layered sound that his listeners have come to expect.

Over the course of an hour, we spoke about musical eclecticism, cover song selection, busking, boycotts against Israel, wedding-aisle tunes, Palestinian-Israeli normalization, and what it means to be a peace activist.

Over 14 tracks, each recorded, unrehearsed, in a single take, "East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem" is produced by Steve Earle. It's mostly English with bits of Hebrew and Arabic, and features many original songs by Broza, some other notable collaborations (the lyrics of “Lion’s Den” are by Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl), Earle’s own song “Jerusalem,” plus a handful of covers of songs by Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd, and Cat Stevens. And while a few lyrical phrases tend toward the maudlin, there is enough musical tension, emotional energy and Broza’s alluring vocals to keep me listening on repeat.

Broza said working with Earle is “so intellectually wrapped up in everything that I feel is important in life.” His way of directing "me and the musicians in a way that would connect the American musicality to the Middle Eastern-Israeli approach to music,” made Broza think “wow,” when the opportunity arose to have the album be produced by him. For eight days and eight nights -- like a musical octave, Broza suggests; the Hanukkah symbolism occurred to him only later -- the group of Israeli, Palestinian, Palestinian-Israeli and American musicians gathered in a recording studio in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. They emerged with a work whose overall style might be called eclectic, but that Broza simply describes as “David Broza.”

Palestinian reluctance to collaborate with Broza proved a partial stumbling block. “Unfortunately the only real hardcore Palestinian who would play is Muhammad Mugrabi,” a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp, who collaborated on the trilingual pop-rap track “PEACE Ain’t Nothing But a Word” (music by Steve Earle).

Music trumps all?

Meanwhile, the irony of including songs by two artists -- Elvis Costello and Roger Waters -- who have publicly advocated a boycott of Israel is not lost on Broza. Believing that “music triumphs over everything,” he opposes cultural and intellectual boycotts, both by international artists against Israel, and by his fellow Israeli artists of locations like Ariel theater in the West Bank. Boycotts “kill any humane aspect of society,” he says.

Broza’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” is a stand-out track. It includes his trademark driving, Spanish-inflected guitar fingerwork over an infectious drum line with hints of an oud, all underneath Broza’s urgent vocals.

Pink Floyd’s music, Broza explains, has always been something he felt needed to be “addressed as a troubadour, as a folk singer on the street corner, singing about what’s coming.” And his decision to cover Cat Stevens’s “Where Do the Children Play?” emerged from his actual experiences of singing on street corners, when he was a young busker on the sidewalks of London and Madrid. To a Broza fan, hearing the opening chords of Stevens’s haunting classic interpreted through Broza’s strumming, all while knowing that Broza’s vocals are coming around the bend, is breathtaking.

With the album titled as it is, and including multiple references to “walls” and song titles like “Why Can’t We All Live Together,” I pressed David-Broza-the-peace-activist on the kind of long-term, political solution he seeks. Two states, or one?

I’ve interviewed Broza for these pages before, when we spoke about what he actually means when he sings about “leaving the territories” in the peace anthem "Yihyeh Tov" decades after he first sang it. So I wasn’t surprised this time when our conversation about politics turned confusing. I was chasing his words, searching for boxes and categories. In my worlds -- blogging and academia -- commitments to particular sovereign forms become articles of faith, markers of professional identity. But a singer-songwriter-musician might, understandably, perceive these tensions differently.

“We’re artists, we’re not political activists, running barricades, running political parties. We are digging into each other’s souls; creating common ground, sharing something beautiful....” He adds, “We are not the ones who are going to solve the problems, but if we open ourselves to each other, then there’s a chance that from the grass roots it’ll grow to the political level.”

Despite his reluctance to discuss borders and states -- “I can’t really define it,” he says -- he ultimately comes down on the side of two states for two peoples. “Zionism was originally a utopian dream. That utopia should also be adopted by the Palestinian people; they should have their own utopian ideal of creating their own state; each utopian system should be able to look at each other, saying we can live as two entities, two identities...each sing[ing] in their own voice.”

With its blending of peace and love, I commented that the opening track, “One to Three,” reminds me of “Yihyeh Tov.” It was unintentional, Broza remarked. “But absolutely,” he added. “Every good peace song should be ingrained with a good romance.”

And on the topic of romance, I asked him what he thought of the trend of Jewish couples walking down the aisle to his music. “It’s called 'writer’s bliss,'” he said. “May that be the greatest thing I could ever leave behind. People sharing the most profound moment to my music.”

Reflecting on our conversation, Broza paused, with a smile. “After all of this, we end up with ‘I do.’”

David Broza.Credit: Ilan Besor
Cover of David Broza's new album.Credit: Courtesy

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