His fans call him “the Israeli Bruce Springsteen.” But in January 2013, Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza starred in a documentary called “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.” Broza wrote and co-produced the film with his friend and filmmaking partner Issa Freij. The documentary declares its subject in the first scene: Broza and Freij, an Israeli-Arab, sit on the roof of the home that Freij’s family has owned for centuries. It’s Jerusalem Day, and the two men watch as rightwing Israelis trade barbs with Arabs in the streets. The two then go to Sabreen Studios in East Jerusalem and begin an intense eight days of recording an album also called “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.”
Broza recently spoke with JewishBoston in anticipation of his Saturday, Dec. 16, concert at Berklee Performance Center. “On an artistic level, making an album of 13 songs in eight days is insane,” Broza said. “Nobody can commit to that, but I had no choice. I couldn’t keep the momentum going for more than those eight days.”
The documentary shows Broza and fellow collaborators recording two to three songs a day. Broza said the album reflects the culmination of over a decade of friendships with the artists who appear on it. They include Arab-Christian singer Mira Awad, with whom Broza noted he has forged a deep friendship. The album also features Palestinian rapper Mohammed Mughrabi, who lives in the Shuafat refugee camp.
For Broza, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem”—both album and documentary—was more than an artistic undertaking. It was the result of a lifetime spent in the pursuit of peace through music and poetry. That pursuit began when Broza was 22 years old and performed with Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen. Geffen had written a poem, which Broza set to music. The result was “Yihye Tov” (“It Will Be Good”). It is Broza’s signature song, and he has sung it at every concert he has given for the past four decades.
Broza noted that over the years Geffen has added verses to the original song. “He has written close to 30 additional verses,” he said. “Each one depicts a time when things seemed very hopeful for peace. I add them to my performance, and then I take them off. But I always stay true to the original version, except for one verse that says, ‘We should grow and learn to live with each other. After 100 years of war, I will not lose hope.’”
Broza comes by his dovish views—he was one of the founders of “Peace Now”—in part from his grandfather Wellesley Aron. Broza calls his grandfather “a visionary and activist who founded the Habonim movement in England in 1929.” His grandfather was also Chaim Weizman’s first political secretary. In his later years, Aron founded Neve Shalom, a village where Israelis and Arabs coexist in peace. “My grandfather wrote a curriculum of coexistence and conflict resolution between Israelis and Arabs,” said Broza. “This led me to a certain pattern of thought.”
Broza, however, has been a vocal critic of the BDS movement. “It’s a mistake to use music and art as a force to boycott something to try and weaken it,” he said. “We have to keep the doors of communication open. We have these bright, artistic minds and have to find ways to converse with each other. Or else we will become strangers to each other and estranged from one another.” As a gesture of goodwill, he records his versions of songs by BDS proponents Roger Waters and Elvis Costello on “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.”
But Broza emphasized that first and foremost he is a singer-songwriter and entertainer. His music is considered a heady combination of the three cultures in which he was raised—Israel, England and Spain. Broza spent his teenage years living under dictator Francisco Franco. Over his long career, he has released over 30 albums, three of them in Spain.
“I left Spain yearning to go back,” he said. “It took me 25 years to get there, but when I did, I wrote music in Spanish. I worked with local writers and local poets. It was great to go back and contribute to the culture. I love flamenco like I love jazz. Jazz connected me to America.”
Of his upcoming Boston appearance, Broza said this will be the first time he and his musicians will play a full concert at Berklee. A number of those musicians—both Israelis and Palestinians—are Berklee College of Music alumni. “It’s a beautiful homecoming for them,” Broza said. “The show will be vibrant and dynamic and charged with intent.”
Find more information about David Broza’s Boston appearance at Berklee Performance Center here.