David Broza has been called the “Bruce Springsteen of Israel.”
Many of the comparisons are appropriate. Broza paints a picture of his Israeli hometown in the song “Haifa.” just as poignantly and adeptly as “The Boss” sang of broken love and angst on the Jersey Shore. Broza is also a compelling and charismatic live performer like the New Jersey rocker, and Broza has a comparable level of popularity in Israel as Mr. Springsteen does in his home country. But the comparisons seem to end there. I mean, we all know “The Boss” doesn’t sing in other languages.
Just try to count the number of musicians who can fluently and sincerely sing in two languages. You could probably could count them on one hand. If you add the criterion of singing credibly in a third language, you might not be able to count them on one hand, but on one finger! By that standard alone The Israeli-born David Broza has been nothing short of a truly ground-breaking musician. He has recorded over 25 albums, in three different languages, with several multi-platinum and gold records to his credit. First-time listeners might not able to tell if Broza is from Tel Aviv, Trenton or Toledo (Spain, of course; not Ohio). His songs are in Hebrew, others in English and Spanish, and all performed with great skill. Add to that a singer and composer that can fuse lyrics influenced by the poetry of Shelley and other literary masters with pan-global, plastic-free pop melodies for the last 30 years and you have something unique and special.
And although modest about it, Broza seems to have yet another unique talent. His highly technical guitar virtuosity has set him apart from other minstrels and even his songwriting idol. Broza, like many of us, believes Dylan is God. And yet while Dylan is masterful at adapting poetry into music, he’s done so while playing basic folk chords (OK, he also played harmonica.). Many lessor musicians would get carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis trying to copy Broza’s amalgam of flamenco and pop/rock guitar strumming and picking.
Sting was so impressed by Broza’s unique guitar playing ability that he asked Broza to open for him during a 1995 tour. One would assume that Broza studied under the tutelage of a Flamenco master. But Broza admits to having had just two formal guitar lessons in his youth. He “dug” the first one, but was “over it” by lesson two.
Interestingly, the Jewish Broza credits his finger-picking technique to his Palestinian roommate in a southern England boarding school at the age of 16.
Broza’s music breaks down barriers. Through his music—and because of his upbringing —Broza has helped bridge the geopolitical and cultural divide of Israelis and Palestinians. Broza’s grandfather created an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in Haifa, called Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which Broza is still deeply involved with. He is also one of the few Israeli-Jewish performers who have been featured on Voice of Palestine radio.
The educational program Givat Haviva, which brings Arab and Jewish youth together, in part owes its financial viability and support from Broza.
A short time after his first solo album (David Broza) was released in 1977, Broza performed for the students at Hebrew University, which at the time, leaned politically to the right. Broza shocked the student body by singing a verse of his song “Bedouin Love Song” in Arabic (the song, from his first eponymously-titled release).
He has always liked to shock the hawks with his music in hopes of galvanizing the more moderate voices in Israeli society.
This compilation isn’t necessarily in the name of the Peace Process itself, but its everyday themes permeate international borders and unites those on both sides of the wall.
Just as U2’s Bono has become a musical emissary of world peace, so to has Broza. A goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Broza co-wrote the theme song for the organization’s 50th anniversary.
His songwriting style has sharpened since he was a young, brash Israeli pop star. After having lived in the U.S. from 1984-2000, and Spain off and on for a decade, Broza seems to have ingested every bit of American and Spanish soul-seeping roots music that could serve as a muse for his storytelling. He’s spent countless hours in the libraries of New York City, pouring over the poems of the great American and European poets. And of course has devoured Israeli poetry the whole time. Broza is now a lecturer and poet in his own right. He has been appointed Artist-in-Residence at Vermont’s Bennington College.
Like a good screenwriter who adapts a book for a Hollywood blockbuster, He adapts poems to song form so we can get a glimpse into different cultures sharing similar concerns.
Few other singers have adapted as much poetry as Broza has and done so while still doing justice to the poet’s original creation. Consider the song, “Crying to the Walls.” With help from Spanish poet Pablo Guerrero, Broza managed to capture the dichotomy of life on the road: the ecstasy of mesmerizing an audience with an aural orgasm, followed by the despair and loneliness of four bare and depressing hotel walls. “Crying to the Walls,” a minor-key ballad is just one song on this compilation that is a product of Broza’s self-placed demand to fully incorporate every influence of Jewish, Spanish and American folk music.
If you really want to get into Broza’s skin, study the poetry of the Spanish poet Lorca. Murdered during the Spanish Civil War, Lorca was also a playwright and a major influence on Broza.. Fifty years after Lorca’s death, Broza represented Israel on a tribute album, Poets in New York, released by CBS Spain. Leonard Cohen, Paco de Lucia and Donovan were also featured on the tribute.
David is an Israeli cosmopolitan who was reared by parents who listened to the Kingston Trio, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Charlie Parker, Pete Seeger and Dylan. His recording career includes two live platinum-selling recordings at Massada. He has performed onstage with his forementioned idol, Dylan, as well as Paul Simon, Jose Feliciano and Van Morrison. His 1989 English-language release, Away From Home, which featured “Chileno Boys,” was hailed by the New York Times as one of the best pop albums of the year. Haisha Sheiti (The Woman by My Side), released in 1984, is Israel’s best-selling album ever (four times platinum).
Many of Broza’s songs have been influenced by “pure” poets such as Alberto Rios but many of his most successful pieces have been collaborations with Israeli poet-journalist and longtime friend Jonathan Geffen. After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, President Clinton urged David to perform at a memorial for Israeli Prime Minister Rabin at Madison Square Garden. He sang his Israeli anthem of peace, “Yihye Tov,” (loose translation: “everything will turn out all right”) based on original words by Geffen.
As his career has progressed Broza has sharpened his sense of awareness of where he’s come from and how far away from that point he is when on the road. He travels weeks on end, away from his family back in the Holy Land.
Having spent several years in Spain, mastering that country’s romantic Flamenco arrangements, most people in that country assume Broza is a Jew of Sephardic (Spanish) decent. In Israel they also mistakenly think he is Sephardic and credit him with being Israel’s musical ambassador. But Broza, a Jew of Ashkenazi (German) decent, has never wanted to be known as an Israeli musical ambassador. A global ambassador of music is more like it.
He also considers himself not a Jewish artist, but an artist who happens to be Jewish. He is well aware that he possesses one of Judaism’s greatest virtues: the dynamic and unique ability to assimilate in other cultures.
“High Noon” is a perfect example of the genius of Broza’s cultural assimilation. Originally recorded on Stolen Kiss, the song is Hebrew country/western. When was the last time you heard a cowboy song sung in Hebrew? And while it’s true that novelty doesn’t always translate into talent, Broza’s version is serious business, not a predictable intentional spoof that someone like a Mel Brooks might use for a soundtrack.
As one might guess, Broza has even spent some time in Nashville. His voice is just a few degrees short of the twang necessary to get him featured on Country Music Television. The songs “Because I Love You” and “Under the Sun” hint at his American country influence. The love ballad “Natasha,” sounds like it could have been penned at a Parisian café and then fine tuned in downtown Memphis with pedal-steel guitar accompaniment.
Broza’s Flamenco influence and his mastery of the highly-technical style, are featured prominently on “Suavecito”, “Me Voy” and “Parking Completo,” which includes hand claps and Cuban-style piano shuffles, and, of course, Broza’s alluringly husky voice.
Even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish or Hebrew, but just enjoy the cross-pollination of different styles of music, Broza can take you on a multi-cultural musical journey. You can hear the variety on a song like “It’s All or Nothing,” sung in Hebrew with classical Arabian melodies, mixed with a bit of electropop and orchestral string arrangements as well as electric guitar fills.
Like Mississippi John Hurt, Broza seems to be several people playing his guitar at the same time. Over the last three decades, his live performances have made fans want to intermittently bellydance, twirl like a Whirling Dervish, sway back and forth in a peaceful group hug, and bounce up and down like a Mexican jumping bean.
Broza’s latest project, The BROZA 5 is a newly formed band and includes longtime collaborator Jay Beckenstein and Julio Fernandez of Spyro Gyra (soprano sax and guitar, respectively), Cyro. Baptista, the composer, percussionist and Beat the Donkey ensemble member; and legendary session bass player, Francisco Centeno. The quintet played eight sold-out shows in Tel Aviv, early in 2006, and expects to release a DVD and CD of those performances later this year.