David Broza talks about peace, love, understanding and his new album

Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza — whose 1977 song “Yihye Tov” (Things Will Be Better) is often considered the “unofficial anthem” of the peace movement in the Jewish state — has not given up hope.

During a stop Jan. 17 before a packed auditorium at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, the multiplatinum award-winning singer discussed his new album and his dedication to peace through music, and played a few songs as well.

David Broza

Broza is in the U.S. on a tour that began Jan. 16 in Los Angeles and will take him across the country. 

His free gig in San Rafael drew a broad spectrum of enthusiastic fans.

“He’s great,” said Ken Firestein, while waiting in line to get his CD autographed after Broza’s performance. Firestein drove from Davis to see Broza in person, after learning he would be in town.

“I almost jumped through the ceiling when I heard he would be here,” Firestein said, explaining he became a fan “only” 41⁄2 years ago after listening to Broza’s Masada concert collaboration with Jackson Browne. “I value the work I understand him to be doing. It’s difficult and hard, but on this side of hope,” he said. 

A relaxed 58-year-old Broza sat on stage armed with his guitar (something he says he can’t be on stage without), casually dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt as he talked to the audience of more than 400 people about his music career, which has spanned almost 40 years. He also spoke of his dedication to Middle East peace through music.

“Human relations is not something that happens overnight,” Broza said, explaining his longtime relationship with Said Murad, a Palestinian musician with whom Broza has collaborated over the years, and whose studio he used to record his newly released album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.”

A collaboration of Israeli, Arab and American musicians, the album  was co-produced by three-time Grammy Award winner Steve Earle and record producer Steve Greenberg, founder of S-Curve Records in New York City. 

Recorded over eight days in Murad’s East Jerusalem studio, the album features 14 tracks, including a version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” “Lion’s Den” (a poem by Judea Pearl, father of slain New York Times reporter Daniel Pearl), several tracks with Palestinian singer Mira Awad, and a brief appearance by Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean.

Broza believes reality can be transformed through the power of music. For example, while he initially met with skepticism from some Israeli musicians when he asked them to record with him in East Jerusalem, he said in the end they were able to productively collaborate. 

Unbeknown to Murad and Broza, both recorded in the same studio — in Bnei Brak, outside of Tel Aviv — during the 1980s. It was not until years later that they were introduced and built a friendship over coffee. “Lots of coffee. And more coffee,” Broza recalled with a laugh. 

Murad would invite Broza to East Jerusalem to drink coffee, relax and talk; the two converse in English because neither speaks the other’s native tongue. Many months and several years went by before Murad asked Broza if he would like to play something. Elated, Broza jumped at the opportunity.

Their first musical collaboration was “B’libi” (In My Heart) — a song about peace. Both musicians lobbied hard to get Israeli and Palestinian radio stations to play the song simultaneously on the air. After getting turned away by Israeli radio, Broza finally got the go-ahead from Israel’s military radio station (Galei Tzahal) and from Voice of Palestine. 

David Broza on stage at the Osher Marin JCC photo/abra cohen

On Easter Sunday 2005, “For four minutes and 44 seconds, both stations played this beautiful song and the Middle East enjoyed bliss,” Broza recalled.

Eventually “B’libi” was picked up by radio stations in the region, including Saudi Arabia. Even Hamas Radio called Broza and asked to play it. “That’s when we realized the magic music has that doesn’t make any sense,” he said with a smile.

Composing songs in Hebrew, English and Spanish, Broza calls Tel Aviv home, but with “one foot in Tribeca,” the singer splits his time between Israel and New York City. He also spends a lot of time on the road. His current tour includes stops in Boston, New York and Chicago.   

Broza’s audience at the Marin JCC included both longtime and more recent fans. Many Israelis attended his talk and sang along with his live version of “Yihye Tov.” Some recalled memories of hearing him on the radio and in concert in Israel.

Norm Frankel of Oakland has been listening to Broza for 35 years. “My best memory of him is listening to his music on Yom Ha’atzmaut near our kibbutz,” Frankel said. “It is so inspiring to hear him still believe in peace and working for it with Palestinians.”

For the last song at the JCC, Broza brought the Brandeis Hillel Day School choir on stage for a rendition of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

Is there an inherent political message in “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem”? Broza said the album “is the result of the politics of the Middle East; the music itself is the result of passion for life and romance.

“It’s love and romance under the cloud of an almost unsolvable political plight.”

The biggest challenge about “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” he said, was putting it together without losing focus on the fact that it is about the music. “We created a special environment so that the music will have a home, and I think I created that with the album,” Broza said.

And after collaborating with many musicians over the years, is there still one musician he would love to work with? “Tom Waits,” he said without hesitation.

Abra Cohen