Israeli Troubadour Uses Music To Bridge Divides

Jan 10, 2014
Originally published on January 14, 2014 3:13 pm

Singer-songwriter David Broza is an icon in his native Israel.

His first song “Yihye Tov,” written more than 30 years ago during the Arab-Israel peace talks, became the anthem of the peace movement. He has toured all over the world and has recorded more than 30 albums since.

Broza’s new album “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” unites Israeli and Palestinian musicians, along with musicians Wyclef Jean and Steve Earle, to sing songs of peace and coexistence.

Broza joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss his new album and perform some songs in studio. Hear the full versions of those songs below:


  • David Broza, Israeli singer/songwriter. His latest album is “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.” He tweets @DavidBroza.
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CHAKRABARTI: David Broza is something of an icon in Israel. The singer-songwriter has recorded more than 30 albums, several of which went platinum. Broza has also been a prominent peace activist for more than three decades. Broza's latest album pulls together his music and activism. It's called "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem." David Broza brought his guitar when he recently visited our studios, and here he is playing his version of "Jerusalem," a classic Steve Earle song. The song appears on Broza's new album which Earle also produced.


CHAKRABARTI: That was terrific.

: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, tell me what was the inspiration for "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem?"

: Well, I come from Israel, and my career started in Israel and is actually based around Israel, although I've recorded many albums outside of my Hebrew language. I recorded a lot of albums in the United States. And I've got about three albums I did in Spain because I grew up part of my life in Spain, so I speak fluent Spanish. And I have been working right from the start of my career, besides the music, I've kind of been part of the - what do you - if you want the call it, the peace movement, the pro-peace movement.

And, you know, these 36 years of my life and 36 years of Israel's history and the Middle East history. And about 14 years ago, I was introduced to a Palestinian band, and the band leader - the band is called Sabrin. And the guy's name is Sayid, and we became friends. There was no agenda. He comes from the Palestinian side, I come from Israeli side. And we just struck a friendship, which resulted in me going very frequently to his studio in East Jerusalem.

And about three years ago, it occurred to me that whenever I go up to East Jerusalem, I am the only Israeli. And three years ago, I started writing songs in English. And I'm thinking, this is the kind of album I want to record in East Jerusalem. And this time, I'm going to bring my Israeli musicians. And not only that, I've summoned American producer, the great Steve Earle...


: ...who not only did I get him, but I hardly finished requesting his participation when he said, hey, Broza, I'm on. There's a million and one reasons why one would not go to Israel. OK. I didn't even finish my sentence and Steve Earle was onboard. And for eight days and eight nights we created "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem."


CHAKRABARTI: So that's "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem," the title track of your new album. And you wrote it and sang it, of course, there with Wyclef Jean. But, David Broza, I wonder, why was it important for you to have the title track emphasize the divided nature of the city?

: To tell you the truth, I was kind of reluctant. But when I called Wyclef Jean and I said, let's sit down and write something for my next album, which will be recorded in East Jerusalem. He said, sure, come up one night. It took a while, but I went - I came up. So we sit around the mics and literally start singing. And he's leading it. He says, same face in the Gaza is the same face out in Nevada, you know, all these things. And I think - and I'm answering him...

(Singing) So many places all share the same faces...

And then he goes...

(Singing) East Jerusalem, West...

I'm thinking, all right. Let's say it that way. I mean, he doesn't even know. He's never been there.





CHAKRABARTI: Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, his new album is "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem." This is HERE AND NOW.



We're talking with Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza about his new album "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem." Here's another track off that album, it's called "Why Can't We Live Together?"


CHAKRABARTI: Broza's new work is an eclectic, soulful bunch of tracks that he recorded at the studios of a Palestinian friend in East Jerusalem. Broza is also a well-known peace activist in Israel, and before the break, he described how the album came into being. And that often when visiting the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, he'd find that he was the only Israeli musician there in that part of the city. So I asked Broza how that made him feel.

: Well, you know, I'm primarily an entertainer. I sing love songs. I write about love. I perform about love. But there's also the private person. I'm a citizen of my country and a citizen of the world, and I care about things. I watch the news, I live the news. In Israel, in particular, you live the politics. So it seems, for me, while I was developing my career and I had that first song, "Yihye Tov," "Things Will Be Better," which had a political connotation to it and came from a political inspiration.

And 99.9 percent of the time, politics has no romance. But the people are driven by romance, by passion. And so I think that's where my role comes in. I remind them of the passion of that and the romance behind it. And so 36 years later, I'm still not only committed, I have seen so much. So I'm still that positive guy who wrote that song then. And so I - when I was introduced to these musicians in East Jerusalem, it was very, very obvious to me that I'm going to strike up a relationship, a meaningful one, and stay there as long as I'm welcomed.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So let's talk a little bit more about some particular songs, because I want to hear a little bit of a song called "Key To The Memory." It's one that was co-written with the Palestinian composer Said Mrad who owns the studio where you recorded this album, using a verse in Hebrew, and then Palestinian singer Mira Awad sings in Arabic. So let's listen to it.


: Well, the "Key To The Memory" is really about refugees.


: Not necessarily Palestinian refugees. It's about the people who are displaced all these places in the world where it could be from a tsunami, it could be from war, all kinds of reasons why people have to move. But, you know, the first thing that you do is you erase the immediate past and try to move on in life. And then sometimes your memory becomes, you know, a little bit vague. And what I'm trying to say is hold on to the key to the memory and don't forget where you're from. Always remember and always allow yourself to fall into that place because this is you.


CHAKRABARTI: So you mentioned refugees. There's one more song that I want to hear from "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem." And this is a song called "Peace (Ain't Nothing But a Word)," which you co-wrote with the Palestinian duo G-Town.

: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: Let's listen to this.

: And Steve Earle.

CHAKRABARTI: And Steve Earle.


: This is a poem that I wrote - originally, it was a poem that are played with words where I was imagining, you know, kids pretending to be a word and spelling it out. I wrote it in my sleep, literally. I, like, typed it on my back very half asleep. Next morning I found it. I knew this was a - something that I would want to put in the liner notes in the album.

And Steve saw that. And he said, this could be a great song. So I'm going to bring you a loop of rhythm. I'm going to write you a refrain, so you can sing. And he is the one who put together the "Peace (Ain't Nothing But A Word)." He wrote those words, and helped reshape the words altogether. And then Muhammad did his English and Muhammad's partner, these are refugees from the camp from Shu'afat in East Jerusalem. And they're really wonderful, wonderful musicians and great friends. And so, Fadi and his partner sings in Arabic. And then I called an Israeli hip hop guy at the scene, and it's not far from where we stand altogether in the movement. It is absolutely everything the album is about.


CHAKRABARTI: So, G-Town, as you just mentioned, they're home is the Shu'afat refugee camp.

: Yeah. Muhammad Mughrabi is born there, raised there and doesn't look like he will ever leave.

CHAKRABARTI: And you've been there, you visited...

: I worked with him there, yeah. It started with when I was saying, would you take me to your camp? And he was surprised but he said yes. And then we started going every night from 1 in the morning till sunrise. And while everybody else is sleeping, I would be working with him in getting the vibe. The next day I'd be back recording in the studio.

And this turned out - on the last visit, I said, can I come and - is there a chance I could ever perform or work with some kids? And we're - we've come to the point where we're actually - it seems like we are building a school for music and performing arts in the camp. They've never had that before. The kids are so psyched and the parents are so happy.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, what I enjoyed most about listening to the new album was that through the music you hear a more textured sound of life in Jerusalem. Because, you know, when - outside of the region, all the news that goes on there is painted in very stark colors.

: Totally.

CHAKRABARTI: Whereas real life is never so black and white. So I'm wondering, as people do hear the album and listen to you perform, what do you hope they take away from it?

: First of all, I want them to take away the music. Music is definitely a bridge builder, and it's a way to reach out, not just in Israel or Palestine. I'm not thinking that we're going to resolve any problems in Israel or Palestine. My particular relationships with these people is going to be great. Maybe it'll affect others and inspire.

For Muhammad, he wants the kids around him and the kids in the camp to be inspired to become musicians 'cause he says it's changed his life. And I think it can change lives of people in the favelas, in the ghettos, in East L.A., down in deep South and in all kinds of places which impoverished, it seems like nothing else can help, I think music does.

CHAKRABARTI: David Broza's new album, "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem," comes out on January 14th. Thank you so much for coming today.

: Thank you very much.

CHAKRABARTI: And we recorded one additional song with David Broza when he visited our studios. He did bring his guitar, as I mentioned. Here he sings "One to Three" from his new album. It's the first song he ever wrote in English.


CHAKRABARTI: David Broza performing right here in the HERE AND NOW studios. You can hear the full version of this song and two others at From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.


I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.