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Israel's David Broza bridges cultural divide to record album

Courtesy photo
Singer-songwriter David Broza, who was born in Israel and raised in England and Spain, recorded an album using both Isreali and Palestinian musicians at a recording studio in East Jerusalem. He hopes the project will help unite the divided city.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza doesn't like walls.

For years, he's left the wealthy, relatively safe confines of West Jerusalem to make music in the eastern part of the city, at a small studio owned and operated by Palestinians.

He's recorded several albums there, including his latest, "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem." Released this week, the record features American, Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

Broza will appear on West Virginia Public Radio's Mountain Stage at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19. Advance tickets are still available for $15 at www.mountainstage.org, 1-800-594-TIXX and at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston. Tickets also will be available for $25 at the door.

He said he wanted to record the album in East Jerusalem because people in the western part of the city have such little contact with those in the impoverished Palestinian section.

"I thought it was time to bring together Israeli musicians to East Jerusalem," he said. "It's time to introduce this to my buddies from Tel Aviv."

But there's a lot of political and cultural pressure to keep Israelis in the West and Palestinians in the East from co-mingling.

While album producer Steve Earle was eager to help out with the project, Broza had some difficulty convincing his fellow Israelis to join up.

He tried to convince them East Jerusalem was safe. He had been recording there for years without incident. But a month before recording was set to begin, Broza said it looked like none of the musicians were going to show up.

Broza had already booked the planes, hotel rooms, recording space and caterers. His record company had already invested money in the project.

"I literally felt like some hardened rock was forming in my stomach. I felt that angst. I really didn't feel happy," he said. "I'm only making music, I'm not coming with some political banner, I'm not calling war on politicians. I'm just calling my friends to come and play with me."

Things changed about two weeks later, however, when Broza invited some of the participants to a rehearsal dinner at the recording studio. He had assembled a team of Palestinian and Israeli chefs to prepare the meal, and as the food came to the table, Broza said he watched as everyone became instantly more relaxed.

"The joy of sitting around the table, eating and drinking like kings . . . I could feel, something's going to happen," he said.

By the time recording started, there were up to 100 people hanging around the small studio. The musicians would record all day and feast at night.

Broza watched as everyone became relaxed and friendly.

"The music sounded sweeter and sweeter by the day," he said. "The wine and the food prevailed."

Broza said Jewish musicians are influenced by a wide variety of styles, from Middle Eastern music, European classical and American pop.

"Our parents are from all over the place," he said.

But most Palestinian musicians have little experience with Western music and its 12 chromatic keys, sharps and flats.

"They play in Arab keys. They play quarter-tones," he said.

Broza was concerned the Palestinians wouldn't be able to follow along with his rock and folk songs . . . until the band started playing together

Near the end of "East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem," Broza sings a cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother."

The song is a staple of American rock radio, but the Arab musicians had never heard it. As a result, Broza and company created a totally fresh version of the old favorite, weaving together traditional Middle Eastern string instruments and percussion with electric guitars.

"It's where the East and West meet. This is how we do it," he said. "This is what folk music was originally about. Putting people together and singing."

Broza and Earle brought in the Jerusalem Youth Choir, made up of children from both sides of the city, to sing back-up on his cover of "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding."

While the group performs and practices regularly, Broza said the children seldom get time to just hang out. But between recording sessions, the members escaped to a nearby playground.

"We found them screaming at each other, playing tag, beating each other up. It was the first time they felt freedom with each other," he said.

The party lasted for eight days and nights before everyone packed up and went home.

"It sounds almost like a miraculous event," Broza said. "We had created a utopia."

A film crew shot video of the whole recording, which will soon be released as a documentary.

Broza hopes the album will lead to some kind of change in Jerusalem but also hopes the music will inspire people in other areas of the world - drug lords in Mexico, gangs in New York, even lovers in the middle of a spat - to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

"Music can unite everybody," he said.

The history, politics and culture that divide us are complicated. But folk songs, those are simple.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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