Friday, February 28, 2014

David Broza – East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem

East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem

(A version of this review was published in the March 3, 2014 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

Singer-songwriter-guitarist David Broza has long been one of my favourite Israeli artists. In his music, he often combines elements of folk, flamenco, pop and rock styles to create something that is both universal and uniquely his own. Many of his songs are compelling and intense keeping listeners’ attention glued both to the music and to the messages in the songs.

Broza has long advocated Israel’s seeking a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians – one of his most beloved songs is “Yihyeh Tov,” which decades ago became an anthem of the Israeli peace movement – and nowhere is that more clear than on his latest album, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.

Broza purposefully recorded the album in an East Jerusalem recording studio owned by a Palestinian and on it he collaborates with a cast of Israeli, Palestinian and American singers and musicians on a repertoire of songs – some of which he wrote or co-wrote, others borrowed from other sources – most of which advocate for peace and co-operation.

The songs on East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem are primarily written and sung in English although a couple of them also have verses in both Hebrew and Arabic. Some of the songs are specific to the Israeli-Palestinian situation while others take on that meaning due to the context of the album, the artist and his collaborators. Several of the songs are controversial just by virtue of who wrote them.

Among the highlights of Broza’s own songs is the title track, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” which he co-wrote and sings with American-Haitian hip hop artist Wyclef Jean. The song recognizes the essential humanity of all people – Israelis and Palestinians and others from around the world – and expresses a longing for shalom and salaam, and a time when “the world will be a better place.” The musical interaction of Broza’s singing and Jean’s rapping is captivating and convincing.

But, without doubt, the most poignant song on the album is Broza’s musical setting of “The Lion’s Den,” a poem written by Judea Pearl, the Israeli-American university professor, about the horrific murder of his son, journalist Daniel Pearl, by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. Written and sung as an imagined narrative by Daniel of what he was witnessing in Pakistan in his final days and hours, he observes that unspeakable evil is being committed and justified in God’s name. Although it is sung quietly, “The Lion’s Den” is a song of unmistakable and unforgettable power.

One song that I think misses its intended mark is “Jerusalem,” written by Steve Earle, who co-produced the album. While it’s certainly well intentioned, the song absurdly seems to suggest the conflict between “all the children of Abraham” will be resolved when Jews and Muslims get around to accepting the peaceful teachings of Christianity. The song’s essential message ignores centuries of war and oppression wrought in Jesus’ name. (I made this same point in 2002 when I reviewed Earle’s album, Jerusalem, in the Montreal Gazette.)

I mentioned that several songs are controversial just by virtue of who wrote them. The most notable of these is “Mother” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which was written by Roger Waters, perhaps the most fervent anti-Israel boycotter in popular music. Others are “Every Day I Write the Book,” by Elvis Costello, who cancelled a concert in Israel in 2010 following pressure from Palestinian solidarity activists, and “Where Do the Children Play,” by Cat Stevens, a British convert to Islam who is alleged to have provided support to Hamas.

I think that by including those songs Broza is reaching out to anti-Israel boycotters with a message that peace will be found through dialogue, co-operation and collaboration.

If only they could understand that message.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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