The latest project from the acclaimed Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza involves a leap of faith, both culturally and politically. For his new CD, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” Broza, 58, crossed over into the Arab part of the city to record at a studio in east Jerusalem’s only refugee camp. He recorded the ambitious session with both Israeli and Palestinian musicians (including Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad and the Palestinian hip-hop duo G-Town), along with alt-country rocker Steve Earle and Wyclef Jean. The CD, Broza’s attempt to bridge cultures, also includes the Jerusalem Youth Choir, a group comprised of Israeli and Palestinian teens.
On “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” Broza records some original songs, but he also covers songs by Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters (“Mother”) and Elvis Costello (“Every Day I Write the Book”), both of whom support the cultural boycott of Israel. The Jewish Week caught up with Broza last week, a day after he sang a few tunes and spoke about the new recording at a Jewish Week-sponsored forum at Temple Emanu-El. This is an edited transcript.
Q: Did you have Paul Simon’s “Graceland” project in mind when you were conceiving of “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” — a cross-cultural session set against the backdrop of a cultural boycott?
A: No, not in particular, though I have always looked at [Simon] in that instance as breaking the taboo [by performing despite a cultural boycott] and [fighting against] apartheid. Music is the way to go; it’s the essence of the human search for dignity and understanding. You need those tools, you can’t shut them up. But we live in different times now. I don’t want to make comparisons [between Israel today and South Africa then]. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is a painful one for both people.
You’ve said that “music goes beyond the boycotts?” Is that really possible in the current climate?
I think of the music as my life — I want to do freely what I want, even when circumstances are not easily provided for. There’s a line from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “You make the road as you walk it.” I’m following Machado. I’m envisioning a road that carries me — maybe toward happiness or better times. … [Music] is my way of feeling enriched, redeemed. When you see a wall, when you’re a stream of water headed to the sea, you go around it, because that’s how you survive. You continue flowing. There’s nothing wrong with trying to understand the other side, another person’s point of view. To turn your back is to build a wall. I’d rather reach out.
OK, but why perform the songs of Roger Waters and Elvis Costello when they support the boycott? Surely there are dozens of songs about breaking barriers written by others who aren’t Israel detractors?
I grew up on this music. I loved it then and I love it now. I have to perform [these songs] in spite of anything that may ruin my impression of those who wrote them. [The boycott] doesn’t take away from the songs. These are crossroads songs for me, where I meet with Palestinians. We all love these same songs.
A Palestinian musician who I wanted on the session, a classical Arab musician, told me he knew everything Waters has done, especially “The Wall.” Imagine that. These songs are mutual meeting points.
Have you spoken to Waters about his support of the boycott?
If you had a quiet moment with him over a beer, what would you tell him?
I’d love to talk to him. I’d tell him to support and strengthen those trying to break down the walls, to break down the differences [between Israelis and Palestinian], to cultivate a scenario that would be a signal to the politicians — that people want an end to the crisis.
What if he thought he was doing just that by supporting the boycott?
Then we’d need a couple more beers.
What’s your takeaway from the “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” project?
I have to tell you that this project has brought so many beautiful people together. For a long time I was going to east Jerusalem by myself. Now, people are asking when is the next [session]? It’s was a beautiful process of relaxation, of putting away our paranoia.