David Broza is one of those fortunate artists who are never at a loss for a new project. When he was interviewed in this newspaper a year ago, he was talking about an album of musical settings of poetry by Pablo Neruda. That project, he said a few weeks ago, is still going on, but it got shoved to the back of the queue by another long-time dream turned into reality: a record and documentary film that put him in the studio with Israeli and Palestinian musicians for a program of songs about peace; the CD was recorded in east Jerusalem.
“This was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and when it suddenly came together, I had to put the Neruda project aside,” he told The Jewish Week at a press event launching the new CD “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” which is due out on Jan. 14. “I’ve got several tracks completed and I want to finish it, but it will have to wait until we’re done with this one.”
“This one” is a disarmingly low-key set filled with songs about “peace, love and understanding,” to quote the Nick Lowe lyrics of the first cut released from the album, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” That song is probably best known in Elvis Costello’s version. Costello is also represented on the set by his song “Everyday I Write the Book.”
Costello, of course, is one of the more prominent pop stars to join the boycott of Israel. Another is Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, whose song “Mother” Broza recorded for the new album.
Unsurprisingly, one of the first questions Broza was asked at the event was about his choice of material by such vocal and visible detractors of Israel. He noted that both songs are about the need for breaching barriers and communicating with others.
“I think the music goes beyond [the boycott],” he said. “Look, boycotts are much better than having people in the streets fighting, with blood and death the result. But the intellect suffers [in a cultural boycott]. … I worry that we’re losing the chance of ever getting better.”
Perhaps that is what Broza was thinking when, in one of the excerpts from the documentary that were screened that evening, he said, “I had to make this album in east Jerusalem. It’s about the collaboration. My work [for peace] can be through music. It’s all I know how to do.”
To that end, the CD represents a rare meeting of Jerusalem-based Palestinian musicians and technicians with their Israeli counterparts. The east Jerusalem studio in which they recorded has been in use in the Palestinian music community for 14 years, and it has an appealingly homemade look and sound.
“It’s like playing inside a guitar,” Broza said enthusiastically.
“An oud,” replied Steve Earle, who produced the album.
Earle is no stranger to political music or controversy. An outstanding singer-songwriter and one of the best of the many alt-country musicians to emerge from Texas at the end of the 20th century, he is a vocal opponent of the death penalty, and a spirited advocate for gun control who has made numerous appearances on behalf of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
More important, he is seriously rock-and-roll.
Although he seems like an unlikely collaborator for Broza at first glance, the pair seems to have a healthy and playful chemistry. When Earle was asked to describe their interaction, he could have been speaking for either one of them.
“I’ve probably written more songs about girls than anything else,” he joked. “I’m just a political person. Music seeps into your consciousness like nothing else does.”
The project represented Earle’s first trip to the Middle East, but he has first-hand experience of playing in a zone of conflict. He recalled touring Ireland and Northern Ireland in the 1980s. At the time, he said, he thought, “It’s the people who are kids now who are going to change the situation.”
That same thought came back to him when he and Broza met and recorded with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, a unique musical group consisting of Israeli and Palestinian teens who meet regularly to sing together at the Jerusalem YMCA. It is the only such group in Israel.
“The kids you see [in the documentary] are the ones who will change it,” Earle said.