Q&A: Why no war can stop David Broza's music

In a wide-ranging interview, veteran Israeli singer tells Premium Zone why he hasn't lost sight of the hope he spread with his first song 'Yiheyeh Tov' (It will be okay).

David Broza (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
David Broza
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza is a musical legend and a long-time peace activist, who uses his art to build bridges, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Broza sits down with The Jerusalem Post  to discuss the power of music, the meaning behind his war-time activities, and why he never loses hope.
As an activist who has used music to promote peace, from your experience, what impact can music have?
It just so happens that the first song I ever wrote was Yiheyeh Tov (everything will be okay), which was an instant hit. So it’s as if I was destined to be a musician and at the same time indulge myself in the other virtues of music, to inspire people and go beyond just telling a story but actually being part of a call to action. I am not a revolutionary but I don’t think one has to become one to promote human compassion and mutual respect. Once u have these things, you have other ways for conflict resolution - we won’t solve conflict through war. I don’t think we have enough conditioning of the young generations and the general populations into thinking that everybody wants the same thing.
Do you have any specific stories of how this kind of activism has had an impact?
Sure - I have many. In 1977 when [then Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat arrived with message of peace to the people of Israel, [then prime minister] Menachem Begin had to bring that message to his government, to his party and the Knesset. And he suddenly found himself standing against a big body of his own political party, that had a majority opposing his acceptance of the Egyptian peace plan. So he needed support. That’s when a group of activists started a movement called Peace Now and those activists wanted a song to be sung at their manifestations for the peace process around the country - and they said ‘who sings Yihiyeh Tov? let’s call this guy!’ And suddenly I found myself recruited - we crisscrossed the country motivating across the board support for the peace process, which gave Begin the green light.
The name of your latest album and film project is East Jerusalem West Jerusalem - the fruits of an Israeli-Palestinian collaboration. What did you hope to achieve with this project?
We created the album from a Palestinian-owned studio in east Jerusalem. For eight days and eight nights we met with Palestinian musicians and Israeli musicians, and American singer songwriter Steve Earl who produced the album. During the time in the studio the only subject matter was music, and then there was hunger so we wanted food so we had Israeli and Palestinian chefs cooking for us. And then we wanted to bring down the food with wine so we had good Israeli wine. Really this type of bonding opens a path to respect and mutual understanding, which equals peace. And that’s just in my field, music. Its not dependency, it’s collaboration.
As a matter of fact it opened a way for me to venture into no-mans land into the Shuafat refugee camp, which is forsaken by everyone. There is so much that can be done to help them. And music has been the beacon, my guitar and my songs made we welcome in the Palestinian refugee camp, to the degree that I started a monthly meeting with kids for 18 months, teaching them rhythm and music.
Did they care that you were Israeli at the beginning?
They didn’t care at the beginning, middle or end. All they said was ‘Achla (cool),David’. They just wanted the guitar and the music. It was the first time they saw an Israeli without a gun, and that’s the memory that will remain with them, that there are people there.
You were born in Israel, and grew up in Spain and also lived in England and the US. Is there one national identity that you feel more connected to than others?
Israel. I’m Israeli all the way. I happened to have had an upbringing in an English school in Madrid, Spain and a year-and-a-half in a boarding school in England, where I was flogged and expelled. So yeah, I’m an Israeli no matter what, no matter how, I carry my identity, and my story with me. I really love Spain and Spanish culture; it’s had a major effect on my life and is part of me. But I’ve also been  playing in the US now for a good 30 years, and I’m very connected to the American culture, but I don’t feel American as a result, I just feel that I know America.
Why were you flogged and expelled from the English school!?
Obstinacy? Insistence on playing guitar at all hours and days and promoting my grandpa’s ideas of teaching peace and not war… ouch! It was a religious school - Carmel College.
Which is your favorite country to perform in?
There’s no such thing. I love Israel, I love the Middle East, I belong here. But my music cannot start and stop in Israel - I have to bring my songs to every corner of the world that will hear me. And that’s what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. And hence also my recording in English, Hebrew and Spanish. Even when I record a Walt Whitman poem, or Percy Bysshe Shelley poem or a Federico García Lorca poem, the melodies that I play and sing come out of my Israeliness.
Has any country ever refused that you perform there?
No, that’s never happened. I was invited to Qatar and I pulled out my guitar in the middle of the market and sang Yehiyeh Tov in Hebrew, and Shir Ahava Bedui and we were filming the reaction of the people, it was bizarre. They didn’t quite know what language it was. And then I was singing at a restaurant and all these Libyans and Syrians came up to talk to me and were thrilled with my music. I gave them my CD but I told them that they would have a problem going home with my CD because it was in Hebrew, and they said ‘no, we would love it.’
During Operation Protective edge you cancelled your Masada concert but still performed, with no audience. Why did you do decide to go ahead with this anyway?
I’m an obstinate person, I do things in my own way. I’ve been doing this for 22 years, I didn’t want anything to stop me, certainly not a war, and I didn’t want to put anyone else in harm’s way. So I compromised, and it was a big compromise. It wasn’t a devastating experience, but it was on the verge of one. It sends a message about me and my feelings about the power of music and culture and art. No matter how acute and dangerous and devastating the conditions are, the muses cannot be stopped.  And that was pure muse. It’s an obstinate statement of “I don’t stop singing.”
You’ve been known to play a lot in the miklatim (bomb shelters) during wartime. Why is this something you feel compelled to do time and time again and are people appreciative?
Of course they are appreciative - you have to be there to understand what they’re going through. They are in a state of terror and fear, life has been disrupted and they need diversion, they can’t just be glued to the TV all day - so we become social workers in a sense. That's my role- that’s what i can give.
Don´t you ever lose hope?
Never. I get angry. Being angry, disillusioned, disappointed is part of the process, but I never turn my back on it. Not yet. I worry - because the country is big now and everyone has a right to get the best and be treated equally and they all have to be governed in a fair way. But I don’t think this country is a less deserved country than others. It’s a young country - the same age as India and China, but it’s a small country, and they were created politically with the same people living there. Israel was created from scratch, it was invented. It’s a freak show here, very cool - mind boggling.
Broza recently launched a fundraising campaign to raise money to complete his project East Jerusalem West Jerusalem, a narrative about the people who made the film:

 
"It’s quite wonderful because this is not just about us; the conflict we have here needs treatment, but it’s just one conflict. I’ve been approached by a lot of people from the Latino communities in South America and the US to bring in conflict resolution methods through music, to bring music as a bridge builder to solve their problems. So this film is something that travels out to inspire others. It’s also a way of getting word out that this sort of thing is happening while everyone is under the impression that all we’re all at each other’s throats.
 
We will prevail through working together, dreaming together, playing music together, making movies, theater, and dance together." 
 
Broza is performing on Thursday night at Zappa Herzliya, on Friday night at Zappa Tel Aviv and Saturday night at Zappa Jerusalem.