David Broza doesn’t want the socio-political importance of his new “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” — a Steve Earle co-produced set recorded with both Israeli and Palestinian musicians in Palestinian-populated East Jerusalem — to eclipse that fact that it is, well, his next album.
“First and foremost, it’s all about the music,” Broza tells Billboard. “It has to be made clear that this was not made as a political statement. It’s not a joint Israeli-Palestinian summit or something like that. It’s my David Broza project, me coming to share my music with these new friends and collaborators. All of the things that go around that I see as just a natural thing, but not the intention.”
But the politically active and outspoken Broza knows full well that “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” — due out Jan. 14 and featuring his first-ever English compositions — makes a formidable statement. “I work away from the politics but with respect for the politics. If there’s a message there it is, first of all, to take music as a bridge builder,” explains Broza, who recorded over eight days at Palestinian musician Said Murad’s Sabreen Studio, with guest appearances by Wyclef Jean, the Palestinian rap duo G-Town, Arab Israeli singer Mira Awad and others. “It is a bridge-builder, even if it doesn’t solve all the problems of the Israelis and Palestinians.
“For my Israeli musicians, when they got home and started thinking about it, they realized they had actually seen through the wall — not the wall that was built to divide the West Bank and Israel, but the psychological divide, which is a very deep one. After so many years of conflict you are conditioned not to trust each other. But if you walk through that wall of disbelief and uncomfortable turf and you suddenly feel comfortable…If we respect each other and harmonize with each other, we can totally disagree but at least we look each other in the eye and say so and not hide behind guns. It makes you feel better about where we live and less threatened by the politics of it all, and then you can use that as the beginning of a bridge to look seriously at a way to bring down those walls and bring people together on a positive note.”
Broza says Earle, who he regards as “one of the finest and most inspiring musicians I know,” was key to creating “an environment where the album would come out of this camaraderie and friendship.” Broza says that Earle “got (the album concept) right away” but also focused on musical rather than political impact. “He stopped from going crazy and fixing tracks and going back and recording too many overdubs. He just said, ‘No, no, this is the take. Let’s move on…’ ”
And Broza was pleased that Earle was willing to harmonize on a version of his own “Jerusalem” that Broza recorded for the album (LISTEN ABOVE). “As I was preparing for (the album) I was thinking that we have to record ‘Jerusalem’ in East Jerusalem and Steve has to sing on it or play on it or do something — even if it’s not for the album,” Broza explains. “To me it was just an important way of doing a closure for him, out of respect. It’s an important statement; he’s a Christian coming to do this album with Israelis and Palestinians in this place, so it shows everybody’s related to this thing. He didn’t look at it as religious; he looked at it as something that affected him during the Gulf War, after 9/11. He was very affected by what was going on in the Middle East when he wrote this song, so it made sense for it to be part of what we were doing, too.”
“East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” also includes covers of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book,” Cat Stevens “Where Do the Children Play” and Pink Floyd’s “Mother” — an interesting inclusion in light of Roger Waters’ ongoing criticisms of the Israeli government and support of a cultural boycott of Israel.
In a statement, Broza responded: “Music and art and free thinking will always prevail. People can disagree on the most profound issues, but there is always a chance to bridge the divide as long as the exchange of ideas continues. Regardless of his views on the issue of Israel and Palestine, Roger Waters has written one of the most anti-boycott, boundary-breaking songs ever in ‘Mother.’ So yes, not only have I recorded this extraordinary song, but I have recorded in East Jerusalem using Israeli and Palestinian musicians, and I will perform it with those musicians next month when we tour the U.S. I say to Roger Waters: Instead of boycotting, please come join us in reaching across the lines that divide us. We the people — not the governments — will make peace with each other. Instead of shutting down communication, come to my country and engage in the open exchange of ideas that will make change happen.”
A documentary about the making of “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” is due out in March, and Broza celebrates the album’s release with a five-show U.S. run starting Jan. 14 at the Highline Ballroom in New York and also including shows in Charleston, W.Va., Washington D.C., Cambridge, Mass., and Chicago.