ONE SOUL AT A TIME: Israeli superstar singer David Broza bringing his music to Chicago

By George Castle, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Not a hint of a political statement will be in the air when Israeli superstar singer David Broza takes the stage in Skokie on Dec. 28, along with special guest performer Ali Paris.

Despite recent White House-generated events in Jerusalem and his 40-year status as a campaigner for Middle East peace, Broza points at both art for art’s sake and the calendar as the main themes for his concert at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.

“We both committed to entertaining 100 percent of the time,” he said of his tandem with Paris, a virtuoso on the qanun, a rare 76-string zither that dates back to the 14th century and is played by only a handful of people across the globe.

“We’re not coming with any big (political) message of any sort. We’re coming with the finest messages for this time of year, of togetherness, for Chanukah, Christmas, New Year’s. People will have to put their politics aside. This is a complete, honest performance.”

Paris happens to live in Morocco and the West Bank. His parents reside in Ramallah. But he is really a citizen of the world of music. A child prodigy, he has collaborated with a long list of world-renowned artists such as Alicia Keys, Quincy Jones, and Bobby McFerrin.

Paris’s solo performances have reached diverse audiences from the Newport Jazz Festival, the White House and Royal Palace in Jordan. He has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Philharmonic, and is featured in the Grammy-winning Spanish documentary “Entre2aguas” and the Hollywood movie “Noah.”

Like Broza, Paris has been a social activist. He has worked with numerous artists to benefit the work of Doctors Without Borders and Keep a Child Alive, including doing a duet with Spanish star Alejandro Sanz that has funded many humanitarian projects in Africa and the Middle East.

“Paris is one of the finest, if not the finest, qanun players on Earth,” Broza said. “He is so good, and young and full of energy, and full of love that the fact he is a Palestinian only makes it a greater pleasure for me. At the end of the day, music is what brings us all together. There’s no judgment. This is the time to show miracles can happen.

“I refuse to submit to cynicism. I refuse to listen to the cynics. I really believe music is a pure expression of love and emotion. You’re seeking the purity and the beauty. No matter if you’re 17 or 62 like me or if you’re older, it’s there in every aspect of life. That’s what’s going to make it worth coming together under one roof and listening to music.”

Broza has been fighting cynicism and conflict almost from the first day he began playing music. From his whirlwind finger picking to Flamenco percussion and rhythms, to a signature rock sound, his music reflects a fusion of the three countries in which he was raised:  Israel, Spain and England.

In 1977, his hit song “Yihye Tov,” its lyrics roughly translated as “Things Will Be Better,” was written during the peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. “Yihye Tov” became a huge hit.

Ever since, Broza has been working to promote a message of peace, starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  A string of multi-platinum albums followed. He performs in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Spanish.

In 2007, a concert at Masada featured Broza with special guests Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin.  Broza has shared the bill with Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and other top artists.

Longtime UNICEF goodwill ambassador Broza attempted to top himself in 2013.  He brought together Israeli and Palestinian musicians for eight days to work side-by-side in an East Jerusalem recording studio.  The crew combined to produce a documentary and companion album, “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem,” a collection of 13 songs that blended cultures, languages and styles into a powerful statement about collaboration and coexistence.

Some of the album was played on both Israel Defense Forces radio and Palestinian radio.

Broza not only performs all over the world, but advocates his ideas internationally via thoughtful interviews.

“We need to communicate if we are not to leave it to the voices of doubters, of prejudice and hatred,” he recently told The Guardian in the United Kingdom. “You cannot allow people to think that all is just black and white. We need education if we are to learn how to create respect. It is not that I don’t see evil, bad, negativity and violence. I see it and I refuse to submit to it.”

In another British interview, this time with the Camden New Journal in London, he detailed how he and Israeli Tzruya Lahav, the original violinist in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, co-wrote a song called “The Juggler,” based on a true story.

“We wrote this story of this young man whose brother was killed in a terrorist attack,” he said, “and instead of becoming vengeful, he becomes a healer and spends his life transporting Palestinian patients who are gravely ill and taking them from Gaza to Israeli hospitals on a daily basis, then bringing them back. They take 100 patients a day – so remarkable, like Mother Theresa, he’s the humblest of the humble people.”

But in his interview with Chicago Jewish News, Broza never attempted to classify his music as a sweeping game-changer. If he can sway people in small groups, move the needle a couple of points, he feels he has made progress.

“One soul at a time,” he said. “You can’t take the whole world and change it. I’ve been on the road for 40 years. I’ve haven’t once turned against myself and my principles. It’s a rite of passage to sing for people who disagree with me. If I work with right wingers, settlers, Palestinians, in jails with people serving time, with the handicapped, I come with a message basically of putting people together and putting your mind at ease.

“When you sing, or you talk, and face these moments, your heart just enlarges, it feels larger in your chest. You’re filled with hope and great vibes. You get addicted to it. It feeds you hope and positivity. That’s what you leave behind.

“Everybody has to struggle to make ends meet and to make themselves happy. You walk out (after a concert) reassured things still exist. You are bombarded with so many issues the world deals with that, at the end of the day, you feel exhausted, wonder if everything is coming to an end. And then you come to a good concert.”

Broza does not believe the divisions that are crackling through the world, and dramatically enhanced recently in the U.S., are the products of Russian meddling or Donald Trump bombast.

“I think it’s an evolution,” he said. “Look at Spain. Or Britain with Brexit. It’s been 70 years since World War II and the world is changing into some form of a new order in a sense. Perhaps that’s what gave birth to the election of Donald Trump, the most unexpected, unlikely man to become the world leader.

“It’s a circumstance of the times. The change has got to come and unfortunately we’re going through this in a very volatile, and a very unexpected and cruel manner. I am disturbed by this.”

In Broza’s mind, there is no such thing as the good ol’ days coming back.

“We have a hope, a delusional state of mind, that things will go back to the way they were,” he said. “They simply can’t. Just look at the world of music.

“For the past 25 years, there’s been a real surge of music-for-all through the internet. You don’t have to really abide by the laws of retail where I own the property and you buy it from me or the record company.

“Now you can download things for free. All the musicians, especially from my generation who thought they could hold on to a great career and produce hit records again and again, the dream is over. Today you just have to use any way to reach out to a new audience. It’s not like the old days when the record companies would provide you with public relations and marketing. It’s different. The same is with the job world. Automation is taking over.”

Still, the concept of a vivid live performance has never changed. And Broza and Co. intend to put on their usual good show Dec. 28.

In addition to Paris, Broza’s Skokie ensemble features talented Israeli and American musicians.

On recorders will be Tali Rubinsen, who combines classical music with jazz and contemporary styles, pioneering a revolutionary approach to recorder playing. Bass guitarist will be Israeli native Uri Kleinman. On piano and keyboards will be Jerusalem native Shaul Eshet, also a composer and producer who performed and recorded with some of Israel’s leading musicians. Rounding things out will be New York-based drummer Yuval Lion and on guitar will be Israeli native Jonathan Levy.

The performing arts center crowd obviously will recognize many of Broza’s tunes. Broza is a folk-rock devotee putting his own spin on classics.  

“I’ll perform songs the audience knows, but I try to give them some excitement so the performance becomes something that’s memorable for them. I really have to constantly work on my job, how to run a show every night.

“Talent is a given. You’ve got to make the most of the talent. I find that writing is the most challenging part of it all. It challenges me to be inspiring. If it isn’t, I’m going to have a hard time convincing those on the other side of the microphone.

“I write the music and work with lyricists and poets.  It’s pure magic when it happens. The actual performance is giving it all you got. You fall on the sword every night. You take no prisoners. You give every bit of energy you have. It hasn’t changed in the 40 years I’ve been on the road. That takes discipline, to take it to a level where there’s no compromising.”

Will he do it until he’s 90 like Tony Bennett, an annual highlight at Ravinia?

“Unreal,” Broza replied.

In his case, he won’t be leaving his heart in San Francisco. If Broza does go on tour another couple of decades from now, he’ll do it fully in the knowledge he’s trying to stitch the world together, one soul at a time.

David Broza will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets are $38-$68. Visit www.northshorecenter.org/event/david-broza for more information or his web site at www.davidbroza.net.

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