It’s not easy being eclectic.
But international superstar David Broza has mastered the art of combining diverse musical styles while winning accolades in each of them.
Performing music that reflects unique aspects of nearly every country — even every neighborhood — he’s ever visited, the singer/songwriter — who said he has been to almost every state in the United States — noted that every part of the country has enough of a difference to elicit a “distinct awareness.”
“It’s all in my music, hidden in there,” he said. If you listen carefully, he continued, you can identify the “southern, Spanish, Israeli/Palestinian, blues, jazz, and folk influences” that make up his musical language.
Mr. Broza soon will appear in Manhattan — both live and online —for his 25th “Not Exactly Christmas” concert. He lives in Manhattan now — to be specific, in Tribeca — but for 17 years he lived in New Jersey, in Cresskill, where he “loved the house, the neighborhood, and the school system,” he said. (He has three children by a previous marriage, who went to school there.)
Mr. Broza was born in Haifa in 1955 and lived there until he was 12. That year, his family moved to Spain, because “my father” — businessman Arthur Broza — “wanted to try a new country for a bit.” The singer remained in Spain until it was time for his Israeli military service.
His ties to Israel are strong. Not only were his mother, father, and grandmother born there, but his grandfather was one of the founders of Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salam, a village of Israeli Jews, Arabs, and Christians. It is obvious from David Broza’s own work that this family commitment to social justice persists.
Today, Mr. Broza and his wife, Nili, live in Tribeca. They also have a home in Israel, but because of covid, they have only been there once since March. Normally, they split their time between the two countries.
In ordinary times, Mr. Broza does a lot of traveling. He goes from place to place, he said, to take a location’s “own information and culture and breathe them in.” By reflecting all that back to the audience, he said, you can win over audiences who are not used to his kind of music. While he always makes a special effort to meet members of the Jewish community wherever he goes, “the idea is to cross over to general audiences, to expose them” to musical styles they may not have heard before. “It’s a new thing for them,” he said. “Once they’re exposed to it, they get it, whether in Galveston or Evansville, Kentucky. I don’t force feed anyone. They share my joy.”
Among the gifts he took from his upbringing, Mr. Broza said, were the sounds of the countries he lived in. And he has woven them together so seamlessly that he can go back and forth between them, all in the same song. Spanish and Middle Eastern music are closely related; “for an Israeli, there is a familiar feeling, even until today,” he said, citing the significant impact that Jews and Moors made on Spanish culture, which remain today. “It’s like you’re approaching something familiar,” he said.
Mr. Broza doesn’t take his success for granted. “I travel the world with an artistic point of view,” he said; he becomes deeply involved with local musicians and poets, as he looks for ever-more-colorful lyrics. “Six of my albums are dedicated to American poetry,” and he has made an equal number of albums based on Spanish poetry.
In his upcoming show — which will include his signature fusion of Israeli hits, Spanish flamenco, Cuban rhythms, American folk, and rock and roll — Mr. Broza will be backed by a Cuban band. Spanish music and Cuban music are quite different from each other, he said. “Cuban music has more of an African feel”; it draws inspiration from its Caribbean setting.
The performance includes storytelling as well as music, and viewers can expect to hear stories as well as music from the performers.
Describing most band members as “notoriously shy,” unused to being “out front” during a performance, Mr. Broza said he hopes that being in a small venue like the City Winery, where the performers will be joined by only a handful of invited guests, the individual players will feel bolder about sharing their own personal experiences.
Mr. Broza hopes that the event, in this format, will “provide an opportunity not just to play but to introduce the musicians with their unique stories; to get the audience familiar with those who are creating the music. On camera, it’s easier for a shy bass drummer to talk a little.”
Many theaters throughout the country — including SOPAC in South Orange — are publicizing, marketing, and sharing some fundraising from the concert.
He is excited about the upcoming concert, although he’s done similar shows for several decades. “The music is great, and the actual event is sweet,” he said. “We did it for several years at Town Hall, and the 92nd St. Y, meeting the same crew every year. It’s a unique show for this time of year. It gives Jewish audiences something to look forward to, and they can bring their non-Jewish friends.” There will be no Christmas songs — but there won’t be any Chanukah songs either.
The concert series had a bittersweet beginning.
Mr. Broza was scheduled to perform in concert in New York on November 4, 1995. That was the day when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv. The show was canceled, but the theater doors remained open for anyone who wanted to come inside. According to the singer’s publicist, “The evening turned into an all-night vigil, drawing mourners from around the NYC region who gathered together to talk, sing, read poetry and mourn. The concert was rescheduled for the only available date: December 24th, 1995, and it became the first ‘Not Exactly Christmas Show.’”
Mr. Broza has just released his first instrumental album, “En Casa Limón.” The 12-track collection of guitar pieces, which he wrote, has been well reviewed by music critics, who have praised both the pieces themselves and Mr. Broza’s playing. Mr. Broza said that he found it harder to write this album than to craft his 40 or so others.
“It’s a different discipline, telling a story without one word,” he said. He wasn’t thinking of words as he wrote, he said, but of “colors and emotions.” When he writes, he said, “the melody has to get hold of me, to haunt me. I have to understand how I got to this point — melodically, rhythmically, dynamically. I intertwine notes to create melody and rhythm, not just to fill in” the music. Mr. Broza is self-taught and self-trained; he said that he is “very disciplined” and has practiced a lot every day throughout his 43-year career.
Produced by Grammy-award winner Javier Limón, the new album was recorded in Madrid. Eleven of the 12 recordings on the album were played using the late celebrated flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia’s guitars, which had not been touched since the artist’s death in 2014.
Mr. Broza said that he had not intended to play them, and he didn’t really think about it when Mr. Limón put the instrument in his hands. Later, though, he realized the honor he had been given. “When it was done, it dawned on me that I had recorded on the same guitar.”
Mr. Broza has been involved in projects fostering peace and social justice for a long time. In 1977, he released the song “Yihye Tov,” which is viewed as an Israeli peace anthem. “Music is a bridge builder,” he said. His album “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem” — which Netflix later made into a documentary — was recorded entirely in the Palestinian Sabreen studio in East Jerusalem, and it featured both Israeli and Palestinian musicians.
From that came yet another project. “Someone in New York saw me and recognized me from the film,” he said. “The man said, ‘Give guitars to these kids.’” The idea took hold. Under the banner Project One Million Guitars, “I opened a foundation, raised money, and designed full-size guitars” with necks to fit the hands of 8- and 9-year-olds. They’re made well, he said, calling his $100 guitar — bought when he was 12 — “still the best sounding guitar in the room. If it’s made well, you’ll be grateful later.
“This will be a guitar for underprivileged kids in the U.S.,” Mr. Broza said. If a recipient shows a commitment to the instrument over a two-year period, he will get to keep it. Obviously, then, each year Ms. Broza will have to provide new guitars. The project already has been brought to Jewish and Arab communities in Israel, with Mr. Broza supplying curricula and teachers. The end goal is to have participants from different communities come together and play.
Unfortunately, covid has intervened in this, as it has in everything else, Mr. Broza said. But when the pandemic has passed, “we will resume.”
Who: Singer/songwriter David Broza
What: Will perform his 25th “Not Exactly Christmas” show
When: On December 23rd, 8 p.m.
Where: The City Winery in Manhattan and online
More: The Cuban band that will accompany Mr. Broza in New York includes a flute virtuoso, master percussionist, tres guitarist, and bassist. (A tres is a Cuban instrument; its sound “has become a defining characteristic of the Cuban song,” Wikipedia tells us.) Special guests include Spyro Gyra co-founder Jay Beckenstein, Julio Fernandez and the bassist Francisco Centeno. As always, there will be additional unannounced guests.
For information: Go to www.sopacnow.org/events or call (973) 313-2787.