Renowned Israeli singer and songwriter David Broza brought a dose of “peace, love and understanding” to downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night, playing a mix of some of his beloved Hebrew classics with mostly English songs from his latest album released Jan. 14.
Broza, 58, of Tel Aviv captivated a diverse audience at the historic Pico Union Project with his smooth vocals, pop-folk style and energetic flamenco-infused rhythms. He teamed up on several songs with Arab-Israeli artist Mira Awad, whose sweet voice is also featured on the new “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem” album.
But it was the album's song “The Lion's Den,” an adaptation of a poem written by Judea Pearl in memory of his slain son, reporter Daniel Pearl, that was the emotional apex of the sold-out concert. It was only Broza's second performance of the song and Pearl and his wife, Ruth, who are longtime Encino residents, were watching as Broza's guests in the front row. The audience grew still as Broza strummed his guitar, belting out the haunting lyrics referencing Daniel Pearl's 2002 kidnapping by terrorists when he was the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal.
“Come walk the road to the lion's den/ South of midnight, Karachi, Pakistan...”
Immediately after the song, Broza stretched his arm out to Pearl. The two clasped hands and shared a poignant look amid thunderous applause.
“I felt that Danny is still alive,” said an emotional Pearl, who is originally from Israel and is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
Pearl wrote the poem in his son's memory about five years ago on the anniversary of his death because he didn't want his son to be alone, he said. Pearl wanted others to join him on that fateful trip to Karachi, where his son was abducted while retracing the steps of Richard Reid, the terrorist known as the shoe bomber.
“David Broza proved to me that I succeeded,” Pearl said. “He was not alone. He had future generations of comrades with him, fighting for the same principles.”
Daniel Pearl's family and friends say the talented reporter, who was raised in Encino and played the violin, helped foster mutual respect and understanding among diverse cultures through his journalism, music and dialogue.
The song about Daniel Pearl and how it came to be is magical, Broza told his audience.
Coincidentally, Broza had tentatively called his latest album “David in the Lion's Den” before it became “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem.” He was talking about the songs he had recorded and its working title with his good friend Peter Himmelman, when the American singer/songwriter exclaimed that he had just heard Judea Pearl read a poem at a synagogue that he had written about his son entitled “The Lions' Den.”
Intrigued, Broza decided to ask Pearl if he could see the poem and use the words. The multi-platinum artist, whose career spans some 40 years, labored on the adaptation for four months before he brought it into the studio for a recording that included Jews as well as an orchestra of young Arabs from Nazareth, Israel.
“It's a very personal, very touching, haunting poem, which I read and thought I want to turn into a song,” Broza said after the show. “The challenge was to stay focused again on editing the poem without losing the sweetness, and the feeling and the deep emotion that Judea Pearl had put in it because most of the listeners will never connect the words and the song to the drama and tragedy that's hidden within it.”
For Broza, who has three children and three step children, Pearl's poem represents the search for hope and the need to go on in spite of a father's deep pain and loss, he said. Those who haven't lived through such sorrow can experience it in a way through Pearl's poem.
“And there's something very strong about (that), which makes life even more meaningful,” Broza said.
Broza's new album was produced by Grammy-winners Steve Earle and Steve Greenberg, includes Israeli, Palestinian and American musicians and was recorded in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem over eight days. Broza chose to record there so that his Israeli-Jewish musicians could work with Palestinians in their own environment “and see that it's just as beautiful and lovely as it would be with anybody,” he said.
The album includes song titles such as “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem,” “Ramallah-Tel Aviv,” and “(What's So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” a cover of Nick Lowe's classic song.
While the album may not be apolitical, Broza said he chose to focus on the music — which he is very proud of — and the human principles of love and human compassion rather than the hot-button themes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Awad, who is also an actress, said she enjoys working with Broza and likes the themes he conveys. Her family is completely supportive of her musical collaboration with Broza, she said, as she grew up in a liberal Arab-Israeli home.
As for the critics, they will always exist no matter what one does, she said, and she has learned how to maintain authenticity.
“I do not choose the artists I collaborate with according to race, nationality, religion, gender,” Awad said. “I work with David because I have a great connection with him. All the ‘collateral messages' that this kind of collaboration might convey, is an added value. A good one.”
Follow Brenda Gazzar on Twitter: @bgazzar