Showcasing his renowned staccato picking and flamenco-infused Israeli pop style, guitarist-songwriter David Broza electrified an audience at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre event venue last week.
The musical guest of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s 2013 campaign closing event, Broza played a selection of his hits and poems-put-to-guitar in an intimate concert on Jan. 30.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced a Broza performance, the man has a solid stage presence and can captivate a crowd both with his expert and emotive flamenco strumming techniques and his storytelling abilities.
Broza, the son of an Israeli-English businessman and folksinger mother, was born in Haifa but raised and schooled in both England and Spain from ages 12 to 18, when he retuned to Israel to serve in the army.
He began his musical career in 1977, immediately after his Israel Defence Forces service – during which time he’d started playing guitar in Israeli cafés and bars in his off-service hours to make some extra money – though he’d initially planned to become a graphic artist.
Since then, the trilingual musician has released 28 albums and received worldwide accolades. His presence has also been felt in North America, when he took up residence in New Jersey for 17 years to study American poets.
He’s been called the Israeli Bruce Springsteen and a post-modern Leonard Cohen, as well as drawing comparisons from music critics to the musical stylings of Jackson Browne and Gordon Lightfoot.
On this night, the Israeli troubadour interspersed tales from his youth living abroad in Madrid – where he fell in love with flamenco music – with his love of Israel and the many collaborations he’s worked on in his home country.
One story in particular shed light on some of the inner turmoil that fuels Broza’s creativity. A chance meeting with one of his favourite Spanish poets, Pablo Guerrero, provided a moment of levity at the concert.
“I was back in Madrid and I booked myself a couple of shows at this bar. After one of them, an elderly man walks into my dressing room and I immediately recognized him as Guerrero. I was shocked. And instead of telling him what an honour or privilege it was to meet him, I asked him if he would consider writing with me. To which he said ‘no,’” Broza recounted, the audience laughing at the foible.
But Guerrero did invite him to his home for coffee and asked Broza to tell him more about himself.
“So, maybe because he was a stranger, I began to tell him deep, dark things about myself. And I kept going. Eventually, he told me to stop and that I was depressing him,” he said, eliciting more laughter from the audience.
Yet days later, Guerrero faxed him a poem based on all Broza told him. It was a dark and depressing ode, but once put to song, it became one of his greatest hits, he said.
Finishing the tale, Broza launched into it, Lloro (Amarga Es Tu Ausencia) – Cry (Bitter Is Your Absence), a haunting song that held the audience rapt.
Hit after hit emanated from the Israeli musician, culminating in a three-song finale for which he invited fellow Israeli musician and oud master Yair Dalal on stage, to perform two songs – the beautiful Bedouin Love Song and an extended jam – before inviting the JRoots Supplemental Jewish School choir to join them in a rendition of arguably his most popular song, Yihiyeh Tov (All Will Be Well), his anthem for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The choir, comprising children aged four to 12, stood as a group behind Broza and Dalal, smiling, and confidently chanting out the chorus and swaying to the song when prompted by the two elder musicians.
At one point, Broza, 57, looked back at the choir and told the audience how the song is a wish for the children of Israel and those of the Palestinians might one day live together in peace “under the olive trees. And that fresh new grass will grow over the graveyards in the name of love and peace.
“For after 100 years of war, we haven’t and will not lose hope,” he proclaimed.
With that, Broza, with Dalal conducting the choir, belted out the final refrain to the song and exhorted the kids and the crowd to sing out “Yihiyeh Tov” as he strummed furiously, before standing and taking his final bows with the children.
The choir closed the night with a rendition of Hatikvah.