David Broza: More than a musical United Nations

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Photo: Allan Tannenbaum

BY DAVID HINCKLEY

When David Broza signed his first English-language record deal in 1987, the label told him his musical category would be “unique.”

It wasn’t necessarily the ideal marketing strategy.

“If people are going to pay to hear your music,” says Broza, “they like to know what they’re going to hear. Is it jazz? Is it rock? What is it?”

At the same time, Broza says, “I never worried about it,” because for one thing, the “unique” part is true.

He’ll prove that again March 20 when he brings his latest musical ensemble to the Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington.

Broza, 64, who was born in Israel, grew up in Spain and England, then lived in the U.S. before moving back to Israel, has recorded extensively over the last 43 years in Hebrew, Spanish and English. He has recorded anthems, rock ‘n’ roll, folk-rock and the ethnic sound of multiple continents.

He put unreleased poems of the late Townes Van Zandt to music and made them into an album. He has recorded with hip-hop artists. He has cut records in Jerusalem with Israeli and Palestinian musicians playing together.

He’s now finishing up his first album of instrumentals, which he says proved particularly challenging “because I have always thought of my songs as stories, and without lyrics, I was wondering if I could keep myself interested. I found I could.”

So it should be no surprise that his present tour, including the Landmark show, will head off in yet another direction.

He’s playing at Landmark with Trio Havana, which logically enough is a Cuban group that includes percussionist Manuel Alejandro Carro; guitarist Yunuel Jiminez and bass player Jorge Bringas. They will be joined by one further guest, flutist Ital Kriss, whose style is described as combining jazz, Latin and Middle Eastern music.

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“I’ve been listening to Cuban music for a long time,” says Broza, “and I always wanted to find musicians who would give me that sound. It’s Afro-Cuban, not salsa.

“When I heard these guys, I introduced myself and said someday I’d like to have you play with me. And they looked at me like, yeah, sure, they’ve heard that before. But I called them and we arranged it.

“It’s a real feeling of collaboration we have. Normally I work on songs in a rehearsal hall space, but with this group we just sit around and play.

“On stage, we play the songs so people will know them, but with little differences. It’s like dressing my songs in a Cuban flavor.”

The trick, Broza says, “is that we don’t play the songs for the audience, we play them for ourselves – and when the audience sees how much fun we’re having, they have just as much.”

One of Broza’s best-known songs is “The Long Road,” which he recorded in a wonderful duet with Maura O’Connell, and the title suits his career.

“I didn’t start out wanting to be a musician,” he says. “I wanted to be a painter. I started playing on weekends to make a little money. Then I wrote a song and it sold. And another one and it sold. So I became a musician.”

While his upbringing in Israel and Spain exposed him to a range of music, he didn’t start out as a musical United Nations.

“I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Band.” That’s still part of his music, though he’s put most of the rockers on hiatus for this particular tour because they aren’t as clean a fit with this group.

What the Landmark and other audiences will get only in subtle ways is Broza’s passion for a more peaceful and just world.

Most specifically, he has long urged a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. His first Israeli single, “Yihye Tov” in 1977, translates to “Things Will Be Better” and reflects what he says is still his optimism that peace one day will prevail.

“Almost every person wants a compromise,” he says. “Unfortunately, the fundamentalists on both sides are less so, and we see more of them these days – in the U.S., in Israel, in Britain, all over really.

“But I am optimistic. I believe we just need common sense. And I also believe it is everyone’s responsibility to get involved. People do many things in their lives – working a job, taking care of a family. They need to participate in these other issues, too.”

Broza says he’s been “fortunate” that he can use his music to have a voice in the international discussion. His song “Together” became a UNICEF anthem and he has been active in peace organizations.

He also co-founded One Million Guitars, a nonprofit that brings music education to children in countries where access to cultural training may be limited.

But concert-goers won’t be hearing ideology at the Landmark.

“I don’t get into politics on stage,” he says. “Some of my songs have messages that could be interpreted as political, but the show is about entertainment.”

If Broza’s music career was to some extent accidental, he’s now on the long road for good.

“I can’t imagine retiring,” he says. “I practice 5-6 hours a day. I listen to music all the time. It’s my way of life.”

[David Broza & Trio Havana at the Landmark on Main Street, 232 Main St., Port Washington, March 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets $30-$50. Call 516-767-6444. www.landmarkonmainstreet.org.]

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