It isn’t every day that an Israeli musician is featured on American public television. But viewers of over 300 PBS stations across the US will be able to see one of Israel’s best all month with the repeated screening of David Broza at Masada: The Sunrise Concert with Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin.
The 51-year-old Broza, a longtime top selling artist in Israel, and many other places around the world, is no stranger to large scale projects. One of Israel’s most successful performers, Broza has released 16 gold, platinum and multi-platinum releases since his first record Sikhat Salon (Small Talk) came out in 1977. Since then he has put out an abundance of flamenco-tinged, folk-rock material – in Hebrew, English and Spanish – with his biggest-selling record Ha’Ishe She’Itee (The Woman With Me), in 1983, making quintuple platinum. Broza regularly tours Israel and the United States.
But even Broza had never previously been involved in such an audacious project as the television production of the June performance on Masada.
Masada is a large mountainous outcrop located on the eastern edges of the Judean Desert, rising 1,200 feet above the Dead Sea to the east. King Herod built a fortress there between 37-31 BCE and the fortifications were later used by 960 Jews who took refuge there from the invading Roman forces in the mid-first century CE. In 70 CE, after withstanding a long siege, all the Jewish inhabitants committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Roman army stationed around the mountain. Today, Masada is a symbol of Jewish resistance and a very popular tourist destination.
The story of the hilltop musical extravaganza began eight years ago when Chicago based WTTW television producer Nicolette Ferri met the singer-songwriter-guitarist extraordinaire at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago where he was performing in a Hanukka concert. Ferri’s expertise was in TV music production and she was suitably impressed with what she saw and heard.
“I will never forget the first time I heard David play at rehearsal,” Ferri recalls. “I was mesmerized at the show. I just knew I had to do something with him again, and we kept in touch.”
Three years ago Broza was back in the windy city for some gigs and this time he and Ferri started talking business. “I called David and we met, and we said let’s do it,” she told ISRAEL21c. The “it” in question eventually became David Broza at Masada.
As any TV producer will tell you it is one thing putting on a show in your state-of-the-art user-friendly studio, but it can be an entirely different story when you’re out on location, sometimes working in conditions that can tend to be somewhat on the challenging side. And if you’re looking for a challenging environment to put a production together you’re not likely to find many tougher choices than a 1,200 foot high hilltop in the Judean Desert in the middle of summer.
“It was close to 120 degrees (48 degrees Celsius) in the middle of the day,” Ferri recalls. “It was really tough going. That meant that the work on the stage, seating and other stuff had to be done in the early morning, evening and at night.”
There were more meteorological surprises along the way. “We got heat storms which normally happen in August, not in June.” she explained. “They do not get these heat storms in June. What ends heat storms is wind storms. We were then praying that the wind storm would come before our show. We really started to wonder if it was all going to work out.”
The wind storm – all 70 mph of it – duly arrived and Broza found himself taping a spot with a 30-piece Israeli-Palestinian children’s choir in Herod’s Palace, at the northern end of Masada, in very blustery conditions.
“We couldn’t have the children there at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Ferri continues, “so we had to do it in the middle of the day, in that tremendous heat.”
It wasn’t just the weather Ferri and the show’s director, Julia Knowles, had to contend with. “We were shooting in high definition. The local team was fantastic but there are very few high definition cameras in Israel, so we had to bring in equipment and personnel from the US, Norway and England,” says Knowles who has worked with the likes of U2, Madonna and Elton John, as well as on Nobel Peace Prize concerts.
But the practical issues were more than offset by the magic of the location, and the ambience – both natural, and the steam generated by Broza and his co-star performers, legendary rocker Jackson Browne and Grammy winner Shawn Colvin.
Broza is no stranger to the area, having performed at Masada annually for the last 14 years. While happy to purvey his art and message to audiences in the US, as he does on frequent tours, Broza was particularly keen to show audiences the natural splendor of the Israeli landscape.
The TV special was shot over two concerts, on June 30 and July 1, which began at 3 am and ended after the sun rose over Jordan, across the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth.
“There is nowhere on Earth like Masada,” he told ISRAEL21c. “The desert landscape with the Dead Sea below, the history of the place – I told Nicolette we should really do the show there. Music has so much power to do good, and if you add that to such an amazing location you get a fantastic combination.”
Ferri was duly convinced, especially now after spending some time in Israel. “Like all Americans, I see the bad stuff going on in the Middle East on TV. But music can change the world. You can expose people to different cultures through music,” she said.
“Yes, there are big problems in the Middle East but there is also beauty. People need to see the whole culture, through David and his music and what we captured. I am so proud of what we did at Masada. There was no political agenda whatsoever. We just tried to portray the beauty of the culture and the place. I just hope everyone gets a glimpse of beauty, and that they see there is hope.”