David Broza has been running his “Not Exactly Christmas” show for 25 years. This year looks a little different, but with help from The Ark, this show is sure to bring festive cheer into every household!
Renowned Israeli guitarist and singer-songwriter David Broza’s annual “Not Exactly Christmas” show turns 25 this year and has been met with accolades ever since he started it. However, it’s a tradition that began almost by accident. On November 4, 1995, Broza was driving into New York City to play a concert at the Town Hall when he heard that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. “So, by the time I got to the theater, I was very disturbed and emotionally dysfunctional, but I put myself together,” says Broza, who spoke to me from his home in New York.
Instead of a concert that night, Broza and some of his friends held an ‘open stage’, where anyone could come up and say a few words, play some music, read a poem, etc. “We stayed there in the theater until three or four in the morning.” Afterward, when he asked for a date when the show could be rescheduled, it turned out the only available night was December 24. So, Broza and his band played what became the first “Not Exactly Christmas” show, and he’s kept it up ever since, taking it to different venues and bringing in different guest performers and band members.
This year, it’ll be a little different. Due to COVID-19, there won’t be a live audience at this year’s venue, the City Winery in New York City. But on December 23 at 8pm, Broza and his bandmates will stream the show live from the stage of the Winery with the help of participating venues across the country. One of those venues is The Ark in Ann Arbor, a stage that Broza has played many times over the years. “I have real, real love for that establishment,” he says. “I’m thrilled that they’re having me on their program, even though it’s not physical.”
The streaming aspect of a show like this excited Broza. “We thought, ok, let’s give [the venues] an opportunity and me an opportunity to jump in on this,” he says. “I approached all these theaters to open their doors, sell tickets to the same show, and maybe bring a little business to them, bring a little business to us. This is a time when a lot of people are probably quarantining and wish they were with family. So, they can enjoy the same show and connect through that.”
I asked him if COVID changed the plan for the show itself. “I think the spirit of the times makes it different,” he says. “And of course, every person who buys a ticket will be sitting in the front row, right? So, there’s a magic to that. We have lots of cameras, so there’s going to be intimacy.” But he hasn’t really been able to rehearse with the band, and because of the virus, “It’s hard to get people to meet, and people are also a little reluctant to be on the same stage together.”
Broza’s current band members are mostly Cuban musicians, so the show will be infused with a Cuban sound, much like his newest album, ‘en Casa Limon’. This is his first entirely instrumental album, which provided him with a unique challenge. “It’s very demanding of me technically, because I’m not singing,” he says. And, unlike his previous albums, he hasn’t had a chance to perform the songs live in front of an audience yet. “It will be a big deal for me to sit in front of an audience and play these pieces.”
As a musician, Broza has been influenced by a variety of styles and musical traditions, many of which can be heard on the album. “Israeli Jewish music, Israeli folk and folk rock, American folk rock, jazz, bebop, and flamenco — I dive into all of them very deeply,” he says. “It’s a spectrum.”
Some of that influence comes from his mother Sharona Aron, a popular folk singer in Israel who played on a Spanish guitar. “Her music was in my DNA, although I denied any relations to it because I was already a different generation,” says Broza. “Today I realize that I take from her a lot more than I would ever admit then, but now I know how much she taught me through her just presence.”
Though he came by his musical talent honestly, Broza was a painter for most of his childhood and early teens. As he got older, however, he started performing in coffee houses. “I didn’t think of becoming a musician until I was 22,” he says. But coffee houses “were my best way to earn a cup of coffee and some bagels.” At age 22, he wrote a song called ‘Yihyeh Tov’ (It Will be Better), which became an anthem for peace in Israel and led to his involvement with Peace Now, an organization which has since become the largest pro-peace movements in the Middle East.
Activism was a part of Broza’s life from a young age, too — his grandfather, Wellesley Aron, was a prominent businessman and community leader who would take him to meetings as a young child. “I come from a household that gave me the tools and the emotional ability to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution,” he says. He has worked passionately for many causes through music, including with his most recent program, One Million Guitars, which gives good quality instruments and musical resources to children in underprivileged areas.
Broza is sure that music is one of the most potent forms of activism and healing. “As soon as you bring music into a room, everything sweetens,” he says. With his “Not Exactly Christmas Show” going national and even international this year, Broza will reach many more people, and in a year where many need healing, his concert will surely sweeten every room.