When Michael Jackson released “Thriller” four decades ago, the epic album shot to No. 1 all around the world, but not in Israel — where an album paying homage to popular, romantic Spanish songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s ended up making music history.
The album, “Ha’isha She’iti,” caused such a sensation that it became the bestselling album in the history of Israel’s music industry. Now, it's back in the spotlight as a special 40th anniversary release but with an important distinction: Instead of in Hebrew, the songs are in their original language.
“Many people don’t realize that these songs were originally in Spanish,” internationally renowned singer-songwriter David Broza told NBC News, “and I decided to record them in Spanish as a token (of appreciation), not a lot of production, bare bones, the guitar and voice, letting the songs present themselves.”
The result is Broza's new album, “La Mujer Que Yo Quiero” (“The Woman I Love”), whose title is one of three cover versions of songs by the singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat, whose 1971 album “Mediterráneo” has long been considered a Spanish-language classic.
Forty years ago, Broza, an Israeli-born, multiplatinum artist, worked with Israeli poet Jonathan Geffen to translate into Hebrew hit songs from hugely popular Spanish singers like Serrat — a household name for many Spanish music fans. Over the years, Broza performed the chart-topping songs, sprinkling some Spanish with Hebrew.
"I discovered Serrat through Spanish friends in Madrid when I was 17," Broza said. "When I went back to Israel at 18 for military service, I took with me the 'Mediterráneo' album, which was a huge success at the time. I listened to it over and over, and learned some of the songs. These songs, translated into Hebrew, became part of the “Ha’isha She’iti” album eight years later."
Broza, who has collaborated with artists such as Jackson Browne and Wyclef Jean, said he has long admired Serrat's pride in his Catalán culture and his political stand against fascism, but most importantly, his songwriting and performances. Broza considers his influences to be Spanish flamenco, American folk and rock 'n' roll, and poetry, including celebrated Spanish poets Federico García Lorca and Luis de Góngora.
Interestingly, Broza, who divides his time between Tel Aviv and New York City, did not have any familial ties to the Spanish language or Spain except for having lived in Madrid for several years as a teenager with his family.
“I can’t really explain why I’m dedicated to the degree that I am or why I’ve dedicated so many years to introducing Spanish music and culture to an Israeli audience and audiences around the world,” he said.
Broza said another inspiration is Spanish musician Paco Ibáñez.
“(He) was a troubadour and folk singer in exile in Paris, who had recorded and set to music many works by Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti and other renegade poets. I loved his guitar playing and the folk melodies that sounded as though they had been written hundreds of years ago,” Broza said. “In 1983 I hosted Paco Ibáñez in some of the big shows I did after the huge success of the album. He couldn’t believe his eyes as thousands of people were singing along with us in Hebrew. It was very powerful. At 88, Paco was and still is the renegade performer with his guitar!”
And naturally for music from Spain, Broza looked to flamenco and flamenco performers.
"Manzanita was a hero to me and many others in Spain with his amazing guitar playing and his thick husky flamenco voice, singing melodic pop songs," Broza said of the late flamenco artist José Ortega Heredia, known as Manzanita, who had three of his songs on "Ha’isha She’iti."
Despite his lack of familial ties to Spain or the Spanish language, Broza has been recognized for his work promulgating the music.
“There actually is this little village near Cáceres in Spain called Brozas, and I met the mayor and other dignitaries and they decided I’m their lost son,” he chuckled. “Hey, maybe that’s where we got our name from.”
Last October, Broza traveled to Spain to put together the new album and did it in one day, one take, recording nine songs — including Ibáñez's "La Más Bella Niña" ("The Most Beautiful Girl"), which was the first song translated into Hebrew that started the original project more than 40 years ago. The track comes from a 16th-century Spanish poem by Luis de Góngora.
“Only after the (recording) session was over did I realize that I had immersed myself into the songs with my whole body and soul. It was so intense, it took me several days to unwind,” Broza said. “I almost feel like I’m breaking new boundaries and new frontiers with the music. I start from the very basic — I want this to be the bare bones of how a song was written and how it became a hit.”
Following the album's recent release, Broza is doing a U.S. tour in the fall.
“What I want to do in my performances is give you the most perfected performance I can possibly deliver of every song. I’m a little overwhelmed with all the reaction.”