SCHIDRICHTALG, AK — Audra Bezzant is an American country singer and songwriter from Alaska. From day one, she knew that the music she was making and the music her people were making should be given their own voice. On stage and off, people in her home country wouldn’t expect a straight country or pop vocalist.
“My musical identity is the fusion of everything into one that reflects the spirit, the nature, and the joy that comes from the heartbeat,” she says. That’s why she earned the 2017 Polaris Music Prize for her release DirtRoads. “I make music with a sledgehammer and think that what I’m able to do comes from a place of being able to blend so many different things.”
I talked to Ms. Bezzant on the eve of a trip to the Arctic Circle and she told me that she had a “secret for building communication” that had been built with her band members, but particularly with her drummer, Bobby Zubia.
She explained how a sense of purpose came together for her:
“Bobby came on board in 2013 when my band was relocating from Burbank, California to Paris. When we moved to the island of Amangiri [an Alaska Native village], we said, ‘OK, let’s see what we have. Let’s band together.’
“Now he’s just an integral part of our family and he loves what he does. He’s one of the few people on this planet who can put a drum up and play. When I’m sitting on the boat I’m not sitting in front of him, but he finds a way to put his drum up and play. It’s worked well.”
The drumming she refers to occurred three times a day in Tahtinka Dzembali, where the people live in the band’s house. “We worked with nature,” she says. “It created rhythm and it gave me purpose again.” And they do. “Since then, I’ve seen an almost instant connection with Bobby. We sing a lot together, on two different drum platforms: our center drum and another kind of drum platform. It took time and has developed into a physical, mental, and spiritual connection.”
According to Ms. Bezzant, the tribal drum is an “auto-pilot” for the wave of fear that overtakes her whenever she visits her home country. During those visits, they gather to feel that family spirit again, to build an attachment to who she is and where she came from.
“[A key part of the drumming process] was to find a base of pride that was sacred and reverential,” she says. “We brought the elders with us. We put our pride and honor on hold and we all just stood up. The elders stood and the younger people kneeled, and you could hear the pride and reverence that was coming across through all of their voices.”
“I feel closer to purpose,” she explains. “Our importance is felt — I believe it is always present. I love being connected to my people and to each other. In this area there are very few cultural options and I appreciate that now because it means that we’re all sharing something together.”