Detroit songwriter Audra Kubat helps youth find their voice

It's been ten years since celebrated Detroit singer/songwriter Audra Kubat has released a new album.

All that changes this Friday, October 7 at the Diego Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts as she commemorates the release of "Mended Vessel," a collection of ten new songs. The DIA has tapped Kubat for a weekend of performances and songwriting workshops, including performances from Marcus Garvey Academy third graders.

The tracks on "Mended Vessel" are sometimes sparse, sometimes lush, but always beautiful. While the root of each song started with just Kubat and her acoustic guitar, each evolved in its own way, utilizing a range of instruments that include electric guitar, pedal steel, organ, and a rhythm section, depending on the song. Kubat recorded the album with Jimmy Dixon at his Homestead Studios in the Russell Industrial Center.

The theme throughout the album is perseverance, says Kubat. Though she has much more than ten songs in her repertoire, the selections on "Mended Vessel" were purposefully chosen to reflect that theme and tell a story over the course of the record. The title itself is taken from a book her grandmother wrote of the same name. Kubat wrote a song based on her grandmother's life, who is now in her 90s, called "Mountain Woman."

Be it her own songs or those of others, Kubat has stayed true to her mission for over two decades.

"The goal is to use music as a healing force in this world. And that is the overarching, most important thing that I'm doing with my life. It's for that."

Like any number of Detroit artists, Kubat held down a series of jobs in the service industry to make rent while she pursued her artistic passions. Then about five years ago, Kubat's close friend, poet and songwriter David Blair, got her involved in the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. The nonprofit, which goes into Detroit Public Schools and teaches students self-empowerment through poetry, had begun using songwriting for the first time with Blair. After Blair passed away a few years later, the organization asked Kubat to step in, which she's done since. Kubat goes from school to school throughout Detroit, working with classes of young students and helping them write songs.

Her work with InsideOut set the wheels in motion for her transition from part-time work in the service industry to full-time life in song. She began working with the Living Arts program Detroit Wolf Trap, which uses the performing arts to help young children learn, and later stumbled across the Detroit Institute of Music Education, then just a pop-up location on Woodward Avenue, and became a professor of songwriting for the nationally-accredited music college.

All this while writing over 50 songs, maintaining a busy performance schedule, recording a new album, and just being an all-around champion of the arts in Detroit, be it music, visual, or otherwise.

"My definition of success has changed a lot. I would love it if a lot of people bought the album and wanted to host me for shows or someone found it for a film and wanted to use it and now everybody wants that song now. You know, that'd be great, right?" says Kubat. "But I also love what I do so much. I get so much out of working with young people and helping them find their voice."

Audra Kubat celebrates the release of "Mended Vessel" with 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. performances on Friday, October 7 as part of the Friday Night Live concert series in the Diego Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. On Saturday, October 8, Kubat will host two songwriting workshops at 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m., both free and open to the public in the Great Hall of the DIA. On Sunday, October 9, a performance of the InsideOut work will occur at 2:00 p.m. in the Rivera Court, including a performance by third graders from Marcus Garvey Academy.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.