“It’s always been the honest kind of writing that strikes a chord with me.”
Those were Brooke Fraser’s direct words to me as we spent around 40 minutes in conversation earlier this summer. Originally from New Zealand, Fraser was speaking from Los Angeles, getting ready for her summer tour that would take her all across the U.S. to perform songs from her most recent CD, Albertine.
It’s an album full of messages about love and faith, all of which are inspiring and mean something to Fraser. They mean something to me now, too.
You see, Fraser, at the ripe age of 21, traveled alone to Rwanda, a nation ravaged by genocide, for the first time. She’s been back every year since.
Most of this has to do with the responsibility she feels to a nation that has won over her heart. So much that she even wondered if making music was the right thing to do.
“I believe we’re all given gifts from God to use them in service of other people,” she admitted to me. “And so when I went to Rwanda, I asked myself, ‘is me being a musician the best use of my life? Is there something else that I can do?’ I actually started to convince myself, ‘There are better ways to help these people."
Based on the music and lyrics that Fraser writes, I believe she is a very convincing person. When the opening notes of “Shadowfeet” and “Deciphering Me” were blaring through my car stereo for the first time, I took the long way to work so that I could hear them again and again. And when I drove home, I happily wasted more $3.89/gal gas so that the rest of Albertine could be played out in the moment.
Later that June, my wife and I, on the way to visiting friends in Chattanooga, stopped in Nashville to see her at a tiny club called 3rd & Lindsley where we lucked out with seats at the bar. The room was sold out, noisy, and tipsy right up until Fraser started singing her set of songs that even included a cover or Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
There she was, Brooke Fraser, 24 years of age, suddenly the most mature soul in the room. Again, I thought back to our prior conversation, and it all made sense.
“I remember when I left Rwanda after that first trip,” Fraser told me. “For about 12 hours straight, I just wrote and wrote in my journal about the things that I had seen and heard and experienced, because it was almost like at the time, sometimes you’re being confronted with things that are just so full-on and far in to your comfort zone, that it’s almost like you don’t know how to cope with it at that time. Hearing completely horrific things, it’s almost like sensory overload and it’s afterwards that I really processed all that stuff and wrote it down, and had my crying afterwards.”
Brooke Fraser, waiting her turn, and prevailing in the end — feeling comfortable in a world where there are always more songs needed to be sung.
“After I left Rwanada, I went to Tanzania and met one of my sponsor children,” Fraser says. “I was sitting out in their mud huts, and the children asked if I could play them a song. So I got out my guitar, played them a song, and I felt like a bit of an idiot. But I finished playing, and I kind of was a bit embarrassed by it. And then one of the children said through a translator, ‘No, please sing us another song, because when you sing, your voice is very soothing and it makes us forget about all our troubles.’ And I kind of just realized in that moment that this music thing, that it really is what I am supposed to be doing. I can use these songs to have a much greater impact and talk about issues. I think this is the way that I can help more. It’s very rewarding, and I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“I won’t find what I am looking for, if I only see by keeping score,” Fraser once sang on “Arithmetic.” Well, Brooke, I’m keeping score. You’re winning, and it isn’t even close.
She said it: