This is my second posting under the title of ‘Hello to…‘, which commences with me introducing a favoured tune, followed by me delving in a little deeper into that particular artist’s work.
As ever, if you enjoy the piece, please leave a comment at the very bottom of the page. And remember, these are not critiques, nor reviews. They are written in the first person as this is personal, it is my ‘Music G Spot’ after all, and as The Bard put it: “If music be the food of love, play on!”
So let me first introduce the track, which is her latest release, the gloriously up-beat self-affirming ‘Just Do You’. Listening to this is the perfect way to begin each new day.
Pretty much the moment I decided upon doing this particular series, I knew India.Arie would be soon enshrined here by my musings. Without a doubt this beautiful woman has proved to be a guide to my soul, a comfort to my heart and an inspiration to my mind; an earthly goddess who I have yet to have the joy of seeing performing live, and who – though we are strangers – I rather uniquely for someone in such standing, look upon as a friend. I’d go as far to say that in the darkest of times she has played a part in saving my life. That may perhaps seem something of an overstatement; it isn’t.
The first track I became familiar with was her debut release ‘Video’, and I remember as clear as day thinking “Who IS this?!” – (the answer immediately with me, as she name-checks herself within the lyrics). I was struck with the hook-in that so perfectly summed it all up; as Ralph Waldo Emerson once put it: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
It was the year 2001, and I was going through a challenging time personally. I went and brought the album ‘Acoustic Soul’ – a love-affair began and she has been a constant along my journey ever since.
I can’t list every song from that and the personal connection I have with it, else I would have to do so with each subsequent album too, so I’ll pick just one, that being ‘Strength, Courage & Wisdom’. As with most of her songs, it is less a statement of absolute fact, more an affirmation that one is aiming to be all that is being said; it is as fresh with me as that as it was when it I took it within over a decade ago.
Born in Denver, Colarado in 1975, India.Arie is a multi-Grammy Award-winning American singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. In total to date, 4 Grammy Awards from her 21 nominations, but the road to that hasn’t always been smooth sailing, as she reveals here in this extract from an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“In 2002, newcomer India Arie netted a total of seven Grammy nominations. At the end of the night, though, she walked away with none – an outcome that is still considered one of the worst snubs in Grammy history. India Arie says that she learned two very important lessons from that night.”
Of course, whatever it is in life, adversity is the tempering of one’s mettle – to learn, to grow, to triumph through on the other side is the biggest accomplishment of all. I certainly don’t believe that awards are the sole-defining marker of an artist anyway, but this story nonetheless brings forward a message with it.
Given the powerful connection I had with her first album, it would be true to say that her follow-up – ‘Voyage to India’ – was the most anticipated release from an artist I have ever longed for. It was a wait that though less than a year seemed an eternity, my first internet pre-order, the arrival of which brought me yet further unsurpassed comfort and joy. I listened in entirety, repeatedly; When I need to pick myself up again, her guidance is the best reminder to carry on through, so perfectly pointed in ‘Headed In The Right Direction’.
In 2006 – which even more seemed an eternal wait – her third album ‘Testimony Vol. 1: Life & Relationship’ served to do yet further what India.Arie always has, and remains, to do in my life. A week after buying it I went and purchased several more copies to give as gifts, including to my three sisters, a unique happening in my chosen musical odyssey.
As I was slowly but surely coming through the other side of the ending of a romantic relationship during this period, her songs came to me as a light breaking through darkest cloud. Again, listing particular tracks isn’t so simple, given that the entire work was holding power, but her cover of Don Henley’s ‘The Heart Of The Matter’ certainly stood firm as the word in song of a wise comrade at my side. Framed either side of this were the admission of ‘These Eyes’, and the gradual acceptance ‘Good Morning’ was a true moment of synchronicity that held a power quite beyond measure, a power that sustains.
Here is footage of her singing ‘The Heart Of The Matter’ live (along with another you will be familiar with), taken from the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2007.
Though I’d happily place every track here, I’ll leave the listings from this third album on, first, the positive rebuilding tones of a triumphant ‘I Choose’.
I am a great believer in looking to quotes from the great and good throughout history to aid us as we travail this rock-strewn path of life, and undoubtedly one of many favourites has to be this one from the philosopher Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC):
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
And so, to the second, a ‘hidden’ delight at the very end of the playlist, for when life is getting tricky, and the need to be reminded comes in ‘This Too Shall Pass’…
“Listening to the songs is like listening to an audio version of someone’s diary. The words and feelings are so intensely personal, it makes you wonder how and why someone would be willing to put so much of themselves out there for the entire world to see and hear. But it’s this boldness and frankness that makes ‘Testimony’ such a breath of fresh air compared to most American R&B and Soul music these days. The songs connect with the listener in a way that most artists could only dream of.”
Mark Edward Nero (1)
If there was a Volume 1, we had to expect another, and thankfully this came in 2008 with her release of ‘Testimony Vol. 2: Love and Politics’. The mission of this second volume was, as she said “…to spread love, healing and peace through the power of words and music. That’s actually the mission statement for everything I do. The only contribution I have in that is when I’m writing those songs, I’m very conscious of what I say, and how I say what I say. I feel that I hear, from whoever the higher power is, songs, subject matter that is about the human condition more than it’s just about what’s happening in my life.” (2)
My first choice to select here is ‘Therapy’ being, as I’ve well-established already, that in listening to her she is continuously mine.
The bounce in the basic wisdom of ‘Better People’, imploring for more of a connection, this time between the ages.
And then I choose ‘Yellow’, because I still hold faith such a thing will at last come to be.
Finally, the bonus track from this album, that being ‘A Beautiful Day’, which rightly should be played daily with the introductory tune I placed here; I’ve often thought it should be my morning alarm to arise to.
ALL GOOD THINGS…
I’ve joked previously of seeming eternities, but it really was then the longest of waits for her fifth album – ‘SongVersation’, released in 2013. This was as much as anything to do with her requirement, her need to take a step inwards.
“I realized it long before I did it. It was at the end of 2006; I had a breakdown in the dressing room. I just lost it, and I don’t remember everything that happened, really. … I rested for a couple days.
But then finally, somewhere in 2009, things just weren’t right. Things just kept happening… and I knew I needed to take a break, but there’s that … drive and the competition of the music industry. … You’re scheduled to be who they think you are all the time.
It’s business, and I get it, but what I refused to do any further — and what I refuse to do ever again — is to not be on the same page with the people who want me to deliver. We need to be on the same page and have the same plans so I’m not just spending my life trying to deliver what you need.” (3)
India.Arie explains further: “This is where I’ve been for the last four years, I’ve struggled most of my career to feel comfortable with how things were, how I was treated, the politics of the music industry. I needed to pull back from the public eye to ground myself and rebuild my life and career. It’s a process many of us go through: spiritual maturation, spiritual awakening, clearing out the old and starting anew.” (4)
She supports this strength born from a time of tearing much down and rebuilding again when discussing one’s own worth (she has a necklace with the word ‘worthy’ to remind her).
“It’s a powerful word… Now we are living in a time where there are challenges being whoever you are; being gay, being black, being a woman, there’s challenges that come with any aspect of humanity. This is the time where you can define your own worth… You don’t let anybody tell you or define your worth for you. We do it, but it’s not sustainable, it’s not productive, it doesn’t give you a beautiful life.” (5)
What India.Arie brings us now is a culmination of that pilgrimage into herself, and, just as she has found herself enlightened by her own personal epiphanies, through her honesty, her truth to herself and putting that into her music, she in turn helps bring us to our own; ‘SongVersation’ is pure incandescence.
“Putting spiritual and empowerment ideals into music concepts … that’s always been the core message of my music—and it seemed I was talking to others …” she says. “But the truth is that it was my message to myself because I was yearning to know the peace of a self-defined life.” (6)
That, for me, makes me love and appreciate this gift she shares even more. She is on her journey, I am on mine, we are on ours. India.Arie doesn’t speak to us from an advanced place of being (though I could easily accept that she is too), what she does is reach both inwards and upwards to look at the eternal wisdom that is there to guide, and as she affirms it to herself, she aids in our own personal affirmations.
I’ve learned through her talking that ‘SongVersation’ also come into being because of another album called ‘Open Door’ that she was working on that, through exhaustion, frustration and other factors hasn’t as yet come to light. I hope it does in time; like a great painter, none of her art should be hidden from us.
But to today, and to ‘SongVersation’, born after a day of prayer and six months of pure focus. As much I adore this album in its entirety, and would strongly recommend playing in full as that, let me point to a few immediate favourites. Aside from my introductory choice which is the essential empowerment of ‘Just Do You’, I come to the following:
We all have a secret pain
We all have a tender place
We were born to want more
And no I’m not meant to live alone
But this is the life I know
I acknowledged and accepted the tears that fell upon my cheeks as this first played. It reverberated within, for music is indeed what feelings sound like.
As Kahlil Gibran put it: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding… And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.”
The pure peace and serenity that meditation brings.
The final track I put here is not a track from one of her albums. It is the sheer beauty of ‘A Time to Love’ with Stevie Wonder*, released in 2005. It is a track I wish was heard, and heeded, globally.
“He gave me the melody and he said “this is what I want it to be about” and I took it home, and I pray for songs all the time because it just helps you get centred – prayer just helps. This time, in my prayer I said “Please let me finish it all today (laughing) because I want it done NOW!” And I did, and then I sent it to him, and I didn’t hear from him so I flew to LA… this is Stevie, he’s got my song and I want to know what’s up. I went to his studio and he said “I recorded it” and he pulled it out and started playing it and I got light-headed… it was a MOMENT. Then he said “you sound so great on here, do you want to sing it with me”… er, YEAH, YES I DO!” (7)
* Incidentally, during her own music career India.Arie’s mother Joyce Simpson opened in concert for Stevie Wonder.
My last clip here is not one of her songs, but again returns to the interview with Oprah Winfrey that I featured earlier. I do so because she talks of a revelation I too finally came to not so long ago, probably around the same time as India.Arie herself did. Synchronicity is everywhere.
“I won’t let anyone talk me out of my intuition.”
Follow your own voice.
I am at last following mine.
Hold the Faith in You. See the invisible, feel the intangible, achieve the impossible; believe when it’s beyond the power of reason to believe. Because by taking this leap of faith, we find out who we are truly capable of becoming.
Follow your own voice and fulfill every aspiration.
And thank you India.Arie – you have helped, and continue to aid me in fulfilling this. As you do countless others.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it: “Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.”
No finer flowing water is there on this Earth for such a bath than India.Arie.
(3) Interview with Neal Conan. http://www.npr.org/2013/06/13/191313811/india-arie-returns-to-start-a-new-songversation
(5), (7) Interview with Tavis Smiley. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/interviews/singer-songwriter-india-arie/