Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Get To Know India Arie

India Arie is known and cherished by fans and fellow musicians as a poet, a songwriter, a daughter, a producer, a musician, a sister, a singer, an advocate, a friend and a philanthropist –– but she is possibly best known for the love in her music that has inspired and motivated people worldwide. From the moment that her very first single “Video,” and her multi–platinum debut album Acoustic Soul were released in 2001, India's music established an extraordinary bond of trust, affection and communication with her followers. Her sophomore release the platinum selling Voyage to India in 2002 was hailed worldwide by critics. The New York Times called it “music that only further enhances her reputation as an artist of substance; centering on her acoustic guitar and confident but restrained vocals, it recalls such soul masters as Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack.” In 2006 she released her No. 1 charting album Testimony: Vol.1, Love & Relationship, a beautiful collection of songs treasured by fans for its intimate, heart–tugging portrait of a lover’s parting and its after–ache. Although they’ve been understated, the politics of India.Arie’s Grammy–honored music have also been on open display ever since Oprah Winfrey pointedly thanked her for writing the sentiment “I may not be built like a supermodel/But I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally” – a declaration of independence from a set agenda that, eight years later, remains as politically definitive as any protest song ever written. Winfrey also singled out the Testimony: Vol. 1 track “There’s Hope” as “music that really stimulates and revives the soul,” and India’s music was known to be heard on campaign buses and planes, rallies and fundraisers during the historic Presidential run of Barack Obama. “I want people to hear my music for a long time,” says India, “for this generation to say decades from now: ‘This still says what I think’ and girls who are 11 now, who were 1 when I wrote ‘Video,’ can say, ‘That’s how I feel.’” A broadening awareness of her own calling and of our collective worldwide dialogue is central to Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics (Soulbird Music/Universal Republic), the fourth studio album by India.Arie. Years after completing her first multi–platinum album, “I feel my music is even more in accordance with where people are. Everybody’s looking for ways to feel better –– the world is so unpredictable, people are looking inside themselves to ask what’s meaningful in life. My music has always addressed this, and now it’s so much in vibrational accordance with what people are thinking.” India.Arie has stood often with her peers in the top echelon of entertainment as an activist for global health and human dignity. As a U.S. Ambassador for UNICEF, she traveled to Africa several times to address the AIDS crisis, and filmed the VH–1 documentary Tracking the Monster: Ashley Judd & India.Arie Confront Aids in Africa. “I Am Not My Hair” was central to Lifetime Television’s recent “Stop Breast Cancer for Life” public awareness campaign, “Beautiful Flower” was used for fund–raising for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, “She Is” was created for the documentary on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf entitled Iron Ladies of Liberia, and “What About the Child” has been used in conjunction with various UNICEF events. Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics is, as always, a searching, insightful, honest and creatively accomplished expression of inner emotions, and the interconnectedness of all of us. India adds that it’s a reflection of changes – hers and ours, too. “There’s nothing you can do or say that’s separate from other people any more,” she observes. “Now you can have the whole world in your laptop, you are a part of the world instantaneously. laying things on the table for conversation, that’s politics. Politics is what happens when a group of people get together, and section themselves off. A lot of my album is about how we define and separate ourselves. I know from traveling around the world that people are now talking about all these different things. That’s what the album is about.” Two tracks from the album were released digitally in advance of its full release: the jazz–flavored melodic bubbler “Chocolate High," featuring longtime friend Musiq Soulchild, and the romantic, exuberant "Therapy," featuring Jamaican roots artist Gramps Morgan, co–written and co–produced by emerging artist Novel, who previously collaborated with India on “Purify Me.” India.Arie doesn’t hesitate to point out that the lush, diverse and tasty album arrangements and clarity of its sound reflect a new breakthrough in her craft as a producer: “This is the first album that really represents me vocally, lyrically, sonically. In my last album, my goal was to express the emotion and the vision musically, along with the words. I accomplished that on this album. It’s an unhindered expression.” Based on rhythm tracks cut live with her band over a month of sessions, India’s love of performance also shines through every song, and she gives album co–producer Dru Castro credit for a smooth creative process that extended through a solid year of post–production on the individual songs. “Collaboration, manifesting what I heard in my head really quickly, doing it all exactly and fully –– that was fun, and my best studio experience ever.” The second volume of Testimony, she notes, was originally planned with songs that hadn’t fit conceptually into Love & Relationship – but a chance meeting with Turkish icon Sezan Aksu in New York “changed the vision of what I can do. It made me just say: Do what I want to do, no matter the consequences. I went to Hawaii the next month, visualized the album, started writing songs.” The album’s spiritual and emotional core can be found in the romantic and compassionate songs “He Heals Me,” “River Rise,” “The Cure,” featuring Sezen Aksu’s vocal, and “Better Way,” featuring roots–music superstar Keb Mo, India says. “Exactly a year later, I look at those songs and know they came out of that travel. I wrote ten songs in ten days in Hawaii, and when I came back, that inspiration was still so alive, I wrote five more.” She adds: “‘Ghetto’ and ‘Yellow’ I started with Shannon Sanders while we were touring Acoustic Soul, and I was surprised at how much new life was breathed into them. I love these songs, and I love ‘Pearls,’ (India’s revival of the Sade fan favorite, featuring the brilliant Ivory Coast multi–talent Dobet Gnahoré). “These songs symbolize being more empowered, honoring feelings more. Not fitting in anyone’s box anymore. This album sounds like me, now, not trying to live something or capture something. It’s just now. A sonic representation of who I am.” Other album collaborators include hip–hop pioneer M.C. Lyte on “Psalms 23,” acclaimed jazz original Rachelle Ferrell, co–writer of “Better Way,” and India’s mother, stylist and all–around inspiration Simpson, co–writer of “Long Goodbye” and “A Beautiful Day,” a track originally composed on the spot during an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America, with GMA co–host Robin Roberts. The creative strength and satisfaction underlying Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics also reflects India’s experience of a world that’s becoming closer to us all. ”I always looked at myself as a world music artist –– even when I was playing coffee houses in college,” she reflects. “I was always unsatisfied to be filed under urban, only. This is the first world music album that I’ve made. It addresses politics in a way that people don’t expect. One of the biggest political statements it makes is that there’s a new definition of what it means to be part of the world –– to have an album that involves Musiq, Dobet, Sezen, Keb Mo, Lyte, Gramps, doing things together without being in the same place with them, and what it means for all these people to sing songs together.” India.Arie has sold over 8 million albums worldwide, including the double–platinum Acoustic Soul, the platinum Voyage to India and her number one album Testimony: Vol.1, Life & Relationship. Her honors include 17 Grammy nominations, 2 Grammy Awards, 4 ">NAACP Image Awards, and various awards from BET, Billboard, MTV, VH–1, Vogue, Essence, and others. Her songs have appeared in such films as Sex and the City, The Secret Life of Bees, A Soldier’s Story, Radio, A Shark’s Tale and Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Arie launched her own label, Soulbird Music, in June 2008 through Universal Republic, with the release of singer–songwriter Anthony David's album Acey Deucy and the Grammy–nominated single "Words," a duet with Arie.

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