India Arie: More Than “Worthy” – by Clarence Waldron

Singer India Arie has a new album and concert tour, both called "Worthy".

Singer India Arie has released her new album Worthy and although we have an idea of what it will sound like thanks to the singles That Magic and What If?, we all know that India truly shines when she performs live.

She’s currently touring North America in support of the album and bringing her brand of soul to cities big and small. India will do her thing at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana on May 24th. Her unique blend of uplifting messages and romantic overtures will have you spellbound!

N’DIGO had the opportunity to chat with India recently and discussed her new project and her writing process.

N’DIGO: If you could talk to the India Arie of 20 years ago, what would you tell her? What have you learned for sure?
India Arie: I’ve talked a lot about my favorite definition of the word “worthy” being “deserving of regard and respect.” When I look back now, my music industry journey has mirrored my own search for arriving at that realization. So I might say, “Don’t worry so much…you’ll get there.”

Maybe, “Don’t let the outer-world affect you so much.” There is a lot of disrespect and racism and sexism in the industry, and when I started out there was very little awareness about it. It really affected me on a personal level. Now, almost 20 years later, I’m more spiritually and emotionally grounded.

I’ve become more empowered as a person and as a woman in the music industry. Things don’t hurt me like they did then, but I don’t know if you can start out and not experience some of that pain. I’ve learned to listen to myself in terms of what I want and need and not to be pressured by what others need or want from me.

I’ve learned to love myself regardless of how others perceive me and live and love my own truth. That doesn’t mean it’s not still hard some times. I’m always fighting to be seen as the “real” me. I just know it took a long time to get to the person I am now.

Years ago you wanted to quit the business. What made you consider that?
Life has taught me some hard lessons about being myself. There were a lot of reasons I became frustrated, and as much as I fought for what I thought was right, I was also tired of hiding things to “go along.” For every one good person I would meet within the business, there were five people who didn’t have the best intentions.

That realization weighed heavy on my soul and I no longer wanted to be around that type of toxic energy. Along the way, there were certain record companies that would say, “Okay, you can sound like ‘that’ – but you also have to do and look like ‘this’ and ‘this’.”

I was always fighting to be the real artist that I am. Not being myself has made me sick in the past, physically ill; I had ulcers. I realized I had to be me and there’s no shortcut around it. I would have real turmoil in my career and I would be like, “I’m moving to an island and I’m really going to quit.” But eventually I just learned to say “no”.

I realized that saying no meant I could still have my music. Walking away meant the music goes, so I had to learn to say no. One of my favorite spiritual teachers says, “If it’s not a hell yeah – it’s a hell no.” I love that because there’s that middle ground where people can get you to do things you don’t believe in. For me it’s always been I don’t give a damn, or I give a big damn.

As I mentioned before, there’s always been a lot of racism and sexism in this industry, and in many ways, it still is in the foundation. It’s ubiquitous. People talk about being “woke” now, but I’ve fought against the subtle forms of disempowerment all my life.

I’ve grown to be able to express my truest self with words in music and outside of music. I’ve learned, now, to not have too much attachment to those judgmental voices in our business trying to dictate who likes what I do and who doesn’t.

On your Worthy CD, there is so much to enjoy. Sounds like vintage India, a very personal album sprinkled with several straight up love songs like Steady Love and That Magic. Tell me, is there a man in your life these days?

These last three years, I was in a relationship with someone and the love songs are easy to write when you are in a relationship like that. The relationship has since run its course, but also there is a part of me just maturing and letting my sensual self not hide. There was a time when I would not be outwardly sensual on purpose. I would even dress myself in modest ways.

My songs were very careful about how they expressed sexuality because I always thought there was too much of that, it was so extreme when I started out in the industry, and I wanted to be about something else and sing about something else. Where I’m at in my life right now, I would never sing about something crass, but there is a difference in the sensual side of my expression.

I’m letting my sensuality live in another way, letting it be glimpsed in some of the songs, rather than just trying to hide it altogether. But the love songs on the album like Steady Love and Crazy and Good Trouble are about three different people. I like that idea, too, allowing myself to be open to love even when the relationship ends. To be able to walk away and try again.

For a long time, I was like is this the one – is that the one? Looking for the one and trying to lock into things, but that’s not how life really is. Now it’s about being mature enough to know to be in the moment. I also have been in a new relationship with myself because I was only 25 when my first album came out. It’s also about finding that self-empowerment again.

How did the title song Worthy come about? The message is so powerful and motivational.
I wanted to write a song called Worthy, so I had the title before there was a song, and it doesn’t usually happen that way for me. I usually have a concept and I build it out and then the title comes out of that. It took a long time in my life to believe I was truly worthy. Yet looking back, I see I was worthy all along. We all are. But it took a long time to get here.

So for me the song Worthy, the word “worthy”, the concept for the entire album, is about reminding people that even though the world – from your parents on down – are going to say that you have to do or be something “worthy of regard and respect,” the truth is, you decide that you are worthy.

And we have to all find a way to get that into our bodies because a person who feels empowered is really going to be able to shift things in this world. A thousand empowered people marching down the street knowing they are “worthy” is much different than a thousand people just looking for a way to yell.

So the song speaks to knowing you have that kind of power – with lyrics that speak to being “worthy of love, worthy of life, worthy of saying no when something doesn’t feel right.” Nobody is ever going to hand you your empowerment, your “worthiness” – you have to cultivate it from inside.

Another showstopper is What If?. “What if Malcolm didn’t man up, where would we be? What if Sojourner never told the truth or Ida B. Wells never printed the news, where would we be now?” Such powerful words. What inspired you to compose this song?

Image from the “What If?” video.

It’s important for me to credit my executive producer Aaron Lindsay, whom I’ve worked with before and is a joy to work with. He has a heart of service and even though he didn’t produce this song, he knew what I wanted and found the right producer, always wanting me to achieve what I want.

For this one I wanted the message strong, but the beat soft and strong at the same time. But the message was so important. Maybe earlier in my career I would have pulled back. But this is the kind of message I like to share the most, the really deep-hearted spiritual message.

I wanted to find a way to integrate all that inside of myself because I’m naturally a quiet person and for me, it’s usually easier to put a deep message in a quiet song, but not with this one. So I flew to Seattle, which is one of my favorite places for inspiration, to write the song. And I said to myself, “I’m writing this song and I’m not leaving until it’s done.” It took me 12 days, which is a long time for me. But I came back with the song.

I love that it is just a simple message of empowerment and encompasses the philosophy that everyone is somebody’s angel at some time. Some of us are able to reach more people, but I think everyone reaches someone deeply at some point in their life.

For example, Oprah reaches way more people than all of us, but a teacher who may only reach his or her classroom is making a difference, too. And in the world we live in now, it’s all hands on deck. The song has all those iconic references, but it also mentions contemporary people as well. Aaron was like, “Let’s put more names in there.”

I’m also talking to the younger generation. Juxtaposing people in the song. I think it’s a cool aspect of the song to invoke names of people who have changed our world and who were just human. People just like us. I was inspired to find a simple way to remind people of their worth in this world. I wanted to light a fire, start a conversation by simply asking “what if?”

And Sacred Space – tell us the meaning of this one.
Sacred Space is about that calm balance that most people reach either through prayer or meditation. For some, it’s through hiking or being in nature. However one reaches that space is what this song is about. I don’t know how to describe it to a person who has never felt that, but the song itself is intended to be a sacred space.

What can fans expect from your Worthy Tour when you hit the stage at the Horseshoe Casino? Any surprises?
Well, I call my show a “Songversation” and that means exactly what it sounds like. I am not just singing, but communicating with the audience in hopes that they have a personal internal experience, that my words and music can help inspire them to feel what they need to feel.

I string together a narrative with the songs – that’s my intention on this tour and with these songs. At the very least, I want to bring a heartful experience to the stage. I like to describe it as, “I’m not singing to you; I’m singing for you – we’re here together sharing a moment.”

I always want my audience to see the most evolved version of me on that stage. What’s great about the live part of what I do is, even in those insecure moments offstage when all artists think about their “place” in the business – “Where do I live now?”, it goes completely away on stage. The stage is where I say “Oh yes…this is what I love to do!”

It doesn’t’ matter if there are ten thousand people or a hundred – we are all there sharing a moment. People come up to me and say how I inspired them. I do love that about what I do. It goes back to that idea of being able to administer to someone through my music. There is no replacing that one-to-one connection in a live setting.

What song might you open with?
Depends on the night, LOL, which is what “Songversation” is really about – being in the truth of my moment. But usually I open up with I Am Light.

Who do you listen to? What singers out there do you admire?
I am a SINGER person first. Songs second. And if a person has both, I’m all in. Kim Burrell, Brandy, Lizz Wright, Lalah, Oleta Adams and Anita Baker are some of my favorite voices. As far as new artists…Lianne La Havas, Tori Kelly, Gregory Porter, Jamison Ross, Jonathan McReynolds, Mali Music, PJ Morton, Jhene Aiko, H.E.R., Mumu Fresh (Mimouna Yosseff), Omar…and I’m still learning about other new artists out there. There’s also my friend Rolynne – she’s incredible – and also Beady Belle from Norway.

You have had successful collaborations with Stevie Wonder. Who else would you love to team up with?

It is difficult to top Stevie, but I would love to work with James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Bill Withers. Really, collaborating is my favorite thing and I am open to most anyone!

What is an average day like for you out on the road? Are you an early riser? Do you sleep late because of your show time?
I am not an early riser while on the road since I am usually getting to bed late after a show. I do try to get at least six hours of sleep before heading out to the next city and even if I am not sleeping in late, I try to leisurely let the morning unfold – most importantly listening to my body and taking care of my voice in preparation for the next performance.

I always stretch in the morning, shower with essential oils to clear my body and my energy, and have a dedicated prayer and meditation practice. I do a lot of writing during the day; I’m always writing in my journal! I then spend time preparing for the next show.

Home for you is now in Nashville. How long have you lived there? What attracted you to Nashville?
I have lived in two cities at a time or overlapping since 2011. I’ve overlapped in New York City and Nashville while owning a home in Atlanta, but have been in Nashville since the fall of 2017. I left New York City in the fall of 2018.

I have been recording in Nashville for 20 years and always loved it! Once I sold my beloved house in Atlanta, I chose Nashville to set down roots. It’s fresh and green and has a music industry, too. It’s easy to hub out of as a professional traveler. I just love it there.

Do you have any favorite charities?
There are so many great nonprofits out there, but I am particularly fond of those that empower and support women, particularly young women and women of color.

(You can listen to India Arie’s podcast at www.soulbird.co.)

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