India.Arie has had quite the remarkable career since her debut over sixteen years ago with her first studio album “Acoustic Soul”. The four time Grammy Award winner has since released six more music projects, the most recent one called “Songversations: Medicine”, which is the follow up to her critically acclaimed Songversations album back in 2013. She has taken her recordings with her latest EP out of the studio and brought them to places that are a bit unlikely for an artist do to, which includes a cruise to Alaska and a prominent college in Boston, just to name a few.
She has had quite the busy summer, with her recently performing on Oprah Winfrey’s “Share the Adventure” cruise on top of promoting the new EP which just came out back in June. We recently spoke with India.Arie about her experience on the cruise, her excitement about the Songversation practices that she hopes will softens someone’s day, and how she hopes to be known as more than just a singer in the later years of her life. Take a look.
I know that you just got back from the Oprah “Share the Adventure” cruise! What was the experience like for you and the guests?
What was the experience like? It’s hard to answer because I don’t have anything to compare it to. From what I understand, it had a different energy from most cruises because it was an Oprah event, and the kind of people she attracts. Alaska is crazy, crazy beautiful. It was cold and that was inspiring and invigorating, kind of like how rainy days make you feel, or at least me feel.
I did two performances, and I really enjoyed them. My performances are called “Songversations”, and in my Songversations I speak and sing and tell stories. I did a Songversation, a short one, on Oprah’s “Super Soul Session” so a lot of the people on the cruise knew about my performances and what I do on stage so people were looking forward to it which was really nice. I have this new album out Songversation: Medicine, which has a companion journal called the Songversation: Journal, which I debuted on the cruise and I did a song that incorporated the journal.
Also, the O Magazine cover story this month is called “Let it Go”, and one of the favorite songs that people like off my EP is called “Just Let it Go”, so that was fun to have some sort of parallel with the magazine. Oprah kept talking to me about the song and saying “I love that one, it’s my favorite!” I did some meet and greets and its nice to see all kinds of people. A lot of older white women said “I didn’t know you at all, before today, and I loved it including your stories and songs”. I can’t speak for other people’s experiences, but I had a great time.
I am loving your new EP which you just mentioned, Songversations: Medicine. What was the process like in developing this?
Really, I started it before my other Songversation album was even complete, but I didn’t even know if I was going to reveal these songs. As I was writing my other album, my godmother was going through cancer treatment so I wrote some of these songs for her. These are the only songs in my career that I would actually listen to, like I would listen to others for a minute but that’s it. I played “I am Light”, which is also on the Songversation album, but I wrote that for her. I’ve played that a lot over the past couple of years. I listen to that more than any other song I have done. There are other songs on there called “Light of the Holy Spirit” and “Give Thanks”, those are also for her and I’ve played those a lot over the last five years. They have become part of my daily spiritual factor.
So, like I mentioned, I never thought I would release this music. But then, 2016 and 2017 has been so tumultuous for everyone that I wanted to offer something in the name of softening and healing and warming people’s hearts. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do with my music, and I’ve always prayed over the music and I released this one with that main intention but even more than that. I’m stronger and more empowered in my mission. The world needs it, not to feel like I have the answer but we comprise the world we in so we all have to offer what we have. This is what I have, and so I released my private songs because it felt right.
Living in New York City is nonstop noise and chaos. Do you think that people from bustling and busy cities like this can benefit from not only your EP but your music overall?
Yes! For me, nature is a very sacred space. Not everywhere, I’m not an insect person or anything. That time when you get to be on a water or in a park, that music is born out of that. I wrote this in the Northwest in 2012, and was really sourcing from nature for those songs. So that tranquility, sometimes its elusive for a lot of people given their lifestyle but I think it’s in the music. I think it’s perfect for the concrete jungle or people with a fast-paced life, and ultimately people who are open to some softness. Music can bring you all kinds of emotions, its why we love it so much, and I think a person in NYC who needs a quick way to feel soft for a minute is where my music can do that.
I saw that you are teaching a class on Songversations up north in Boston at Berklee College of Music. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I met the president of Berklee on Martha’s Vineyard last summer, and asked if I wanted to do something at the college. I told him, “Oh I know exactly what I want to do”, because I have been doing a certain practice with myself since 2010. I have now named it Songversation practice, which is what the journal is part of and what I referred to earlier. We talked about doing it in 2017 but it’s looking like it’s going to be in 2018 because I am doing a PBS special in the fall of 2017 so I need to focus on that for the time being.
The Songversation practice is a class about how to get yourself to a flow where you are able to create your best work, whatever your work is. It’s not just about songwriting, or even the art, it’s about focus and being grounded and centered into your work. I have done it with some of my friends, so it’s about getting to a state where you are letting your work emerge. So everything from getting around writer’s block to create work that feels authentic for you. My ideal is that when a person creates that place, that they create the most transformative work for themselves and for others.
My song “I am Light” is one of my most popular songs now. It’s not a single, hasn’t been on the radio, hasn’t received any music industry push or anything like that but it’s still one of my most popular songs and one that I created using my Songversation practice. I hope that it works for other people too. I am going to do it in Berkeley in Boston, and I do also hope to do it in the New York area. I haven’t figured out exactly how, but that is something I want to do.
In conclusion, what are you looking forward to in your exciting future?
I’m looking forward to teaching and writing and making my music all at the same time. It’s why I created Songversation, so I could have a name to call it, like “if you build it, they will come” thing, this is what I do. If you want to come see that, come see me, instead of trying to become what people expect. I stopped doing that in 2010 and I don’t plan on ever doing that sort of thing again.
For me to be who I am, and write and sing and teach and be prolific in it. Right now I’m just getting started, but I would love to really do it. Really public things and teach in different institutions and colleges and I would love to have a Girl’s Rights of Passage program because they need it. I want to do that work and be prolific in it. I want to be someone who when I am in my 50’s or 60’s that I am not just known for being an entertainer, but all of those things combined.
For more information on India.Arie, please check out her official website.