India Arie’s voice floats like silk whenever she releases a note. On the surface, you wouldn’t think that this light of positivity and messenger of self worth experienced the trauma detailed in her revealing episode of Centric’s Being.
“A tumultuous childhood” led the soulful singer, songwriter and poet to find her voice and emerge on the music scene with inspiring lyrics, “Not your average girl in the video, my worth is not determined by the price of my clothes.” Now, six albums later and a triumphant story to share, the Denver-bred artist is preparing new music and can be heard on various podcasts such as Robin Roberts’ Everybody’s Got Something, where she also performs the theme song, and you can watch her doing a Songversation, called “SongVersation WORTHY” on Oprah’s new Supersoul.tv website.
EBONY caught up with the multiple Grammy Award-winning soul bird ahead of her Centric premiere of Being to discuss life, getting through the storm and creating music. —LaToya Cross
EBONY: Why did you decide to tell your story on Being? What do you hope people get from watching the show?
India Arie: It was less of a decision and more of being in alignment with where I have been since 2009. That year I decided I wanted to be FREE to be me, and not who I was TOLD I needed to be. And so, doing Being was natural. The LESS natural part was letting people into my house LOL! But as you’ll see on Being, I am moving out of my house, which was really, my most important relationship. But I realized during that three-day shoot, it’s not my house anymore. So sharing that was deeper, LOL! Anybody want to buy a house?
EBONY: You’re an abuse survivor and had a very difficult childhood, how did you manage to not only stay alive, but thrive after going through such trauma?
India Arie: I managed because of my mother. I managed because I’m strong. I managed the same way every other abuse survivor survives, you just DO. SO MANY PEOPLE have been abused, it’s not rare, it’s a VERY common human experience, and we survive. Also, my music plays a big role in my thriving. Having an outlet, it really makes a difference.
EBONY: What advice would you give to those who are suffering from an abusive or painful situation?
India Arie: Your work is to find healing. And I find, for me, it’s a little bit at a time, and eventually it’s barely there. And the journey is finding what works for you and doing it.
EBONY: What’s the secret to being so resilient and bouncing back from difficulties?
India Arie: TRYING. There is no secret, you try and never stop trying. If you have to sleep all day, and get up the next day, you keep trying. If you have to take 3 years away, do it and then come back. But it’s all about trying. Not everything will work, but some things will, and you have to try.
EBONY: Music literally saved your life. When did you first fall in love with music?
India Arie: I was born in love with music. My mother is a singer, many of my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side are musical, my grandparents sang and played blues piano. It’s literally in my blood. My mother wrote an original song to teach me the days of the week … and then there was Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, James Taylor, Bill Withers and I heard me in there. Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt, Oleta Adams, I heard me.
EBONY: Take us inside your writing process. What comes to you first, words or melodies?
India Arie: What comes first is my SongVersation practice. You will hear me talk about this in my BEING episode. It’s a way I get myself set for the songs to emerge, rather that forcing it to come out. I do that first and then I write, and melody and words come at different times in different ways.
EBONY: You’re very outspoken on social media–you’ve written open letters about the Nina Simone biopic, and in support of Chrisette Michele. Why is it important to lend your voice to social issues?
India Arie: I don’t see it as lending my voice as much as I see it speaking my truth. If you look at my open letters—the one I wrote about Blue Ivy, too—you see, I am always as the foundation, talking about us being a better humanity. I believe in that. It’s in my music, and its on my mind all the time. To spread love, healing peace and joy is my mission in life, and so I speak up.
EBONY: You partnered with the Dance Theater of Harlem and released a new song, “High Above.” Is an album on its way?
India Arie: An album is on the way. An EP called Breathe (the single and video is on iTunes now.) I sang the song with Erykah Badu on the SoulTrain Awards. It’s inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
And in 2018 a full length album called WORTHY is coming. There have been a lot of changes in the business side of my career, and I am very happy and fulfilled to be in a more empowered position in my business. It’s been a long time coming— 20 years—and I am so happy about new music!
EBONY: Is there something you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask about?
India Arie: I am on an album with theater icon Billy Porter called The Soul of Richard Rodgers. Our duet is called “Carefully Taught.”
I have a series of essays and videos called SongVersation: I Am Light on my website. it’s FULL of ALL of my truth and even an unreleased song. And there is an email where the reader can write me. I’m proud of it.
Being airs Saturday nights at 10 pm ET on Centric. Catch up on EBONY & Centric’s entire interview series here.