In the world of contemporary R&B—or at least the bulk of the music that makes it to “blazing hip-hop and R&B” radio, men are often horny, untrustworthy fornicators and women are either madly in love with the best man in existence or wailing about the emotional wounds received from a horny, untrustworthy fornicator they made fell madly in love with.
Oh, and everyone loves to party.
There doesn’t seem to be much shading, nuance or reflection in the vagaries of love and the powerful lure of the flesh among many of today’s R&B artists/producers who seem to believe that a song’s beat and hook are more important then the lyrical content. But there are R&B artists—yes, true artists—whose voices, thoughts and feelings have been able to cut through the din of empty-headed club jams and trite love/humping songs.
Atlanta-based singer/songwriter India.Arie has used her two multiplatinum selling albums, Acoustic Soul and Voyage To India, to share with listeners that it’s okay to not dress or look like the gyrating fantasy women populating many videos; instead, she unabashedly sings of the importance of finding and believing in one’s own inner strength, courage and wisdom, as well as the importance of honest and open communication with one’s self, loved ones and faith. Arie conveys those heady themes in plain spoken, but thoughtful and poetic language, wrapped in her luxuriously velvety, smoky and soulful alto, laid on sonic beds of soothing and head nodding R&B grooves all anchored by her acoustic guitar.
Since the tour for Voyage To India ended, Arie has stayed largely out of the public eye for the last few years, keeping her output down to only a few songs on soundtracks and an occasional live performance. But, the songstress hasn’t been idle; in fact she’s ready to return to the spotlight with more than 20 new songs chronicling her personal, musical and professional growth.
“I had a lot of different stuff and I wanted it to all make sense on one album, so I separated it into different categories so that my albums would be balanced by the work,” she says. To wit, this summer, fans will be treated to Testimony Vol. 1: Life & Relationships. “The relationship songs are not romantic; they’re the truth about my experience in relationship,” she adds.
“It talks about the kind of stuff that goes on when you’re in a relationship, like how hard it is to forgive sometimes…how angry a person makes you because they are so close…that stuff that people never talk about in song. A lot of times people are either really angry with the person or really in love with the person in the song and my attempt with these songs is to talk about the authentic tension that happens in a long term relationship with someone…what it’s really like…what it was like for me.”
The next group of songs to be released later in 2006 or early 2007 will be called Testimony Vol. 2 – Love & Politics. “The love songs are very romantic songs and the politics are, well, political,” she says. “But I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to avoid the American political climate. I don’t really sing about the president, but I do talk about our societies’ lack of acceptance for homosexuality, AIDS & HIV. It’s political as it pertains to humanity.”
Arie’s interest in politics on a global level was informed in part by her participation in a tour and documentary with actress Ashley Judd through the Kenya Network of Women With AIDS. In Africa, she witnessed first hand the devastation AIDS and HIV is having in Kenya and across the continent. The experience gave her a new perspective on the problems at home and informed the “politics” of Vol. 2.
“To me singing about George Bush takes a back seat, because I’ve seen other things that I’d rather address.” But her global outlook doesn’t mean that the current administration hasn’t inspired her.
“Well, I did write a song called ‘Who The President Should Be’ because I always look and think that the president of this nation should be someone like the Dalai Lama, someone with a strict moral code and someone who is very connected to a higher wisdom so they can get the right answers for our nation,” she said. “You know, a more humanitarian soul.
Many of the songs on both albums were recorded in Arie’s new studio built in the Atlanta-area home she recently bought (her first). She says as much as she loves the road and performing, there’s nothing like being at home and despite being born in Denver and moving to Atlanta when she was 12, she considers herself a Southerner.
“The furthest back (her family) can go with our American roots is Memphis. So most of my family lives down there and my great-grandmother still lives there in the same house she lived in when my mother was a child, you know what I’m talking about? So my roots are definitely Southern and when I’m in the South, I’m home. So, I can fly in from Amsterdam and as soon as I get to look down on the trees I can say, ‘I’m home!’”
Testimony Vol. 1: Life & Relationships will be released June 27 on Universal Motown with guest artists including Bela Fleck and Flecktone’s bassist Victor Wooten, country group Rascal Flatts and R&B vocalist Akon. Arie performs at Atlanta’s Chastain Park on July 29, 2006.