Making spirituality hip is no easy task. Often the results seem forced, hokey even. But India.Arie’s new album Songversation sidesteps such pitfalls with the honest, intimate first lines of opener “Just Do You”: “I heard a voice telling me I’m essential.” Spurred by her own recent personal struggles (and almost-retirement from music), Arie offers self empowerment through a sophisticated spiritual dialogue where that divine “voice” impacts Songversation’s entire 16-song set. In both lyrics and production, she eschews religious dogma, favoring a warm, peace-filled exploration from many backgrounds. Islam inspires with the entrancing Turkish ney flute on “Flowers” while Buddhism and Christianity merge lyrically on anthemic, atmospheric gem “SoulBird Rise.”
Arie makes clear, though, that part of a healthy spiritual practice means sometimes leaving the heavy soul searching behind in favor of fun and, yes, sex. She’s at her most mature and sensual yet on thumping single “Cocoa Butter,” crooning that her lover is like “cocoa butter on my heart” and then pointedly urging him to “rub it in.” But even here she notes God’s “blessing” for such a relationship. Whether through sex, self-empowerment, the support of loved ones or letting go of troubles, Songversation shows the myriad ways the
divine manifests, especially in music.