India.Arie’s SongVersation with Cotton Candy10.30.13
Four-time Grammy winner and soul singer India.Arie has ostensibly shared some of her deepest emotions with the world through her music. And now after a self-imposed, four-year hiatus, the highly reputed songstress is continuing her journey with perhaps her most personal album to date. SongVersation, the singer’s fifth studio album released the summer of 2013, is composed of everything from her familiar love ballads to those infectious self-empowering tunes. But Cotton Candy learned that India.Arie has much more to share when we caught up with her during a recent album signing with Palmer’s skin care products , a seemingly perfect partnership. The singer’s first single of the new album, Cocoa Butter, speaks of the healing powers of true love – much like the soothing effects of cocoa butter. The metaphor prompted India.Aire to partner with Palmer’s, known for its signature Cocoa Butter Formula. With a new wave of energy, the poignant musician shares how she defines true success, what makes a man attractive (and it’s not the physical) and what she continues to dream for her own life.
Cotton Candy: Obviously most people know you for your music. But what is it that you want to be best known for?
India.Arie I mean, I want to be known for my music, of course. But I want to be known for the message in my music. And hopefully, I have about five more decades left on the planet. And I want to bring that same message to other mediums. I want to be known for that – for the message I bring to the world.
And what do you feel your message is?
Well, all the basic spiritual truths like the inter-connectivity of humanity, being kind to old people, making a sustainable world for the future generation coming behind you, respect of women, and respect of men – respect of relationships. Even self-defined sexuality, understanding what it means to honor yourself, what it means to honor your finances, and what it means to have self-worth. You know just the basic things we all need to remember. We all have it, but sometimes you may not even be aware if you haven’t been exposed to more and seen the world.
When you write songs, a lot of people take the lyrics and apply them to their lives. Do you feel like you’re giving advice or are listeners getting a part of you?
I mean when I’m making music, I’m seeking to share my opinion. So yes, I’m giving a part of me. But I can never truly say what people are getting. Some people take it as a lesson. Actually, the negative critique that I get – the only one – is that I’m trying to teach people something. That’s never my intention, but I can’t control if somebody takes it that way.
But when you make music you are in fact teaching a lot of people.
I mean I do. But when I write songs, I’m writing for me because those are things that I am going through, things that I think, and things that I am learning. But some people don’t always understand that. They think I’m trying to tell them what to do. I don’t even feel like that. I feel like I’m sharing my journey. But you know that saying, “We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” So however anybody sees my music, I can’t control it. But if they like it, then I think they’re right. (Laughs.) No, I’m just kidding. (Laughs) Just joking.
Let’s talk about your latest album, SongVersation. First of all what is a songversation?
A songversation is – well first of all a songversation is a performance style that integrates creative and intellectual mediums. So I speak, and I sing. And I sing, and then there’s a screen that has quotes. And the quotes are from luminaries like Plato or James Baldwin, Jesus, maybe T.D. Jakes. Sometimes the audience talks back to me. It’s a multimedia performance style. I’ve never said that before. (Laughs) But yes.
And also a songversation is a fellowship through music of any kind. People want to understand each other though music. The album has recording that we went to Turkey to gather, with Turkish musicians. All of the Middle Eastern music is live. It’s real. So that was a songversation that happened there too. I could keep going on that. But a songversation is a lot of things.
Obviously, Atlanta claims you to be her own. Where do you consider home?
Um, just on a really mundane, human level home is where my mom is. Whatever state she lives in is where I’m always going to have a home. Even if I move away, I will stay have a home because you know it’s my mom. But um, I really like to be by the water. And Atlanta is not that type of town. But that’s the type of person I am. I love – and I guess I feel most at home in Hawaii. I’m like, “These are my people. These people think like me. They eat like me.” It’s me. There are a lot of different energies in Hawaii. It represents a lot of different climates in the world on all the islands, just depends on where you go. But I really like the green parts of Hawaii. Rainbows every day. It’s so me.
Now most people would say the fact that you’ve won four Grammys from twenty-one nominations is what makes you a success. But how do you define success?
Clarity of my intention, and reaching that intention while being true to myself.
And what do you mean by clarity of intention?
Well, a lot of people just walk through their lives not knowing what they want to do. They stumble upon things, and they decide when they stumble upon it if it’s what they want to do. Clarity of intention is having a vision for yourself and being clear about what it is. Things then come up that help you work toward it when you know what you want.
Has there ever been a time that you felt like giving up on your dreams?
There was a time that I wanted to give up on the music industry. But I don’t consider that giving up on my dreams. I think giving up on your dreams means giving up on constantly engaging your life. I have never wanted to do that. Just give up. I did want to leave the music industry for a while. But instead of leaving the music industry, I decided I was going to figure out how to do it in a way that suits me. But just giving up, no. Life is having dreams.
What do you dream about now? Everyone would say you have everything.
(Laughs) I do not have everything. Not even close. (Sighs) I mean I have a lot of dreams, but as far as my career goes I want to continue to bring the message that I carry – what we talked about in the beginning. I’m ready to explore that through other mediums. Of course, I have dreams for my personal life and dreams for my future. You know.
What about relationships? A lot of guys would like to ask you out, obviously.
(Laughs) Is that obvious? Because they don’t. (Laughs) They ask me to marry them. I say, “You don’t even know me, yet.” (Laughs)
Then what’s your perfect guy? Or is there one?
I don’t know what my perfect guy is per se. But I know what I like about guys. I don’t have a physical type. I have an energetic type. I like men who are explorers, who know a whole lot about life and can talk about anything. And I like men who are interested in what’s going on in the world. I like a man who’s a thinker but with heart. And when I meet them I know. I say to myself, “I like talking to him. He made me look in the dictionary.” I love that. (Laughs)
We always want to ask this for people trying to make it as musicians or who are trying to make it in the industry. What advice do you have for specifically for them?
I mean, I think first of all if you have to beg people to sign you, you should find other ways to put out your music. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making music, but it does mean people should be coming to you. I feel like if you love making music, then you should be making music, not trying to just be a star. You should make music because that’s what you love to do. The music industry is too hard already if it’s not really what you want to be doing. You’re not going to want to keep doing it. In my opinion people should come to you. And I feel that way with all types of relationships. There’s so much at stake when you sign a record deal because you’re giving away so many years of your life. You’re becoming a business partner with someone that you have no idea who they are, so they should really want you. … And be yourself. Because one day you could look up and all the music that was special and your look which was special, all the things that make you special could end up polished out. Your fans won’t even recognize you anymore because you’re not who you were, and you can’t blame the label. You made the choice. How do you say no? Just be scared, and do what you know is right… Just practice that courage muscle. And you’re going to get a lot of chances in the music industry – in life period.
What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?
Same thing. Be yourself. Take chances. Be courageous. Everybody isn’t going to like you. It doesn’t matter. (Laughs.) Even if what others say bothers you, just keep moving forward like it doesn’t, and eventually it won’t bother you.
Written by: Natasha Danielle Smith