India.Arie Talks SZA, Spirituality and ‘SongVersation: Medicine': ‘Black Singer-Songwriters Haven’t Gotten a Fair Shake’
India.Arie has been sharing her message of self-love and hope with people all around the world since she dropped her debut album Acoustic Soul in 2001, . With classic cuts like "Video" and "Brown Skin," and albums like Voyage to India, two Testimony albums and 2013's Songversation, the singer-songwriter has certainly made an impressive mark.
In June, the Denver, Colo. native released her latest project, the EP SongVersation: Medicine--a project she "describes as meant to be listened to during quiet time, like in prayer, mediation or yoga." India performed the the first single "I Am Light" with Erykah Badu on the 2016 Soul Train awards, and she talked to The Boombox about the SongVersation EP and how her music fits with the cultural boom of black female creativity.
What inspired this latest project?
SongVersation does have a creative process, and it has a spiritual process. Which for me, creativity and spirituality are one in the same, so SongVersation: Medicine is an album that I offered in the spirit of just administering to people who are caught up in the times."
"The world is changing so fast," she continued. "We're all looking for something meaningful. People who never thought about meaningful things before now are looking for things that are meaningful, because the world is so crazy ... I wanted to detail the process through which I create my music, and so I call that the Songversation Package Journal that is a companion to this album, and I just debuted it on the Oprah Share the Adventure Cruise.
Can you talk about the "I Am Light" single and what you wanted to convey in the song?
I think that song is able to speak to people where they are. For me, I think the bottom line is, which is one of my favorite quotes that's from C.S. Lewis, 'You do not have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.' To me that's what ['I Am Light]' is really all about. Reminding people that things are going to happen sometimes, but it's not wrong it's human. We're going to struggle, but it's not wrong it's human. We're going to have good times, but that doesn't mean it's going to define you anymore than the bad times.
There seems to be a surge in high profile music and movie releases that speak to black women. What’s your take on that? Why the sudden shift?
I think black women are seeking to empower ourselves. When you're in a world that always doesn't love you, it starts to where you have to love you. And that's the best you can hope for, and then other people might love you too, but then you figure it out at some point like 'We're going to make our own movies.' Like Ava DuVernay, that's why she's so important, right? That's why Oprah making that commitment to tell black stories is so important. I think the pain of being a black woman in the world makes us want to empower [ourselves more], and I think the art comes out of that.
I also think that Michelle Obama has something to do with it. Just seeing her brought a certain empowerment ... Just seeing this woman [reminded us] "Wait a minute, we're dope."
What do you think about SZA’s recent success, and what does it mean for black female singer-songwriters going forward?
I don't think black singer-songwriters in the industry have ever gotten a fair shake, because the music industry says the same words like 'There can only be one of ya'll or two of ya'll at a time,' and there's all these other people who have different offerings, but they don't see you as unique, they just see you as another one of those things.
Like Jazmine Sullivan. For me she's one of the best singers in the world, technically speaking and she wrote those songs and those songs are great. But they're going to make her compete for a slot with SZA, and it doesn't make sense. They're not the same thing. Just because they're thick girls with pretty faces and write songs, they're not the same thing ... There can be an Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes, and they let it happen, but there can't be two [black singer-songwriters who play guitar].
Can you tell us how you began teaching The SongVersation Practice classes at Berklee College in Boston?
With The SongVersation Practice, it was a natural evolution of me finding who I am, and how I evolved and as a writer, I wanted to detail it and share it with other people. I was at Martha's Vineyard, I met the head of Berklee and he said 'Would you ever come to Berklee? Is there something you want to do?' I think he asked me thinking I'd have to think about it. I said 'I have something,' and he loved the idea.