India.Arie – Acoustic Soul
YOU get these albums that are overlooked…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and deserve retrospective acclaim. There are a few great Neo-Soul artists around at the moment – including Jamila Woods –, but it is a style of music that is desperately missed. I think the world would benefit from the sort of brilliance and uplift the genre offers. In a scene where there is a lot of processed Pop and Post-Punk rawness, Neo-Soul has a sunniness that is hard to ignore but it also allows artists to go deep and talk about something important or political. The Colorado-raised India.Arie was born into a talented family. Her father was an NBA player whilst her mother was a Motown singer who opened for Stevie Wonder and Al Green when she was a teenager. The fact is India.Arie grew up around a lot of music. She travelled a lot and there was always singing and dancing in the family. It is hardly a surprise India.Arie decided to get into music and was inspired at a young age. One can only imagine those early days where she was being exposed to great Soul and Motown records. Above all, there would have been this positive spirit and togetherness that fed into her psyche; affected her debut album and made it such a classic. Acoustic Soul was released in 2001 and was nominated for seven Grammys in 2002. There have been some big snubs through the years but, in one of the biggest snubs ever, India.Arie lost in every category.
One could allege there was a racial component at work; showing an ignorance or, at the very least, not understanding the power and importance of Acoustic Soul. This oversight affected India.Arie and it took her a while to recover. She realised that she had to make the music she wanted to, rather than what people expected of her. What gets to me is how anyone can ignore and sell short an album as brilliant as Acoustic Soul! Maybe she got snubbed at the Grammys because, in 2001, there was nobody like India.Arie about. R&B groups like Destiny’s Child were providing a more synthetic and processed form of music whereas India.Arie gave the world this more natural, musical and diverse album that was less about going in hard with big choruses and more about letting the music unfurl and get into the heart. One cannot deny the legacy of the album and the fact that it has influenced modern Neo-Soul artists. I have had the song, Video, stuck in my head for days – I am not sure how it got in there but I am not going to let it out! I would encourage people to buy Acoustic Soul on vinyl because it sound tremendous and is a perfect album to get lost in. Video is a song about self-acceptance and not having to compare one’s self to women in music videos. I have found an article from 2017 where they highlight India.Arie’s brilliance and discuss her words of empowerment:
“India’s empowering words are critical in a world where too few women recognize their worth. However, not even this queen herself always practices what she preaches. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Arie disclosed that when she released uplifting tracks like “Video” she felt anything but self-love. She revealed that the messages she conveyed to embrace who you are were affirmations for how she wanted to feel.
Despite her confident exterior, India Arie truly struggled with self-doubt. She told Oprah, “Your real job in the world is to be you. Comparing yourself to other people […] I think that hurt me more than anything.” Arie was never the prom queen or considered the “it girl,” so she felt out of place in the music industry. However, she also revealed in her interview that she can now confidently say that she loves herself wholeheartedly.
In one of her latest songs, “I am Light,” Arie sings, “I am not the voices in my head. I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside, I am light.” Her lyrics now go beyond an affirmation. They are proof of her inner growth. India Arie gives us a model of how we want to feel, but also acknowledges that truly loving yourself is a lifelong process. Basically, we are all queens even if we don’t feel that way right now”.
That embracing of self-love and worth is something we need to see more of today. There was a lot of positive music out in 2001 but I think Acoustic Soul was so different to anything else that meant it caused a real sense of excitement when it arrived. Video is a compelling and simply staggering song and has a great video; one which sees India.Arie, with guitar in hand, walking in an idyllic setting and accepting who she is; what makes her happy and how special she is.
I remember hearing Video when it came out as a single and I was instantly taken aback! It still sounds so engrossing and it is a song that gets into the head and compels you to sing along. That is not the only golden track on the album. Singles Strength, Courage & Wisdom, Brown Skin and Ready for Love are exceptional and, with India.Arie co-writer on almost every album track (Part of My Life is the exception), she puts her heart and personality into every song. It is no surprise that Acoustic Soul went down a storm with critics. It was so different to anything else and showed an alternative to the R&B and Rock of the day. In 2005, NME had their say:
“At a time when R&B seems divided into two large camps – the synthesized, albeit accomplished, commercialism of the likes of Destiny’s Child, Sisqo and Craig David et al; and that sprawling mass of experimentation and urban cool known as Nu Classic Soul that, unreasonably, umbrellas everyone from D’Angelo to Jazzyfatnastees – India’s organic combo of acoustic symphonics, naked drums, the frankness of hip hop, and a voice borne of soul in its purest, most spiritual sense, stands out as a kind of sweet liberation.
‘Acoustic Soul’ delivers itself like a prayer. Lyrically, it makes a religion of blackness. A shrine to black femininity. To roundness and loveliness regardless of material worth in the audacious opener, ‘Video’; to brilliance and honesty in the guitar-wrapped ‘Back to the Middle’; to love and bravery in the elegant ‘Ready For Love’.
Many other crusaders come to mind: Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello, Roberta Flack – women with the blues tangled up in their hearts, who bind stoicism with sensuality, who create spaces, and will always, always do their own thing – no compromise. ‘Acoustic Soul’ is a formidable and deeply artistic debut”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
AllMusic highlight the fact that Acoustic Soul, whilst it does look to the past, was a very modern record – and still sounds alive and meaningful today:
“As one of the most promising neo-soul artists yet to emerge in the past few years, India.Arie casts her lot with the best artists of her label's storied history, playing deeply introspective songs laced with glistening acoustic guitar, churchy organ, and smooth, supple beats. When she name-checks those artists no longer with us that she claims as influences (Ma Rainey, Miles Davis, Karen Carpenter, Charley Patton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Donny Hathaway, etc.) in three separate interludes, you have no doubt she is looking back as well as forward, even going so far as to invoke Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." But Acoustic Soul is at its best when the arrangements are deliberately modern. And despite the uniqueness of being a guitar-based R&B album, it is Arie's thick, sandy voice that shares star billing with her exceptional lyrics. Betraying youthful vulnerability while at the same time projecting strength, confidence, and uncanny insight for a 25-year-old singer/songwriter, Arie wraps herself effortlessly around the deep, funky sensuality of "Brown Skin," and stands tall in defiance of pop-fashion expectations on the irresistibly catchy "Video." The uplifting "Faith, Courage, Wisdom" rides along on a euphoric chorus, and the plainly autobiographical "Back to the Middle" recounts an emotional and spiritual coming of age. Without the many concrete references to the great R&B music of the past, Acoustic Soul would be a purely modern gem, but as Arie is determined to pay her debts up front, it's much more, and that is admirable”.
Subsequent albums have not proved as popular as Acoustic Soul – Voyage to India (2002) and Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship (2006) are interesting records but received mixed reviews – but every album since Acoustic Soul is fascinating and worthy of investigation. Back in February, India.Arie released her latest album, Worthy, and it gained some positive reviews. There is not the same attention at her feet as there was back in 2001 but, at a time when there is division and the rights of black citizens in the U.S. are being overlooked, it seems Worthy is as important an album as Acoustic Soul. When speaking with Billboard, she talked about the album and what led her into the studio:
“Fast-forward to the aptly titled Worthy. Recorded in Nashville, which India.Arie currently calls home, the album finds the singer reuniting with executive producer Aaron Lindsey, longtime creative colleagues Shannon Sanders and Branden Burch plus new collaborators Joel Cross and Chuck Butler. Showcasing Arie’s ever-evolving and compelling perspectives on love, life and humanity, the 16-track set’s noteworthy selections include Caribbean-vibed first single “That Magic” (No. 6 peak on Adult R&B Songs), “Steady Love,” “In Good Trouble,” the title track and the inspirational “What If,” an emotion-packed tribute honoring social activists from past (Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks) to present (#MeToo).
Was there a pivotal moment that led you back into the studio to record Worthy?
I don’t know if I’ve ever had moments where I’m like okay, let’s get started. That’s because I’m always working on the next record in my heart somewhere. Even when I [almost] quit that one time. This one just started slowly taking shape with Aaron and I writing songs. Then I met Joel Cross, another songwriter, and we wrote a lot of songs. At a certain point I was like, “I’m ready to start putting these together into something.” And it turned into Worthy.
How would you describe India.Arie then versus now?
The India of “I Am Not My Hair” was searching for how to be empowered and free. She knew she had it inside of her but a lot of things were blocking it. The India of today has achieved freedom and empowerment; maybe earned is the right word. I also earned the respect of myself. I like who I am, even in the hard times, and it’s coming across in my music. The “I Am Not My Hair” India used to completely fall apart. Like “I quit; I’m moving to a whole other country. I’m out.” Today, I’m like, “Oh I had a hard day, but oooooh I got to sing.” I see the joy in all the things I get to do now because I’m doing it the way that I want to do it. All of my life my mom has been saying that happiness is a choice. It used to drive me nuts. I’d be like, “If happiness was a choice, everybody would just be happy.” The India of today understands what she means now”.
I am glad the phenomenal India.Arie is still releasing music and looking ahead. It has been overlooked to an extent but I think people need to look back and see where she came from. Acoustic Soul is such a moving, inspiring and nuanced album that means, after just one listen, the songs will ingrain themselves in the brain! In the lyrics for Video, India.Arie talked about not being like the women in music videos and being true to herself. It would have been a shame if she changed her looks to fit into a commercial scene; the fact she remained natural and pure made the music world…
SO much richer.