Interviewed and written by Tocarra Eldridge
Resurfacing from a four year hiatus, Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter and producer, India Arie has much to be excited about these days. After a tumultuous time in India’s life and making a conscious decision to step out of the spotlight to focus on rebuilding her life and career, India has newly reinvented herself, and returns with the most illuminating album of her career, SongVersation. India is truly an incomparable talent that is among the plethora of artist distributing some of the most powerful and inspiring music. She has been at the fore of delivering soulful music for more than a decade. India’s unwavering fortitude and authenticity is something to be greatly admired. Despite all the glory, India remains very much grounded. She has an amazing spirit and a new found maturity about her music, as well as a new sense of who she is as an artist.
In an industry where positivity in music has become a rarity, India continues to send out positive vibes through her music spreading messages of love, peace and healing through the power of her songs. She maintains the deliverance of heartfelt soulful lyrics that fans around the world have loved since her debut. The gracious, astute and ever so talented India Arie shares inspiring songs increasing happiness and conscious awareness through the most powerful and uplifting music.
I’ve been fortunate to interview a wide variety of significant individuals throughout the years, but I have to say, India Arie is seemingly the most pleasant and cognizant person that I have ever interviewed. The incredibly exciting and very personal conversation that I had with soulbird India Arie was very inspiring, empowering and enjoyable. In this candid exclusive interview, the very gifted and equally gorgeous songstress discusses spiritual awakening, empowerment, challenges endured, her latest album SongVersation, and so much more.
Tocarra Eldridge: How important is it for India Arie to maintain her integrity in the mainstream industry?
India Arie: That’s funny (laugh). You know that’s funny because when someone says India Arie I realize that they are talking about me, but from the outside. I realize that integrity in the mainstream industry is apart of my brand. But when I think of me, India, from the inside, it is important for me to maintain my integrity in general. It’s the kind of person that I want to be. My heroes have a great deal of integrity, and my mom. Especially all of the women in my family, they all have a great deal of integrity, so that’s who I want to be. I think it is a blessing that I have been able to be who I really am and also find commercial success in the music industry. We’re used to seeing people sell out for success, and if I sold out I probably could be a lot bigger artist too. But I couldn’t sell out; it’s not even an option for me. It’s not who I am as a person. So, it could never be who I am as an artist.
Tocarra: You have been very successful in a field where so many others have failed. What is your formula for success?
India: I’ve never really thought about a formula. I think this is working for me because this is what I am supposed to be doing. I’m not necessarily referring to the music industry by this, and all of the connotation of that whole thing…being famous and all, I don’t mean that. What I do mean is that I think the message that I’m carrying is what I am supposed to be doing. Doing it through music is my passion, but the message is my mission. I think that because I am on the mission…it’s working, but that’s just a guess. (laugh) I have no idea why it works like this. I have no idea why somebody who does what I do, why it’s commercially valuable. I feel like a lot of people in the music industry know that it’s not supposed to be working too. But somehow it does and I think that makes it all the more interesting.
Tocarra: What about longevity?
India: In terms of longevity…I’ve been in the music industry for 15 years, but I’ve been active for probably half of them. So taking time off and taking time to regroup, go slow and create a new artistic offering…all of those things again aren’t really supposed to work because the music industry is so competitive and it changes so fast. But somehow whenever I come back people are interested in what I have to say. It’s a blessing. I still feel like a part of the reason why people are still interested in hearing what I have to say is because of what I am saying. It carries a rebel of truth.
Tocarra: What are some of the hardships or challenges over the course of your career that India Arie has endured being in the music industry?
India: So many! (laugh) Soooo many! (laugh) Maybe that’s a part of the longevity too, that I keep facing the hardships head on and overcoming them. For me the main thing is that you end up doing business with a lot of people who have different values for their business life than they do for their personal life. People do all kinds of things in the realm of business that regular good people would never do, and they end up being in your business. So you have to deal with people whose values you don’t respect being close to your business. That’s been the biggest challenge. People lying and saying they’re going to be there and they’re not there. People who you feel are your family and then you look up and they are cheating you the most. All of that stuff is real. Everything that you hear about on Behind the Music is real; it happens to everyone. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been betrayed in some form or fashion in the music industry.
Tocarra: Have there been any challenges in your personal life?
India: I think that there have been personal challenges too, just giving so much of myself to an endeavor for all of my adult life. It has made a lot of the regular things like family, being at home for an extended period of time, having relationships that are not long distant…has made those regular things hard to come by. So I’m learning now how to have balance, and how to have a grounded and exciting life, and know when I’m supposed to be inside of each one. I’m still figuring it out, and that has been a challenge too. But it’s been rewarding. The real challenge is the people and how sometimes they act.
Tocarra: When music continues to change, how do you stay positive to get your message out and also remain original in style rather than conforming to the norms of society?
India: I don’t really think about it. I sing about the things I want to sing about. I know that I have to be doing what I love or I don’t want to do it. My integrity is important to me. It’s important for my overall well-being. I hope that it’s going to work commercially. I have come to understand that whatever happens with it commercially, if it’s what I love then it is a success. I can sell a billion copies of something that I don’t love and walk around feeling sick and tired. It’s always a success when it’s what I love. I know better than to hurt myself. It’s all I got. Even when things change I keep doing what I love. I’ve changed a bit too, but my values, my messages, the way I present myself has evolved, but they haven’t really changed. I just keep being me. I always keep the possibilities in mind of how big something could be, but I don’t wrap my heart around the outcome. I just do what I love and do the best I can in the moment.
Tocarra: You’ve always been recognized as a very spiritual and strong woman. What is India Arie’s meaning of spirituality?
India: My meaning of spirituality is building a relationship or fellowship with the essence of things. Music is one thing, but when you really seek to understand the essence of music, to me that’s spirituality. Or even sex, reading, writing, photography, and dance or teaching, they’re all one thing, but when you seek the essence of those things, then that is spirituality. I also think that a really simple answer is your relationship with God outside of religion. To me, you can find your relationship with God inside of any endeavor if you go into the essence of it. This is why music for me is my spiritual path and spiritual work, because I do it with the commitment to the spiritual essence of the music itself and what it can do for people – wanting it to be a social and spiritual contribution – wanting to sing music that really is meant. My intention is to reach people’s soul and hearts through the music, and touch and move people, seeking to fellowship with the essence of the person, their soul.
Tocarra: What is your definition of Consciousness?
India: Consciousness to me means being actively engaged in your life, being aware and awake and feeling it, and seeking to be engaged with it. I think so many people walk thru life and they are numb, and I don’t mean just negative things like drugs. They are numb just by their creature comfort – you have a lot of money so you don’t have to really be with people; you can’t really see people. You can’t see yourself. You’re comfortable with all of your trappings, so you don’t have to look at any of your flaws or seek to better yourself or wonder if you could have said that better or what your next mountain to climb will be. You know all of those things that people tend to numb themselves of – and I have been guilty of that in my life too, I’m not trying to say that I have it all together. But, I know the reason why I’m saying this is because I know the difference in being numb and being actively engaged. I wrote this in my album SongVersation actually, I said ironically being willing to feel the pain made it all dissipate. I had heard people say all the time that when you shine the light on your fears they dissipate. I didn’t really ever know what that meant until I took the four year hiatus that I’m just coming out of to really look at myself and my life and be honest with myself about who I was and who I’ve become and where I wanted to be and the person that I wanted to be. To me consciousness is being actively engaged in your life. It’s the opposite of being a zombie. (laugh)
Tocarra: What is the importance of being a powerful black educated woman in a world that is mostly dominated by males?
India: I think the importance of that is the evolution of human kind as a whole. If you’re an educated black woman then you have a chance to shift culture from the political realm to the education realm to the spiritual realm in healthcare. Being a black woman gives you a point of view that someone else could never understand. I also think it’s important to be an educated black woman because like an Oprah or a Maya Angelou, just by your mere presence inspires people to want to be educated black women too. Just by being an example, and being powerful enough to change things.
Tocarra: What is your advice to young women who have no self-esteem, who mimic those like Beyonce and Rihanna and their personality and style, causing them to behave as such?
India: Have you ever heard the saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’? I feel like saying words of advice to people who don’t know does not carry enough weight. I think being the thing and allowing yourself to be seen being the thing gives the person the chance to want to be more. I think that my music says everything that I would say to a young black woman who is emulating a harmful image. I also think that all of the spiritual talk aside, just on a logical level…you’re worthy. Everyone who was ever born is worthy of being treated with respect. For young women, you’re worthy of being treated with respect by men. Anybody who doesn’t, they don’t need to be around you period. It’s true. If I could just choose any words, the words would be you’re worthy of being treated with respect, because everyone is. You too! No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what mistakes that you think you’ve made or how you look, you are worthy! But only if you act that way. I think more than anything that everything that I would ever say to a person is in my music. I make the music that I make to hopefully shift and affect culture, and especially the culture of young women.
Tocarra: Would you like to talk about your new album or anything else that we haven’t covered before we close the interview?
India: I always want to talk about my new album. (laugh) It’s called SongVersation. I created the melodic to explain my performance style. I went a long way to get to that place. I’ve been a performer since the mid 90s. I was a performer trying to live inside the paradigm of what regular performers would do. It didn’t exactly suit who I was. I took a hiatus starting in the Fall of 2009. It wasn’t voluntarily; it was just that things were out of hand and I didn’t want to move like that anymore. So, I took a break in my life. I started thinking about what I really wanted to do when I get on stage, so I named that SongVersation. I tell the audience, this is not a concert, this is a SongVersation.
Tocarra: Why did you name your album SongVersation?
India: I sing all of the things I want to say, I talk about all of things that I want to talk about without any fear, and I talk about all kinds of spiritual ideals without any fear, because it’s me. It’s who I am; it’s how I see life. I think from the inside out it is my most important work, because it is a manifestation of a person who is more courageous than I ever have been. Musically, I think it’s my favorite work. I think the music is beautiful and the message is powerful, and that has always been my goal, to balance those two things. I wanted to be like Stevie Wonder, make beautiful music that has a powerful message. That’s what SongVersation is! My favorite song on there is a song called I Am Light. A publication like yours would understand. The first line says ‘I’m not the things my family did. I’m not the voices in my head. I’m not the pieces of the brokenness inside. I am light.’ The real message is that we’re all worthy, and there is no such thing as guilt. This is why I love SongVersation so much, the performance and the album.
Tocarra: India it’s been an honor speaking with you today. This has been a very powerful and inspiring interview that I’ve really enjoyed. I learned a lot! Thank you so much for taking the time to pursue this interview with Consciousness Magazine.
India: And thank you! I could talk about a lot more (laugh), but I think we’ve covered everything. Thank you.
Last modified: May 15, 2023