afropunk interview: india.arie

February 19, 2019

Admit it — you’ve been sleeping on India.Arie. Maybe she lost you along the way, but more likely you just fell off. And that’s okay. Here’s your chance to catch up on what the Atlanta-born and -bred singer-songwriter — and 22-time Grammy nominee — has been up to.

Her brand new project, Worthy, is a culmination of more than two decades in the music industry and a self-emancipation from denying her truth a voice. A seven-track collection of sincere anthems and lullabies, Worthy is a proclamation of self, dignity and humanity — not only Arie’s, but that of the entire Black community. During the violence of the Trump administration on top of, you know, everything else anti-Black and oppressive, the music is a shinning beacon of hope, freedom and self-love.

Let’s talk about inner peace and spirituality, two things that resonate deeply within your music. What are some things that you do that keep you zen and centered?

It’s funny hearing you say that because I don’t think about it anymore. I just have things that I do that I know I need to do because it makes my lifestyle sustainable. And I have a long-standing meditation practice. I started my real meditation practice when I was 27. And I have a prayer practice. I do both of those things everyday, Not in a religious way but in a spiritual, self-care way. I don’t feel like my body and my mind wake up without those things. So on those days that I have to just rush out the door and I don’t have time for it, I feel spaced out.

I’ve also been keeping a journal since I was 12. But it’s become even more important to me as my life gets more full and I have a lot of things that I want to get out of my head. I think a lot and I feel really hard. So, writing it down literally gets it out, and I need that to function. I also apply the intentional use of color in my clothing to help with my mood and to deflect energy sometimes, because I absorb a lot of things. Because I’m wired like that, an empath. Color, prayer, meditation, journaling, hydration and telling people the truth, telling people my truth. I used to hold things in and it made me sick. So I just tell people what I think.

So, in your journal, is that where you draw inspiration for songs?

It’s where I write down all my inspirations of any sort.

I read that you have a prayer closet.

That was when I was living in New York, which I don’t anymore. I now live in a city where I can afford more space. So now, I have a prayer room. I always had a prayer room, since I was 20. But I had a prayer closet because New York is New York, and there’s not space. It’s better now because I can roll my yoga mat out and have my meditation pillow.

Oh, how luxurious.

Yeah, it is luxurious, actually. I feel that every time I look at it. “Oh, my God. A whole room, I get to go in.” And I have all my books and all my journals and stuff in there.

Totally. I just moved to New York from Atlanta. So I’m like…

Oh, yeah. Same thing I did.

Right. It’s like, “What do I do? Where’s the space in my little 100 square feet?”

It’s a lot of work to figure out how to live in a small space.

It is, it is. But it’s kind of refreshing. There’s something minimalistic about it that I like.

Yeah. I liked it for a while.

Yeah, right. For a while. Totally.

I was there for five years, so it was tiny.

Right. And where are you now?

I live in Nashville. I didn’t want to go back to Atlanta, so Nashville’s nice.

You’re a veteran of the music industry. What is one key thing that you’ve learned during your time?

I have a hundred, let me pick one. This is going to sound really simple, but it’s not. One of the key things I’ve learned is that you have to be yourself. The more you can be yourself, the more fulfilling your ride will be. What I mean by that is, I think all serious musicians have dreams of having a career since they were little children. I mean, you get into your career and you end up giving parts of yourself away because it’s something you’ve wanted since you were eight. And you think, “Well, I’ll do that,” even though it’s not really what you want to do. It’s not really what you want to wear. It’s not really how you want your songs to sound or it’s not really who you want to work with. It’s not really what you want to do.

I think what happens is, when you make all those little decisions that are not really, exactly what you want, they all compound to create a time where you’re living a life that’s not really, exactly what you want. And the music industry is so difficult to navigate because of all the travel. And being famous is interesting, but it’s also a hassle. So if you’re young, you’re newly famous and you’re traveling a lot, then your life is not really the one that you thought you wanted to have. All that together makes it like you almost got your dream. And it feels weird to almost get your dream.

I ask myself now, “Is this really what I want?” And I only do what I really want. Because it’s not just one thing. Once you allow yourself to not align with your truth one time, it’s easier to do it eight times. So I’ve learned that the more true you are to yourself, the more fulfilling your journey will be.

Your new music including the single “That Magic” is about love. What has life taught you about loving other people?

That the attraction and the love are the given. What you are really doing is choosing a person whose crap you can deal with. Love is the given, or you wouldn’t be there. But can you deal with the other parts that they bring? If you can’t deal with the other parts, that’s not the person for you. It took me a long time to come up with that one.

I appreciate the wisdom. Activism and political messaging played a huge part in your storytelling for the past several years. Why is it important for you to speak out on politics and race so directly?

I speak out about those things because it’s just me. I’m a Black person in America. I’m a Black person in the music industry. I understand how it feels to have to work twice as hard and get half as much. I was raised in a family that has aligned me from a very young age with what it means to be proud to be a Black woman. From a very young age, in the ’80s, my mother made “End Apartheid” t-shirts. I grew up in a house like that. So now that I have a platform, I speak out on the things that I want to speak out on.

Some things I don’t feel like I have anything to add. If I feel I have something to add or a specific point of view that’s particular to me or someone like me, I say something. But also it’s important for me because growing up — this is my second time referencing this — I spent a lot of time afraid to speak my mind. The older I get, the more I mature. The more I realize that I’m worthy of my voice. And so I push myself to do it because holding it in would not be healthy. So I say what I need to say.

Going off of that, what’s your advice to less emancipated people? People who maybe haven’t found their voice or haven’t found the courage to trust their voice, do you have any advice for them to start getting in the habit of learning how to trust themselves?

I write a lot. I did a six-part essay where I just talk about all kind of things, things I want to say. And I put it live, online, once a month for six months. There were links involved, people can send me emails and ask me questions. The essays were called, “Songversation: I am Light.” And I did it because it was a lie I wanted to get it off my chest. (I think this time, I’m actually going to re-release them.)

But also, through writing I was able to gain confidence in how to express myself around things that are a little bit more complex. Because I was talking about those allegations where everybody thought I had bleached my skin. I started talking about that first. And so, talking about a difficult topic or something that’s hard to express in a few words, doing that in writing, I didn’t know this at the time, but it had this side effect of making me a more concise speaker.

Like, even in your personal relationships. The more relationships you have, the more you realize you really just have to say the hard stuff because holding it in doesn’t really work in the end. Or, having peace at all costs doesn’t really work in the end. So I feel like you have to feel that first, and then you realize.

This sounds ridiculous now to think, when I was young, I used to think, “Why do adults argue so much? Just don’t say it”. But that’s not real. The truth is, sometimes, you have to say things. People are going to disagree, and you have to argue your point and you have to say it and what it is. And so, I learned the hard way by being hurt enough times by holding things in. But I also gained confidence by writing. Now, there’s nothing I’m afraid to answer or . And that’s just been in the last five or six years. So, that’s my advice. That’s been my journey.

Last question. What are you hoping for 2019? Either personally, or in politics, in the world.

Personally, I’m hoping that my album, Worthy, and the energy that it carries will reach everyone it’s meant to reach. That there’s no blockages or roadblocks or anything. I don’t need to push my music on anyone. But for whoever would resonate with it, I want it to reach those people. Not only because I worked hard on it and love it, but also because I prayed a lot of good energy into it that I want people to really get from it. I wish that same thing for the world. That people will continue to heal. So my mission statement is to spread, love, healing, peace and joy through the power of words and music.

Sidenote: I have a lot of prayers for my brother. He has a new child. So I have prayers for my new niece. I have a lot of prayers for my mom. So I just want my family to be well. I want my music to do well. And I want humanity to continue to elevate. I’m hoping that these are growing pains and not a direction we’re going. So those are some of my prayers for 2019.