Consider it a mission accomplished. Her eighth studio album, WORTHY soars as India’s most textured and sensual work to date; an intuitive, multi-layered effort from a mature artist not only in command of her gifts, but wise enough to shed all ‘unworthy’ distractions or, as she sings on the scalding “Coulda Shoulda Woulda”, - ‘no time to get to my haters…not wasting my bars on you …’
“My favorite definition of the word ‘worthy’ is deserving of regard and respect,” she says. “The songs on this album implicitly or explicitly carry the message and the energy of the word ‘worthy,’ because all parts of me are worthy. I set out with the title even before I had the song, which is unusual for me, but I wanted to remind people that even though the world ordains that you have to ‘do’ or ‘be’ something to be ‘worthy,’ that’s not true. The truth is there is nothing special we have to do or be, we all are worthy once we arrive at that realization. A person who feels empowered in that way is a much more powerful force in this world.”
She transforms those sentiments into powerful verse on songs such as the illuminating “What If,” which invokes global pathfinders such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and others, and the meditative “Hour Of Love,” with a moving incantation imploring the listener to take time for a simple spiritual practice of sending out prayers and good thoughts on behalf of others: ‘a little for your father/a little for your mother/a little for you sister/a little for your brother.’ The song is based on the Buddhist practice called “loving-kindness meditation” and says India, “a way to develop compassion for yourself and others.”
The powerful ballad “We Are” is lifted by India’s whispery vocal and the delicate grain of acoustic guitar, with insightful lyrics such as ‘We are the silence in between the breath of all the words we say..’
But India also does some calling out on the new album, venting her frustration with our overstimulated culture on feistier songs including “Rollercoaster,” and the above-mentioned “Coulda Shoulda Woulda.” “There are some confrontational moments on this album because they need to be said, but all of them are consistent with my mission statement: to spread love, healing, peace, and joy through the power of words and music. I reached a point before making this album where I just became tired of everything dealing with music. I wasn’t feeling inspired to write, I wasn’t liking anyone else’s music really, I wasn’t into melodies or words at all. Once the songs really started to flow, my growing confidence, and empowerment, and authenticity naturally came through. That made me want to say EVERYTHING I’m feeling.”
India gathers previous acclaimed producers/collaborators for WORTHY; among them WORTHY executive producer Aaron Lindsey, longtime collaborators Shannon Sanders and Branden Burch, as well as new collaborator Chuck Butler (who worked with her on “What If”). Lindsey also helms a sensual cache of songs including the sexy “In Good Trouble,” the playful “Crazy,” and the funky “Steady Love,” showing a sultrier side of India, flaunting groove-etched pedigrees and sturdy romantic relationships enriched by the love of a ‘worthy’ significant other. “I always wished I had an era of my life where I could write these kinds of love songs, but my life hasn’t always been like that. For the past three years I’ve been in a relationship where the songs were easy to write.
“I’ve been in other relationships that have inspired me but this last relationship really inspired the sensual and sexy side of me. It ran its course, but it really left a mark on me, so these love songs are really special to me.”
“That Magic,” produced by Burch and Lindsey, also showcases India’s flair with an Island beat, and has already become a Top Ten R&B hit on multiple charts with an alluring video featuring award-winning film and TV star Lyriq Bent. “I’m thrilled that these songs can be on the same album with those on the more meditative side. When I was a younger artist, I used to feel I had to ‘sneak’ songs on that maybe showed too much of my spiritual side, or I’d hide things I wanted to say. I no longer do that. Songwriting for me is a spiritual practice. I’ve made the process and the product married to each other. The journey is my own. I’ve grown more empowered as an artist, more empowered as a woman in the music industry able to express myself with words inside and outside the business. I’m thrilled that I have all these songs living on the same album – they can be spiritual and sensual and sexy and loud and with beats - all living together and all reflecting the WHOLE me.”
India credits her previous release, her 2018 Grammy nominated EP SongVersation: Medicine (which included the re-release of her transcendent anthem “I Am Light”) with expanding the canvas of her spiritual mission. Her multiple SongVersation tours, speaking engagements and podcasts are celebrations of the authentic self, and have established India as a wellness community favorite and much sought-after spiritual teacher, creating a new performance template for her that she calls A SONGVERSATION. She’s also appeared with Oprah Winfrey on OWN’s Super Soul.
Sunday Television show, conducted a 25-minute SongVersation on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions, and showcased her SongVersation on Oprah’s Share Your Adventure Cruise. “SongVersation was about turning my own ship in a different direction after 20 years. The song "I Am Light" was also a revelation for me because it was embraced in a lot of platforms the music industry does not celebrate. It’s taken me a lot of places, and has inspired a lot of people.”
The song became a staple of the late Dr. Wayne Dyer’s self-development regimen and events. In 2015 he crafted a full lecture series/tour called "I Am Light", and was working on a book of the same name before he passed. He told audiences that he heard the song as it was being played at the end of an Ayahuasca Journey in Maui, and was inspired to make it part of his new cycle of work. “I Am Light” was also the catalyst for a burgeoning creative relationship India formed with singer/songwriter Joel Cross, who collaborated with her on her SongVersation: Medicine EP and multiple songs on WORTHY. “I met Joel on Instagram. I looked up the hashtag I Am Light and this young, handsome, very talented singer/songwriter came up. He freaked out when I liked his post and I invited him to come write songs with me. It was the first time I ever engaged in a creative relationship in that way, but everything just clicked. It turns out that his Godmother had been meditating to “I Am Light” for a year and had a dream that we met, so I felt like it was meant to be. He came to New York and we wrote “Hour Of Love,” “Crazy,” “We Are,” and 7 other songs on that trip, and more in the following months. We are kindred spirits musically. It’s really been a blessing for us both.”
India’s connecting with Cross wasn’t the only spontaneous creative combustion on WORTHY. She also was determined to channel her own self-motivation, venturing to Seattle alone for 12 days during the making of WORTHY to complete the song that would eventually become “What If". “Seattle has always been one of my favorite places for inspiration and healing. I also lived there for 4 years. The city has meant a lot to me, truly. I went there determined to write a song and I said to myself I’m not leaving until I finish it. That song embodies the notion that we all have something to add to the elevation of humanity, and collectively we create this world we live in; and it is time that we consciously do that. It took 12 days because I wanted to find a playful way to say this; that each person matters to the world around them, and if we all do our part, we all can make a difference in this world. It’s all hands-on deck.”
India’s message of healing, love, and compassion viewed through the lens of her indelible artistry and spiritual practice has made her a global difference-maker for nearly two decades. It was 2001’s seminal Acoustic Soul (nominated for seven GRAMMYs) and the groundbreaking self-acceptance anthem “Video,” that established her as a bold new transformative force in music. Twenty-two GRAMMY nominations later (with four GRAMMY wins), she endures as one of the most empowering artists in music history (she launched her own lifestyle/music brand SoulBird in 2011), notching multiple award-winning albums and influential, chart-topping singles, meshing soul, folk, pop, R&B and hip hop and redefining the boundaries of the socially conscious singer/songwriter.
Also among her accomplishments and accolades are 10 world tours, millions of records sold, five Top Ten albums (including her #1 debuting 2006 release, Testimony: Vol.1, Life & Relationship), numerous NAACP Image Awards, BET Awards, MTV Awards, command performances for three US Presidents, (receiving public praise from President Clinton and President Obama) as well as working alongside her mentor Stevie Wonder, including sharing the stage in his history-making 2014-2015 Songs In The Key Of Life Tour. She also met the Dalai Lama and toured the National Civil Rights Museum with him in Memphis, TN. Growing up in Atlanta (she was born in Denver and moved when she was 13) she was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and has joined Oprah Winfrey on multiple projects. She was also chosen by Winfrey’s OWN Network for their Super Soul 100 list in the ‘Change Makers and Wisdom Teachers’ category.
India’s willingness early on to challenge preconceived notions of beauty and sexuality coupled with her courage to defy broad racial and gender categorizations has made her a music industry trailblazer. Her song “I Am Not My Hair” was at the forefront of the natural hair movement in the early and mid-2000’s and women to this day are still citing this as an anthem of self-definition, and she has inspired an entirely new generation of artists including Ariana Grande, Janelle Monáe, Tori Kelly, Jonothan McReynolds, and others. Honored to be cited as an influencer, she recalls the sage advice imparted to her by her music idol Stevie Wonder when she was just beginning her career. “Stevie Wonder was my blueprint. I’ll never forget one night we were backstage at the House Of Blues in L.A. and he urged me to always embrace everyone. He told me that one day people are going to say ‘this artist is the new you,’ or ‘here comes the new India,’ because that kind of thing happened to him when people started talking about Michael Jackson and Prince and questioning where Stevie fit. And I have to admit when other artists started talking about being ‘woke’ and wearing clothes that felt like mine, and more artists having natural hair, I became a little insecure. I was like ‘is there still a place for me,’ and then I remembered I have no control over what others say about my work. It’s like Stevie told me, ‘‘embrace everybody’. Of all the things I learned from him that has always stayed with me. I’d always fantasized that I would have some new artist be inspired by me the way I was by other artists before me. I love it and I hope to work with them all the same way Stevie does.”
India also realizes another circle has been completed as she delivers her eighth album WORTHY. She points to the title song as containing teachable moments even for herself. “There’s a part in the song that says ‘worthy of love, light, worthy of saying no when something don’t feel right’. I really wanted to say ‘me too,’ when I was writing it because that’s what the song is really about. For anyone who has ever been let down or abused or hurt by someone the natural inclination is to feel guilty. But the truth is the things that happened to you are more of a commentary on the abuser. They don’t define who you are. Sometimes people aren’t going to respect you or treat you well because of their misguided notions about how to conduct themselves. Nobody is ever going to hand you your empowerment. You have to cultivate it from inside of you. That’s really what the concept of this album is all about. Even the love songs are saying I am worthy of LOVE. It’s saying I’m worthy of my voice. My truth. Taking up space in this room and being a force for good in the world around me. One of my favorite spiritual teachers says ‘if it’s not a hell yeah – it’s a hell no!’ I love that because I’ve been in many, many circumstances in the past where I was coerced into things and I was talked out of following my intuition. WORTHY is about saying ‘hell yes’ to knowing you are significant and that you matter because you exist. There’s nothing special we have to do or be…we just are WORTHY.”
An Evening with India Arie