Not so long ago, I enjoyed an incredibly exciting and very personal conversation with R&B singer/songwriter India.Arie. But before I share Part 1 of my interview with India.Arie, I’ll give you some more background information about her journey and the creation of her latest album.
Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. Coming to that realization—let alone taking that crucial first step—can be a daunting endeavor. Now on the other side of a self-imposed four-year hiatus, India.Arie returns with the most illuminating album of her career: SongVersation.
“This is where I’ve been for the last four years,” reflects the singer. “I’ve struggled most of my career to feel comfortable with how things were, how I was treated, the politics of the music industry. I needed to pull back from the public eye to ground myself and rebuild my life and career. It’s a process many of us go through: spiritual maturation, spiritual awakening, clearing out the old and starting anew.”
Her inner renewal pulsates throughout SongVersation, starting with lead single “Cocoa Butter.” The mid-tempo groove and image-rich verses mirror the soothing balm that is the song’s namesake. “Your love is like cocoa butter on my heart … I show you my burns you show me lessons learned,” sings a re-energized India.Arie.
The singer exudes quiet power on the non-apologetic “Life I Know” as well as the empowerment-themed “Just Do You.” With its spare instrumentation, honest and engaging lyrics framed by melodic R&B, SongVersation finds India.Arie coming back full circle to the basics that captivated a global legion of fans on debut albumAcoustic Soul.
But underscoring those basics now is a fervent spirit born out of epiphanies, health imbalances and hard decisions that occurred over the past four years.
“On my last two albums, I felt like I was fighting to grow,” says India.Arie. “And that was dehumanizing. Everything became and sounded more complex, instead of me just being.”
No more. As India.Arie sings on the album’s centerpiece “Break the Shell”: “Child, it’s time to break the shell Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself You cannot fly until you break the shell.”
“Putting spiritual and empowerment ideals into music concepts … that’s always been the core message of my music—and it seemed I was talking to others …” says India.Arie. “But the truth is that it was my message to myself because I was yearning to know the peace of a self-defined life.”
Interview with India.Arie
Dirk Terpstra: The spiritual message in your music shines so much light on humanity ‘Angel India’. Where does your spiritual inspiration come from?
India.Arie: First of all, thank you for calling me an angel [laughing out loud…]. It’s funny because when I do my shows, I tell the audience: “This is not called a concert, this is called a SongVersation, because I say the things that I want to say and sing about the things I want to sing” and I tell the audience that I believe that the way human beings are angels for each other, is when someone shows up for you and says or does exactly what you need, exactly at that right moment and so I think that one of my favourite things about my career is when meet people who tell me: “I don’t know how you knew that about me but it’s exactly how I felt or that expresses exactly how I felt about someone or what I’ve been through”. That always makes me smile.
It’s truly my mission to give people a voice to my music because I always pray the intention, I literally pray the intention into my music that people will see themselves in it. But your question about where my inspiration comes from…
[India is quiet now and thinking about it.] I am not exactly sure. First of all, my spiritual inspiration comes from all the things that happen in life, but the reason why I’m a person who’s spiritual life is often the centre of others’ lives I don’t exactly know, I think I’ve always been like that. Now that I’ve been in the public eye for almost 15 years and I meet people who know me from middle school and high school, they often say: “I knew you were always like that”.
I do remember in my early 20’s though, I’m having a turning point because I felt like I was just getting ready to turn into the music industry, I was just getting ready to start living my life outside of being a kid and I remember saying the words: “I’m flying blind” and that’s exactly how it felt, I was just flying blind and I wanted to know how to be connected to a greater wisdom. I grew up going to church but I didn’t see that as a religious thing, I saw it as just another language or something, like learning how to tap into something that’s there.
I remember the first time I ever really, really got down and really prayed, not the way you are doing in church, but to Spirit and you know that you are in the flow with something — I remember crying really hard because I felt this profound something, I didn’t even know what that was, but it was a very profound feeling. I remember being on the floor, like literally on my face and just in pain and I don’t even remember what I was in pain about. I think it was the general feeling of being lost and I remember that being the day that I really asked to understand to be into fellowship with the spiritual world around me. I remember that I was saying a prayer that I didn’t have to suffer to grow anymore. I don’t mind having hard times but I don’t want to suffer, we’ll see if that prayer gets answered.
I was probably 22 at that time and I’ve just worked towards a relationship with Spirit and that’s where my music comes from, that’s why I see the world like I do, that’s why I make the kind of statements I’m making in my music. I guess that the inspiration just comes from life itself.
Dirk: When I watch you perform ‘Break the shell’ for Oprah or during the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam with Raul Midon, I can feel your emotions so clearly and beautifully. How has your spiritual journey affected those emotions in you?
India.Arie: I used to be really controlled by my emotions. When I felt something, I could be completely immersed in my emotions and just as I mature spiritually, I understand that there’s more of a message and less of the reason for life. It helps you to understand how you feel, where you are and what kind of changes you need to make. I’ve read things like that in the different spiritual books and I understood it intellectually but to me it was like “What do you mean, how you feel is how you feel, there’s no way to get over how you feel”. But then I began to understand that my own journey has taught me that your feelings are a guide, they’re not the destination.
About 4 years ago I took a hiatus and I had set a lot of intentions, but the main thing was that I wanted to have a baseline feeling of wellbeing because I always felt like I was under the bar and I would peak up some times and then just go back down to this place of feeling low. It was always something — I was always hurt about something or struggling with something and I decided to have a closer look at my life. My main goal for the hiatus was to just look at myself and tell myself the hard truth, because other people can do that for you but they don’t really know you. That’s why I wanted to really look at myself and the most beautiful thing that came out of it was that once I was willing to look at myself I knew that I didn’t want the way I was acting. I was like what people call ‘being the witness’ and now I was willing to look at how bad it hurt and how much pain I was in.
I didn’t have a profound ‘Eckhart Tolle moment’, I’ve had a shift as profound and I felt just like being a whole different person by seeing clearly how I was feeling. I am now less afraid of showing my emotions, I am not afraid of hurting sometimes, I find myself crying with people more often and telling things to people I wasn’t used to, because I’m not afraid of the pain anymore. It’s hard to explain but I have a much different relationship with my emotions now.
Even when you saw me singing Break the shell on Super Soul Sunday, I was really excited to be with Oprah and to be singing one of my new songs and excited to be back on television, but I forgot about all that when I was singing this song. Oprah was sitting there too and that made me nervous initially, but as soon as I started singing I forgot whoever was in the room. What I really cared about was how it felt and I wanted to live in that moment, fully and feel and sing.
Dirk: You have this beautiful capacity to both show the bright and angelic part in you: “My life is full in some of the most important ways…”, but also the darker and more insecure side of you at the same time: “…but empty in the core at the end of every day”. Is this your story? Where does the emptiness come from?
India.Arie: All of my songs are my story and the emptiness comes from, I guess what we just talked about. When you live a life like that for so long it takes a while for the big ship of your life to turn and so a lot of the things in my life feel much more like a real grounded real life, but there are also certain sacrifices that I made — I’ve been travelling around the world and singing and sacrificing a lot of the regular things already since I was 22, most my adult life, so the emptiness comes from the parts in my life where I haven’t caught up yet: Wanting to have children, wanting to be married, wanting to have a grounded family home life. It’s not like the biological clock thing, I always wanted to have children and to have a family. That’s also a part of my life and I feel like that with this song because I realize it’s happening a lot later than I ever expected. Not that I’ve been waiting for it all these years – I just looked up one day and it was like “Oh I could have done that a long time ago” [laughing now].
Dirk: How cool is that, that you can express those feelings in your songs!
India.Arie: Yes it is, but it was also the hardest song that I’ve ever written. Not because I thought that people would hear this at some point, it was hard because it took me a long time to get to a place where I could see that in myself, like the first line of the song says: “I’ve kept the secret for myself for far too long”. I just didn’t know that I felt that way and I didn’t know that that was feeling empty. I just didn’t know. I kept thinking of musician Joni Mitchell and how much she tells in her songs, and then I thought “If she can do that, then I can do it.” But it hurt so bad, writing this song and I was hurting for a good three to five days after that. But then, what they say: “When you shine a light on your fears they dissipate” — I didn’t understand that until I started shining a light on my own stuff and after I wrote it I thought: “Okay”, I was still watching those things, but it didn’t hurt and I don’t have this unidentified empty thing inside me anymore. It is so cool that I have music to help me understand myself like that. So cool!
You can find PART 2 of our conversation with India.Arie HERE.
For more information, please visit India.Arie’s website: soulbird.com
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA [APPEARED ON OMTIMES AND SOUL LOVE FIRST]
Incredibly emerald blue and full of energy. The elements of nature are so wonderful.
We are standing near the beautiful Kootenay River and Sequoyah Trueblood tells us in an inspiring way about the important connection between humans and nature. We are all quietly listening and I notice that his words touched something deep in my heart. An intense feeling of peace comes over me. He is so right. Will our life lessons begin?
Sequoyah takes us out for a hike.
Together with my family I am a guest at the ‘Cross River Wilderness Centre‘ bordering Kootenay National Park, in the west flank of the Rocky Mountains. Coming from the highway, we follow the directions, turn off onto a small forest road which takes us along the Kootenay River to the cozy cabins near the small ‘Cross River’.
What a location!
A rustic cabin in the Cross River Wilderness Centre.
Rob and Marilyn Patenaude treat us on a warm welcome. Since 1996, they share this amazing place with their guests. They both speak proudly about the nature, offer educational programs, and offer 8 rustic cabins for overnight stays. These rustic cabins are tucked away in the forest and all have hot and cold running water, a toilet and shower, fireplace and solar power. This is an experience where Europeans can only can dream of.
During dinner we meet more guests and I can’t help noticing how ‘contagious’ everyone’s friendliness is. Brad, a very kind and motivated chef has prepared a delicious, organic meal for us and during dinner time we meet Sequoyah Trueblood, a 72-year-old First Nations elder who lives and teaches here.
Born in Oklahoma, his father is Choctaw-Cherokee-Chickasaw, and mother German-English. As a young Native boy growing up in the 50’s, like many, Sequoyah was separated from his family and forced into the residential boarding school system in an attempt to civilize the so-called ‘native animal’ in him. When Sequoyah left the boarding school at age of 17, he joined the army. He excelled quickly becoming a Green Beret in Vietnam, running Special Operations in connection with a First Special Forces Group and Military Assistance Command. Sequoyah is also the first to admit that his ‘glorious service’ is darkened by his many insights into the wrong doings of American policy makers at that time.
Since his time in the military, Sequoyah has worked extensively with First Nations youth wilderness programs as well as youth treatment centers for substance abuse. Through Native teachings and practices in the sweat lodge, pipe ceremonies, and vision questing, he is beckoned across this great mother earth to guide those who request his help. As a Choctaw Wisdom Keeper, Sequoyah has spoken at the United Nations, advised top business executives from prominent international companies, counselled numerous celebrities, government agencies, and has held council with the Dalai Lama.
The next morning, after breakfast, we follow Sequoyah to his Konkurra Medicine Lodge in the forest. He manoeuvres his tall and frail, but flexible body over a narrow trail and when you see him walking on his flip-flops you would’t give him 72 years of age.
One of the teachings he has shared with us is that of leadership – how to “work from the circle. In the circle, all are equal… leadership is then from within… all have a voice, no one is more important than another.”
He also explains to us that everything flows from the Divine. “Everything that comes through comes through in its own perfection. We human beings, with our intellect, try to divide it up. When we can get to that place in our lives when we can accept each thing that comes to us as just another opportunity to heal ourselves, we can be at peace with it all. Even though it may not look like that at the time, as soon as we are able to say “I don’t know,” that’s when we are able to allow Great Spirit to work in our lives,” he says.
We then leave the spiritual lodge and head out for a hike together through the rugged Rocky Mountain wilderness, wade through the Cross River and learn about edible plants and their healing powers.
Rob Patenaude prepares the hot tub.
Back in the wilderness centre, Rob asks us if we would like to use the wood fired hot tub. Of course we like that and by the time the first stars appear on the sky, the hot tub measures a comfortable 38 deg. C. And while we watch the bright galaxies above us, Brad prepares a bonfire, gets his guitar and plays a couple of songs for us.
Life is so wonderful and Joe Cocker’s lyrics ‘the best things in life are the simple things’ come to my mind. I then close my eyes and repeat Sequoyah’s mantra:
GREAT THANKS – GREAT PEACE – GREAT LOVE.
Thank you brother Sequoyah!
What do you answer, when I ask you what true love is? I asked several friends lately, and their answers didn’t surprise me. In fact, I agree with all of them.
Of course it all comes down to the perspective of how you look at it. Some related it immediately to relationships and mentioned selflessness and unconditional, while others mentioned that love is patient, kind and can’t be measured. Also; ‘romantic love is a deep, intense and unending love.’
I thought about this and then something came up with me.
When I was a little boy (and the youngest of 3 brothers), I remember that my mom always ‘spoiled’ me with lots of love and so many kisses. At that time, it was all I really needed and it probably was my image of what love is all about.
Kisses from your mum are the best.
It all sounds very sweet doesn’t it? Of course it does.
But about 42 years later, and just days before this very special woman passed away, we held each other (she couldn’t speak anymore) and I could feel this same deeply rooted and unconditional love flowing between us. Words were not needed, we just knew.
So my image of what true love is all about hasn’t changed that much I assume. Especially this ‘just knowing’ is key for me.
And they are still so special.
While fully agreeing what my friends mentioned to me, I personally feel that love is even bigger.
We ARE love, love is the spirit of life.
Deepak Chopra phrases it so beautifully; “Flowers don’t try to bloom, they just bloom; birds don’t try to fly, they just fly.” For me, that is pure love, just knowing and trusting.
But today, so many of us are fearful. In a recent conversation, a friend of mine remarked: “People often act unloving out of fear and shame.” That is so true.
I think that the opposite of ‘love’ is ‘fear’. So, when we are seeking something, it is often good to know what the opposite is of what we are looking for. By letting go of these fears, love will appear.
We don’t need to seek love, let go of your fears and ‘just know’ that you ARE love and it WILL appear.
Let’s share the love by knowing that you are love already and it has to flow.
BY: DIRK TERPSTRA (This post first appeared on SOUL LOVE)
How beautiful are Manuel Bandeira‘s (Brazilian poet) words about a flowing river:
To be like a flowing river
silent through the night,
not fearing the darkness and
reflecting any stars high in the sky.
And if the sky is filled with clouds,
the clouds are water like the river, so
without remorse reflect them too.
The flowing Illecillewaet River in BC, Canada.
Personally, I love these words. We often have the tendency to ‘fight’ against something or to ‘try harder’.
When the water [in the river] comes across obstacles, like rocks, it smoothly flows around them in stead of trying to push the rocks on the side.
Birds never try hard to sing, they just sing, and flowers never try hard to bloom, they just bloom. That’s the law of nature, or existence if you like.
And we’re part of that. No, we ARE that!
How perfect is this?
Maybe it’s worth trying to literally ‘go with the flow’. Pretty soon you will find that it’s not a matter of ‘trying’ anymore.
Please let me know how this feels to you.
That sounds like a no-brainer to me. Like ‘the Bike helmet law’ is a no-brainer (but that’s a funny one when you think about it).
My personal experience is that ‘do it right’, or ‘on purpose’ if you like, is not so much part of our culture these days. If you ask me ‘why’, then my answer is simple; ‘we are not proud of what we are doing anymore’.
Steve Jobs was always passionate and proud of what he was doing
Quality professionals know the importance of the phenomenon ‘do it right the first time’. And they often develop complex theories about this subject. We love to make things complex.
It’s not just a ‘quality issue’, as damage repair is usually more expensive than the cost of the original process.
Japanese companies like Toyota follow the Kaizen principle and are highly successful with this. The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement”. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis.
In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness. And that adds up when you think about it.
Tourism is not any different
I am the co-owner of a receptive (incoming) tour operator in British Columbia. This means that we buy products and services, package them in a smart and consumer-ready-for-consumption way. We sell these travel packages to travel agents in Europe. So we’re right in the middle between the suppliers and the travel agents. Managing a smooth process here is key for the success of our business. I often like to tell our people that ‘the magic is in the process’. Although we can have full control over our internal processes, we won’t be able to manage our partner’s processes and work ethics. But I can tell you, there is lots of room for improvement.
If you are proud of what you’re doing, whatever this is, it also means that you care. That you are passionate and doing things on purpose and not merely see it as ‘chores’ that come with the job.
Actually, I don’t care so much about the cause, nor do I buy excuses like ‘this fast paced, ever changing world often outsmarts us’. We ARE the world and therefore we can’t outsmart ourselves. I rather concentrate on changing our personal belief system.
Passion and caring is something that comes from the inside. From the heart. For some this comes completely natural. But you can also learn it. And it’s fun!
It’s never embarrassing to be passionate about what you do
Pain & Pleasure
We as human beings are so transparent and so easy to fool.
Everything that we do, every day, every hour, every minute, is something that makes us comfortable and feel good. This is what I call our hang for ‘pleasure’.
We try to stay far away from something that makes us feel uncomfortable or generates pain. No-brainer? Sure! But it’s that simple.
So, here comes the trick.
If you like to see more passion in your employees and reduce the number of mistakes, then you will have to find out which elements will make them feel good, but also what they tend to avoid, because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
A person might have ‘taught’ himself that it is quite scary to deal with responsibilities. Something could go wrong and then he will be held accountable for it. This can be a cultural or family influence or he might have had a bad experience in the past. In one word, its ‘scary!’
So when you know this, it is really fun to do a brief brainstorm session together (or as a team) and try to come up with the positive side effects of taking responsibility. This could be:
1. that you feel really good when you know that your boss fully trusts you in working on a task
2. that it is pretty cool to come up with some possible solutions on your own and try them
3. by the time you finish the task successfully, you are so proud of yourself and so will your colleagues and your boss be
4. you want more of this!
5. and if you don’t complete the task the way you want it the first time, it is a great learning moment that will certainly help you to do it right thereafter.
Did you notice something?
You suddenly start to care about what you’re doing, because you feel good about working on this task. And when you start caring about things, you automatically WANT to do them right. It’s part of our pride. How cool is this? A sudden shift in your personal belief system.
It is of course very important that you encourage your employees to take initiatives and let them know that you value this highly. That you’re proud of them.
We all know that a compliment and a hand on our shoulder means so much than for example a single pay raise.
You can of course also apply this exercise to yourself.
As you might have noticed, I like to simplify things and situations. It is easier and more fun to work with it and I know it works! Always.
When I was working for American Express in Europe, I used to manage a large team of experienced consultants. Consultants love to make things complex (and then they come up with their solution).
But I don’t believe in complexity. And the ones that were highly successful, were the ones that took a step back and just used their common sense.
I wish you good luck, lots of passion and caring, but foremost ‘fun’ in what you’re doing.
Drop me a mail when you have any questions or feedback. I appreciate it.