January 24, 2009 / 1:40 AM / 10 years ago

India.Arie aims for hearts and minds on new album

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - From the start, R&B singer-songwriter India.Arie has remained adamant about one thing: doing what’s honest for her musically.

It began with the self-esteem declaration “Video,” the first single from her multiple Grammy Award-nominated 2001 debut, “Acoustic Soul.” Carrying on that same tradition is her fourth studio album, “Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics,” due February 10 from Soulbird Music/Universal Republic.

This latest chapter in her musical evolution picks up from 2006’s “Testimony: Vol. 1, Love & Relationship.” That album, her first No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, revealed a more vulnerable side of Arie as she probed the aftermath of a painful breakup.

In contrast, “Vol. 2” finds a healed and empowered Arie. She’s still discoursing about love, but this time in relation to politics — not governmental so much as human.

“It’s about how people interact together; the politics and agenda-setting that come into play whether you’re talking about men or women, the music industry, the world,” Arie says. “I wrote a little something inside the CD jacket about my mission: to spread love, healing and peace through the power of words and music.”

A soul-searching sojourn in Hawaii helped sow those seeds. As she recovered from her broken relationship, Arie was in the midst of shifting labels from Universal Motown to her own Universal Republic imprint, Soulbird Music. She and the label’s first signee, Anthony David, share a Grammy nomination this year for best R&B performance by a duo/group for “Words.”

“A HEALTHIER PLACE”

“I really needed to take care of myself,” she recalls. “Everything was out of order. I was emotionally unwell and also tired of the challenge of fitting into someone else’s paradigm of a black artist. I stepped into the next phase of my evolution; a healthier place where I need to do what I want to do.”

After writing 10 songs in 10 days in Hawaii (plus five more after her return), Arie cut rhythm tracks live with her band during a month of sessions. That was followed by a year of postproduction on the individual songs with co-producer Dru Castro. The result is an album she says truly “represents me vocally, lyrically and sonically.”

“Testimony, Vol. 2” also reflects her long-held view of being a world music artist rather than categorized strictly as urban. She teams with Musiq Soulchild on the melodic groove “Chocolate High,” then switches gears with the Jamaican roots artist Gramps Morgan on the romantic “Therapy.” The tracks were released simultaneously as lead singles.

She doesn’t stop there. Roots music guru Keb’ Mo’ works his magic on “Better Way,” while the popular Turkish artist Sezen Aksu guests on the compassionate “The Cure.” Arie also puts her creative spin on Sade’s “Pearls,” which samples Ivory Coast artist Dobet Gnahore’s “Palea.” It was Sade who helped jump-start Arie’s career when she chose her to open for her 2001 tour.

“Even while I was playing coffeehouses in college, I thought of myself as a world artist,” Arie says. “Combining all these cultures in one album for me is a statement that we really are closer, more alike than different.”

Arie is still reconciling the tug of war between commercial demands and artistic needs. But this time, she’s more in control. “That pressure is there,” she says with a laugh, “but I’m dealing with it. I’m all about feeling, and this album is 99 percent uncompromised in that way.”

Reuters/Billboard

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