India.Arie was absolutely giddy, like a schoolgirl with a secret crush, as she stepped on stage for her big reveal two weeks ago. She'd kept her new music under wraps for nearly six months, only divulging the extent of her ongoing collaboration with Israeli pop star Idan Raichel in a Creative Loafing interview two months prior.
The two of them had already appeared on stages together - with Arie singing Raichel's "Mey Nahar" ("River Waters") in Hebrew, accompanied by Raichel on piano - at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage last November, and at a Kennedy Center concert in Washington, D.C., for Martin Luther King Day, with President Obama in attendance.
But Aug. 7 was the trump card, and a new beginning of sorts for Arie, as she prepared to present an album's worth of material written and composed with her self-professed "musical soulmate," whom she'd crossed cultural boundaries to meet. While walking through an Open Door - the title of both the listening performance and the eventual album to be released next spring - she was just as anxious to close one on an industry she no longer could allow to compromise her message and brand of acoustic soul.
"I never said anything I didn't want to say," Arie told a packed 7 Stages audience of family, friends and Twitter-following fans who'd inadvertently caused the website of her indie start-up label, SoulBird, to crash after she tweeted about a limited amount of tickets to the private event. "But I haven't said things that I do want to say."
When Arie charged out of the gate 10 years ago, proclaiming that she was "not the average girl in the video," it was a bold, self-affirming statement in an era where video hos were a hot commodity in black pop. While objectifying her body was out of the question, Arie says she did choose, on some songs, to sacrifice the acoustic sound that had garnered her such a strong local following at Yin Yang Cafe in the late '90s for a style of production that her label felt would make her more palatable to urban radio.
And it paid off. Spearheaded by that first single, "Video," her 2001 Motown debut, Acoustic Soul, was eventually certified double platinum.
But by the time she met Raichel, on a whim, during a 2008 vacation to Israel almost three Grammy awards and three albums later, Arie was nearing a point of desperation. The more she'd compromised for the sake of a radio single here or there, the more she saw a decline in album sales - which, though it probably had more to do with the insufferable state of the industry, still made her question the point of it all.
"I think that's what I started to hate about the music industry," said the 2010 Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee, offering testimony between performing spiritual salvos with such cosmic titles as "The One," "Brother Sister," and "You Are a Star." "I was trying to push myself on people who might not like me [anyway]."
That certainly wasn't the case at 7 Stages, where a mixed bag of supporters, some of whom had driven or flown from as far as Alabama, North Carolina and British Columbia, gushed tears of praise during the talk-back session for Arie's ability to speak their language. "You gave me back my song, and I didn't even know I'd lost it," said one fan after hearing Raichel and Arie's new work. "It was water to my soul. Thank you for being frustrated enough to get to this point."
Arie's latest epiphany isn't a change in course as much as it is one of many reminders she's received on her path of evolution. Just as she crafted a personal mantra ("to spread love, healing, peace and joy through words and music") to remind her of her purpose after losing out on seven Grammy nods in 2002, her recent breakthrough came following an ego-bruising 2009 tour and subsequent prayer and writing sabbaticals she took to reconnect with her center.
"I've had to let go of certain people, worn out ideas about myself, and MOST OF ALL, I've had to let go of MY image of ME," she wrote in a post on her website, announcing the details of the invitation-only show a few weeks ago.
It felt like a homecoming as Arie was joined on stage by many of the pivotal friends and figures she launched her indie career with so many years ago, including longtime songwriting homie (and SoulBird signee) Anthony David, who showed up to sing background after she called on him the night before; bassist Khari Simmons, who came up with Arie in Atlanta's defunct Groovement artist collective and backed her on her first major tour, opening for Sade in '01; Anasa Troutman, close friend and former co-founder of Groovement and corresponding indie label Earthseed; as well as twangy-guitarist Blue Miller, who recorded with Arie on Acoustic Soul; and Hilda Willis, her long-time artistic coach and behind-the-scenes creative director.
Nashville has more dive bars than ATL now that sucks. tbh i think that new…
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.
All 80s movies want you...