Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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INDIA.AIRE: Sweet, Sweet Soul Music


Grammy-winning singer/songwriter India.Aire reveals to Pete Lewis why she feels her latest album - âTestimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politicsâ - represents her finest work to date and the truth behind her leaving Motown.

Universally acclaimed as one of contemporary musicâs most honest and inspirational singer/songwriters, India.Aire once more combines her soulfully acoustic vibe with typically searching and insightful lyrics on her aforementioned fourth studio album âTestimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politicsâ; the eagerly-anticipated follow-up to her 2006 US chart-topping âTestimony: Vol. 1, Love & Relationshipâ.

Her first release away from Motown and released via Universal Republic Records, her new albumâs championing of collective worldwide dialogue - while stressing the interconnectedness of everyone - is interestingly reflected in its uniquely-varied list of guest artists. Which ranges from chart-topping Philadelphia neo-soul man Musiq Soulchild and New York female rap pioneer MC Lyte; to roots-level musicians like modern-day bluesman Keb Mo and Jamaican reggae vocalist Gramps Morgan; while ultimately extending to the world music contributions of Turkish icon Sezan Aksu and African Ivory Coast songstress Dobet Gnahore.

Meanwhile musically, a subtle shift away from Indiaâs previous leanings as an offbeat neo-soul goddess towards more of a folky singer/songwriter vibe is reflected in the difference between the sexy R&B shuffle of the single âChocolate Highâ or rousingly funky beats of âGhetto; and the singalong, acoustic drive of âTherapyâ or the soothingly rural feel of the guitar-strummed âHe Heals Meâ.

All of which results in a significant release for the artist-of-substance, who first emerged on the international scene back in 2001 with her Double-Platinum debut LP âAcoustic Soulâ. Whose pivotal moment arrived with its offshoot single âVideoâ; an anthem of natural female self-acceptance praised by women the world over for defining lines like âI may not be built like supermodel; But Iâve learned to love myself unconditionallyâ.

Having since prestigiously collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and John Legend while selling over eight million albums worldwide, India (who also serves as a US ambassador for UNICEF) now reacquaints herself with âBlues & Soulââs Pete Lewis, to discuss her latest LP; her leaving Motown in 2008; plus the recent launch of her own new label-imprint Soulbird with Atlanta singer/writer Anthony Davidâs album Acey Deucyâ.

The different stages in which her latest LP âTestimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politicsâ came together

âBetween my second album âVoyage To Indiaâ and my third album âTestimony: VoI. 1â, I was going through a lotta different things and WRITING about all those things. And, when I started recording âTestimony: Vol. 1â and choosing which songs I wanted to use, I decided to separate them into two volumes - though I had no idea when âVolume 2â would come⦠But then, when I DID finally get into the writing process of âTestimony: Vol. 2â, I realised that I didnât wanna use a lot of those songs any more, because I was thinking about other THINGS. You know, thereâd been things Iâd always wanted to say that Iâd previously shied away from because they were too political, or too whatever... And I now realised that I had to let go of all those concerns and do exactly what I WANTED to do. Which is why a lot of the songs changed, and why âTestimony: Vol. 2â sounds like itâs exploring new territory to anyone whoâs familiar with my previous albums. Whereas all Iâm actually doing is being more MYSELF than people have ever heard me be before.â

Whether India agrees with the critics that her new album is taking her away from soul/R&B and closer to a folk feel

âLike I just said, what this album represents is me finally being my REAL SELF. So itâs funny when people say âItâs taking you out of the urban box and more into singer-songwriter/folk territoryâ - because thatâs actually how I always SAW myself! Itâs just that I previously made records that said otherwise, because I felt that was the appropriate thing to do at the time. Whereas anybody that actually saw me in concert always did see the folky singer-songwriter that was the real me! You know, even if you look at the way that I dress, my image really matches a folk singer way more than it matches any R&B stereotype. Itâs just that on record previously it all got lost in translation, because back then I was still learning how to communicate in the studio. Whereas today itâs more about me learning how to release my fear of whatâs gonna happen if I donât fit into this âurban/soulâ box. So, though I didnât INTEND for people to use particular words like âfolkyâ or âsinger-songwriterâ, when they DO say them, to me theyâre actually hitting it on the HEAD!â

How a trip to Hawaii helped get India in the right headspace to write and record much of her new album

âHawaii is my favourite place. Itâs so mystical, so very spiritual - and I just feel very in touch with nature while Iâm there. So, because Iâd had a pretty rough couple of years, my intention was to go to Hawaii for a month, to just think things through and decide whether I was gonna stay in the music industry. And, in the last few days I was there, I finally reached the point where I was completely relaxed. So that I was able to start writing songs - something I was HOPING I could do while I was there - with none of the weight or fear of âWhat kind of radio station will play this?â, or âIs it too preachy?â, or âAre people gonna like it?â being existent in my body... And just getting to that point, period, was HUGE for me - because all those considerations had been a weight on my head for the last 10 YEARS! You know, just having even a MOMENT where I was just breathing and writing songs without all that on my mind was liberating! And itâs that freedom - and the ongoing knowledge that I can now re-access that feeling in my heart at any time - that you hear on the album.â

The unique, world-encompassing nature of some of her musical guests on âTestimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politicsâ

âAll the guest appearances you hear all happened very organically. You know, I didnât CONSCIOUSLY go into this album thinking that I have to prove to people that any kind of music in the world is accessible to me. For example, I literally met Sezen Aksu one day while walking down the street in New York! And I just felt the fact that weâve lived two very, very different lives but could still make music together, was a very powerful, spiritual testament. To me the sound of her voice brings a very high, spiritual energy. So putting her on the last song on the album - âThe Cureâ - made a lotta sense. While with Dobet Gnahore, I was walking through a store one day, heard this song, and almost stopped in my tracks wondering who the singer was! Then, when I discovered it was Dobet, I looked her up on the internet. And, because she reminded me so much of myself, straightaway there was like a sister energy there. So I decided to do a remake of the Sade song âPearlsâ with her. Because I felt that, on an album called âLove & Politicsâ, I had to have something on there about the violence against women thatâs happening in the world. Then Gramps Morgan and Keb Mo are on there because theyâre both friends of mine. And - like I say in the album liner-notes - I do feel, by bringing all these people together on one record, a political statement is actually being made just through the diversity of the guest appearances alone. You know, as I say in the song âGhettoâ, we are all just one race - the HUMAN race!â

Why India left Motown and signed with Universal Republic between her last album and her new one

âItâs just that the business side of things with Motown wasnât right. Normally, in my experience, you expect a little bit of red tape and disappointment on the business front. `Cause, like they say, art and commerce donât mix! You know, thereâs always a little bit of that tension and thatâs OK. But, in the last few years I was with Motown, there was TOO MUCH! I felt insulted, to the point where I actually made the decision that - if I couldnât be off of Motown - then I wasnât gonna record anything else! Thatâs how bad it WAS for me! But luckily, the parent company thatâs over Motown (Universal Music) cared enough about wanting me to remain with them that they asked me which of their OTHER labels I wanted to go to. And I chose Universal Republic... And actually the song âPsalm 23â on this album is very much about that whole experience! I chose (legendary female rapper) MC Lyte to guest on it, `cause she and I share those same experiences in common and know how just the politics of the music industry can really hurt your feelings.â

Launching her own new label imprint - Soulbird - through her new record-deal with Universal Republic

âWell, as you already know, Soulbirdâs first artist is Anthony David. And Soulbird for me is more than just a label imprint. Itâs a container thatâs gonna hold a lot of different ideas that I have which fall within my mission statement - which is to spread love through words and music. So, on the music side, I wanna do projects with people who are making music that is meaningful, with a lot of integrity and a lot of sonic diversity. Like anybody whoâs on my new album could definitely be on Soulbird - Dobet, Sezen Aksu⦠You know, all kinds of different singer-songwriters or people who have strong ideas and whose music is conceptually intelligent. Basically I wanna work with people who have very strong INTENTIONS behind their music, as opposed to just a SOUND.â

How India feels - as a former chart-topping Motown artist - about Motownâs current 50th Anniversary, and whether sheâll be playing a part in it

âI assume that, along the way, someone will ask me to do SOMETHING... And my answer will be âYes, Iâd LOVE to!â!... I mean, when I look at the small picture, yes, being with Motown was disappointing for me in a lotta ways. But at the same time, when I look at the big picture, Motown is an important part of my heritage as an African-American musician, period. And so, in that context, Iâm very proud to have played a role as a second-generation Motown artist. I mean, to me what made Motown back in the day so great was the way the music somehow spoke so much to the hearts of people - not necessarily lyrically, but just with its ENERGY⦠Which is something it still DOES. I also think it was very original, and it remains to this day a paragon of what black music should be. In that weâve yet to revisit a time in the history of black music where itâs reached that high ideal of excellence - whether it be in the way the artists looked; how they moved onstage; how the songs were put together... You know, Motown back then had ALL those elements all rolled into one.â

Her current and future plans in general

âAfter producing this latest album alongside my co-producer Dru Castro, I feel that Iâve learnt so much about that particular aspect of my work that Iâm now definitely interested in continuing to explore it by producing OTHER artists. You know, thereâs a lot of musicians that Iâve met around the world that Iâd be interested in working with. For example, Dobet Gnahore and I havenât had a chance to be in a studio together yet. So Iâd love to go to France - where she lives - to work with her. Plus thereâs a Broadway project thatâs been in the pipeline for a few years now; while - more immediately - Iâm also starting out on tour this spring. Plus thereâs also a lot of things Iâd like to do outside of just music. Like at some point I wanna do a jewellery line, a clothing line, an accessory line... You know, all those different ways of expressing myself creatively seemed to be just far-off ideals earlier on in my career - whereas now they seem to be much closer to actually HAPPENING! So Iâm definitely interested in digging my heels into ALL of them!â

The single 'Chocolate High (Featuring Musiq Soulchild)' and album 'Testimony: Vol 2, Love & Politics' are both out now through Universal Records/Universal Republic Records

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