India.Arie: Voyage to India

[2 October 2002]

By Felicia Pride

Do you have that certain friend you call on when life seems out of control? You know, that person you call when you feel stuck in the past, emotionally dragged and life seems tragic. Things are drastic, but they always know the exact words to say with the ease and calmness of a summer breeze. Musically, India.Arie is that person: an emotional muse, a thought-provoking confidant, a sage beyond her years with adages of wisdom for any occasion. Play her music during life’s struggles and she answers simply, “The only thing constant in the world is change / That’s why today I take life as it comes.” Confirmation, everything will be okay.

And then you wonder, well, whom does she turn to? When the Grammy’s “overlooked” her seven times, whom did she call? It’s obvious from one listen to Voyage to India; she turns to music. Energy, positive or negative, can be neither created nor destroyed. But, it can be transformed into an utterly beautiful and emotionally articulate musical triumph.

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for India from touring with Sade to collaborating with John Mellencamp. Her emergence from the underground Atlanta artistic scene introduced a debut album and signature track, “Video”, that confused and excited the world at the same time. A black woman who carries a guitar? We’ve seen black women singing with guitars before, but this seemed different, a hybrid of dogmatic contradictions—folkish and soulful, inspired by Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt, strong and confident while doting about brown skin. Ultimately, though, she was deeply felt by an audience that understood with acceptance, admiration and anticipation. Illustrated perfectly by her summer concert at Bryant Park in New York City, a performance that attracted a myriad of hues and tastes.

When it is time for the sophomore album, though, there’s always the tendency to ask, “Is it better then the first one?” India, with her keen simplicity answers the call for comparison through the title of her first track, “Growth”. Voyage to India is a continuation of India’s musical journey, a natural progression, the reflection of an artist’s love for her art and its divine connection to life.

Her first single, “Simple Things”, was the perfect choice. Signature India look and feel coupled with a groove that should reconnect and hopefully grow her fan base. It includes an excerpt of “Hollywood”, (Rufus and Chaka Khan) purposefully allowing India to conclude the song, “I don’t need no Hollywood.” The video is equally joyous conjuring feelings of sugar and spice and all things nice.

India perfects the art of the love song with “The Truth”, “Beautiful Surprise” and “Can I Walk With You”. Going beyond the usual, “I love you / You mean the world to me / So let’s be together,” India’s songwriting embodies the naked essence of being in love. In “Can I Walk With You”, she expresses, “Can I walk with you through your life / Till the day that the world stops turning / Can I walk with you / Till the day that my heart stops breathing / Can I / Can I walk with you through life / Can I walk with you / Till the day that the birds no longer take flight / Till the moon is underwater / Can I walk with you.”

“God Is Real”, one of the most salient tracks, is heavy with revelation as India sings with heart, spirit and mind united, “For the first time I understood its power / As I swam / I was cleansed / If I had any doubts / This experience cleared them / Now I know for sure that God is real / I know that it’s the truth by the way it feels / Cause I saw starfish and sponges / Fish shaped like trumpets / So many different colors / I stayed out there for hours / And I only saw a fraction of a fraction / Of the deepest of the deep / Of the great blue wide / It brought a tear to my eye”.

Other voyage destinations: “Headed in the Right Direction” succeeds with a Sade-like musical arrangement, “The One” flows with the presence of some Stevie-like smoothness and “Complicated Melody” is lyrically sublime.

The guitar acts as an album staple, whether it shadows an R&B track or is the only accompaniment to her voice. But the production, like India, has grown to mirror new experiences expanding into other musical directions but routed from the Acoustic Soul core—folk, soul, R&B, among others. She produced or co-produced the vast majority of the album demonstrating her range as an artist, songwriter, producer, and musician.

Voyage to India uncovers India.Arie for the true artist she is. There should never be any doubt regarding her musical capabilities or her destined purpose. Her music is an experience that leaves you with overwhelming rejuvenation. With a confidence like India’s, I can safely say, I wouldn’t change a thing. Profound confirmation, everything will be okay.

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