India.Arie’s Journey To ‘Worthy’: “I’m Gonna Be All Of Me”

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for BET)

Her hair was big. Exposed. Natural. When India.Arie graced the 2017 Black Girls Rock! Awards stage for her performance tribute to legendary singer/songwriter Roberta Flack, a coily afro accented by a yellow flower crowned her head in place of one of her signature headwraps. Rocking a simple black statement tee that read ‘WORTHY’ in bold white letters, the shirt – from India.Arie’s ‘Worthy’ apparel collection launched in support of Black Lives Matter in 2016 – was arguably also an affirmation and declaration to and about its wearer; and a reminder to viewers.

She. Us. We are WORTHY, i.e., deserving of regard and respect.

Like the title of her 2005 single proclaims, India.Arie is NOT her hair. However, she is every bit the boldness, strength, and transformative Black Girl Magic-ness that her hair implies. And like hair, embracing the fullness of who she is has been a process of continuous shedding and growth over the span of her career.

For the last 20 years, India.Arie’s artistic mission has been, “To spread love, healing, peace, and joy through the power of words and music.” We know India.Arie as the Grammy winning, multi-Platinum selling artist and performer. But, when she speaks about the “I AM” of who she is foremost, she describes herself as a spiritual seeker, a lover of God and a student of life. Rather than being labeled by the perceptions and expectations of others, these days, India.Arie is clothed in the truth of her own self-defining.

It looks good on her.

After taking a four-year hiatus beginning in the fall of 2009, the Soulbird re-emerged in 2013 from what she thought would be her retirement with her fifth album, SongVersation. Named as one of Oprah’s inaugural SuperSoul 100 list honorees, Arie shared a ‘SongVersation’ – her meditative practice of storytelling, song, and fellowship –  with the masses during a moving SuperSoul Sessions talk.

India Arie Songversation Medicine

Summer 2017 saw the release of SongVersation: Medicine, an eight song EP that expands on the original SongVersation. Consider this your 27 minute daily mantra set to music. SongVersation: Medicine was made to be listened to in a quiet time, prayer, meditation, Yoga,” states Arie about the musical offering, “My wish is that these songs bring softness, clarity, calm, and inspiration.”

For those curious about what Arie discovered about herself during her hiatus, SongVersation: Medicine is a treasure map to healing. With this new music, a new performance paradigm, and new SongVersation: Medicine Practice  Journal workbook, the self-proclaimed student of life is now ready to take other soul searchers through her lessons in worth.

I spoke with India.Arie while she was in Seattle recording new music for her forthcoming Worthy album. She’d just returned from Oprah’s Share Your Adventure Cruise, where she taught from the SongVersation: Medicine Practice Journal for the first time. What does it feel like to go from being on the SuperSoul Sessions stage to being an actual teacher on the cruise?

India.Arie: “It feels like an extension of everything. Because you know first I did Super Soul Sunday. Then I did my Super Soul Session talk, which I was able to express myself even more and do what I love to do on stage, which was different from doing an interview. Then being able to take that to the cruise just felt like a natural next step.”

“I loved it. I loved the time I spent teaching on the ship because also, you know, like as a performer I spend a lot of time in rooms where I have to teach the room how to hear me. Like, if I’m at the BET Awards or something like that I have to teach them how to hear me a different way because of what the culture is; the prevailing culture. Here, I could just do what I want to do. Talk, use the spiritual terminology, hold up my booklet – there’s a companion piece to this SongVersation: Medicine CD that is a workbook. It’s called the SongVersation Practice Journal and I debuted it on the ship. So, I could pick it up, I could tell people what it’s about. I could just talk and be free and sing my songs and that felt good, too.”

“I love the O! Magazine; the culture of O! Magazine and Super Soul. Like, that culture? It’s so me. It’s so me.”  I’m curious to know have you ever had to battle with imposter syndrome? I know for myself and a lot of my girlfriends, we know that we’re doing good, we know that we’re doing well in our careers, things like that, but there’s still this underlying nagging feeling. This imposter feeling like ‘Am I as good as they think I am? Am I as good as I think I am?’ Do you ever feel that, especially being in those types of spaces, being in the room with the Oprah’s of the world? If you do, how do you overcome that?

India.Arie: “That thing, the imposter syndrome, is not really a thing. But what I have battled –  and people heard me talk about this in my Super Soul Session talk and my Super Soul Sunday interview – what I have battled is feeling like I wasn’t able to be fully me by being coerced into the things that I didn’t really want to do. Or being put in boxes that I didn’t feel like I belonged in. Or being stifled; having my creativity stifled and not being able to speak up or speak my mind or speak my full truth and that stuff made me ill where I had ulcers and my adrenals were off, and my skin broke out. Like, all this crazy stuff happened. So now, I don’t battle it anymore because I know my health can suffer. So I just say it, I do it  –  I do what I wanna do.”

So when people used to talk to me when I was in my 20s about you know, ‘when you get older you’re not gonna care what people think’ and I didn’t understand the mechanism behind that. But I get it now because the older you get the more you’ve earned the right to be who you are. So after having adrenal fatigue and breakouts that were so bad they thought I had lupus all over my face, I don’t care if people think my title of this album is odd, you know what I mean? But it took me, like, to face my mortality. I wasn’t dying but I didn’t know if I was dying. In hindsight I wasn’t, but in the moment I didn’t know. But it took me to face my mortality to be like I’m gonna be all me. Full me.”

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