INDIA.ARIE often explains that she put a dot in her name to make it recognizable, a trademark of sorts. But since the release of her Motown debut Acoustic Soul, this artist's true signature has emerged unmistakably: honest, unpretentious, and deeply affecting music. Combining rich melody, warmly enveloping vocals, natural instrumental textures, and a simply stated yet profoundly powerful message - Love yourself! - India.Arie has drawn a legion of fans who find themselves not only entertained, but encouraged, warmed, and even changed by her music.
Last September she presented another set of nuanced and deeply heartfelt songs to follow the platinum-plus success of her first album. "In hindsight, I think my first album was about being grateful that I had arrived at a certain point in my life and career," said India.Arie. "The second one's all about growth. It's called Voyage to India, because it's about my emotional and spiritual journey. And I'm still in the middle of this transition."
India.Arie learned the transforming power of music early in life, encouraged by both parents: her mother, herself a former singer, and now India.Arie's stylist; and her father, basketball star Ralph Simpson. She had taken up a succession of musical instruments throughout her schooling in Denver, Colorado, but her discovery of the guitar at college in Savannah, Georgia, led to a personal revelation about songwriting and performing. "When I started tapping into my own sensitivity, I started to understand people better. It was a direct result of writing songs," she said at the release of her first album.
Co-founding an Atlanta-based independent music collective, her one-song turn on a locally released compilation led to a second-stage gig at Lilith Fair, where a Universal/Motown music scout spotted her and made an introduction to Motown CEO Kedar Massenburg. Sidestepping all the devices of flavor-of-the-month record-making, Acoustic Soul acquainted listeners with a brave and eloquent new voice, drawing an uncommonly broad swath of listeners from hip-hop, neo-soul, blues, folk, and classic troubadour-style singer/songwriting, all at once. The album made an impressive number ten debut on the Billboard national album chart at its release in March 2001 and within six weeks, without the concentrated radio play that typically powers pop and rap albums, Acoustic Soul was certified gold by the RIAA for sales of 500,000 units.
Almost immediately, India.Arie was sought out by veteran roots-rocker John Mellencamp for a duet on "Peaceful World." She collaborated with a kindred eclectic spirit, jazz crossover artist Cassandra Wilson, on "Just Another Parade," and wrote the heartbreaking and mightily inspiring "Good Man" for the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers.
By early December 2001, Acoustic Soul passed the million-unit mark in sales, and there was no doubt that India.Arie stood among such grass-roots breakthroughs as David Gray, Jill Scott, Alison Krauss, Diana Krall, and the bluegrass soundtrack collection "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Named Best New Artist by Vibe Magazine, MTV2, and Billboard's Video Awards, India also drew nominations from the NAACP Image Awards and Soul Train's Lady of Soul Awards. Entertainment Weekly magazine listed India.Arie among the Top 100 "It" Entertainers of 2001.
Then, one more chapter opened when the 2002 Grammy nominations were announced on January 4th. That morning, India.Arie astonished the record industry by drawing nominations in seven categories, including Best New Artist, and Record, Song, and Album of the Year - the most of any solo artist, and one less than the most-nominated act, U2.
In a way, much of the country played catch-up in 2002 with what India.Arie's listeners knew on first listen last year. The buzz from fans and the industryites who have worked with her is that, with an artist as open-hearted as she is, we may only be starting to see how good she is really going to become.
Sure enough, India.Arie's creative fire remains bright with the release of Voyage to India. "Writing songs teaches me," she says. "It's like I hear words I could not make up in my own head - they're way more wise than I am! When I hear it in the completed song, I say, 'Wow, that's a message for me.' That's the thing that excites me, listening to this album and seeing how my life is going to manifest itself into even more of what these songs are." The music of India.Arie expresses an unshakable, and always much-needed, faith in the ways that love and life can lead us to our best selves. She has proven again her ability to move millions - one heart at a time.