India.Arie sure knows how to make up for lost time. After four years between albums, the R&B songstress’ new “Testimony: Vol. 1, Love & Relationship” blasted to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last week with first-week sales of 161,000. You could say it’s a sign that absence made her fans’ hearts grown fonder, but Arie doesn’t feel like she’s been all that absent in the intervening years. “I don’t think I ever totally disappeared, ’cause I was always here and there,” says Arie, 30, the Denver-born daughter of former Michigan State star and Detroit Pistons player Ralph Simpson, whose second album, the double-platinum “Voyage to India,” came out in 2002 and snared two Grammy Awards. “I’d do little TV appearances and stuff. The last two BET Awards, they didn’t invite me. I invited myself: ‘I want to do the Ray Charles tribute,’ so they let me do that. “So I feel like I was around, even if I wasn’t pushing a new record or anything.” After promoting “Voyage to India,” Arie says she “just wanted to take a break, so then when I started working on my (next) album, I started fresh, from all new perspectives.” Fresher — and considerably less pleasant — than she intended, in fact. Almost all of the 15 tracks on “Testimony” were inspired in some way by a nasty romantic breakup. Arie went from “thinking we were about to be married” to being on her own, and, she acknowledges, not at all happy about it. “I have to express myself; it’s just how I’m wired,” she explains. “So in my songs I was expressing myself and where I was and the big lessons and what was causing me the most pain and the most joy, all that stuff.” Arie, who took up music while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, describes the album’s songwriting as a cathartic process not unlike diving; “You start at the top and just get deeper, deeper, deeper ...”
The first songs, she notes, were “real detailed and specific. Some of it was very angry and some of it I would say his name and stuff I would never say on an album.” As time went on, however, she began to “reach the seed of my truth” and wrote songs she felt had more to say.
“It’s not just about that relationship,” she says. “If you really listen to the lyrics you see that I’m talking about what I learned in that relationship, the hardship of gaining wisdom, talking about that stuff. It was revealing; to say that stuff was kind of scary. You hear something that’s very personal, because I’m on the inside of the lesson.”
Arie, who also co-wrote and sang on the title track of Stevie Wonder’s last album, “A Time to Love,” had no trouble sharing when it came time to record the songs, however. R&B singer Akon appears on the first single, “I am Not My Hair,” while members of the country group Rascal Flatts sing on “Summer” and Bonnie Raitt plays guitar on “I Choose.” She also covers Don Henley’s 1990 hit “The Heart of the Matter,” which was chosen by Arie’s manager because of “how it spoke to me and what I was going through with such laser-point accuracy.”
And as the “Vol. 1” part of “Testimony” implies, Arie has more lessons to impart via her music. She’s already planning on “Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics,” which she hopes to release within the next year. The politics are more global than U.S.-oriented and “very open for interpretation,” she says, and the tone should be “a lot more upbeat — half of it, anyway,” although Arie notes that “I might have all new, fresh songs by the time it comes out. So who knows what it will be like, really.”
Mostly, Arie says, she’s looking forward to getting more music out in short order.
“I would like to put it out next year and finish this whole phase of my life,” she says. “I love singing songs live; studio work is like school to me. And this has been like going to college again, building a studio, learning how to run ProTools, learning how to communicate with producers. I’m ready to be done with it and graduate to the next thing — whatever that will be.”
India.Arie and Musiq perform 7:30 tonight (July 14th) at Chene Park, Chene and Atwater streets, Detroit. Tickets are $55 and $30 pavilion, $17 lawn. Call (313) 393-7128 or visit
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