India Arie’s Acoustic Soul, released in 2001, is one of those albums I find myself going back to regularly, finding even more strength, courage and wisdom in her music as time goes by. While streaming that album recently I was excited to see she had recently released a new EP called Songversation: Medicine. India originally made this collection of songs, some new and others previously released, to send to a friend who was going through a dark night of the soul. These inspiring songs prove that music really can calm and heal us in these troubled times.
Before starting this album it’s best you know that India describes this music as a collection of affirmations, prayers and blessings. So yes, so some of it may sound like religious music but I didn’t find it particularly preachy. What India does is find strength, light and comfort through the spirituality of music.
After 2009 India decided to take a step back from her music career, finding it increasingly difficult to find her place in the industry. Freed from a record contract she went back to church and sang for herself, eventually releasing Songversation in 2013. The EP includes two songs that appeared on that album including a rerecording of I Am Light. This version actually sounds better, the vocals clearer and more optimistic. India’s voice is one of my all time favourites, she just has this effortless warmth. This song encourages the listener to find power and strength from looking inside yourself, finding your inner light and trying to bring yourself to a place of positivity in your life.
Soulbird Rise is a simple strummed acoustic song, allowing the vocal to fly. This might seem like a song for yoga practice, but anyone can listen and relax even if they prefer to sit on the couch reading a book. New worship songs Light of the Holy Spirit, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Give Praise are beautifully sung. I don’t believe in much but I do believe in the healing power of hearing someone sing.
And this point was proved to me when I was listening to Just Let it Go one day when I was stressed. Instantly I felt better. What a simple and useful mantra to invoke in your mind at times of difficulty, pain or anger. Your healing is in your hands. Just let it go. The more you sing it, the more you feel its truth.
At the start of the year I was watching the 2016 Soul Train Awards and was pleasantly surprised to see India perform with the incredible host Erkayh Badu. The song, recorded here, is called Breathe, and was inspired by the horrific incidents which inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. India used the final word of Eric Garner, a young man who died at the hands of the police, as the title for the song. Breathe really stood out for me with its direct honesty, and uplifting refrain. Even in the worst of times you need to keep going, to honour those who have died. Never give up, keep fighting for a better future. The black and white video is also a beautiful testament to the cause.
The short EP finishes with Life is Good which is upbeat and celebratory but moves the sound on a little more and adds a gospel choir alongside the full band. Overall this is straightforward, no frills songwriting with the aim of making you feel good about yourself and better about the world. And India has one of the purest, sweetest most natural soul voices you will ever hear.
Music is medicine that’s for sure. This is a gift to us in these troubled times. Her arms are open on the cover as though it’s an offer, a welcoming gesture. For anyone else who needs a musical hug, just listen to SongVersation: Medicine by India Arie.
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