At the age of 14, I was introduced to a song that, for the first time, had me take a true look at myself. I looked at my hair, I looked at my skin. I took a second look at people, seeing only the best in them. I knew that I was black, and here was a woman that was welcoming that into a world where I was singing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and dancing to N'Sync. She said she loved who I was, as I was. She said she loved my skin and that no one could take that love she had for me away.
That singer was India.Arie.
And this was 20 years ago. A long 20 years ago, when India.Arie's debut album, Acoustic Soul, hit the airwaves and giving us all the life we didn't know we needed. And in an interview with Essence, she admitted she wasn't too thrilled about the anniversary.
"Being consistent with anything for 20 years is a celebration and the success is a celebration, too. The release of 'Acoustic Soul' was the tail-end of a whole tumultuous era in life, but it's still a nice thing to point at as something to celebrate. Fulfillment is not the right word, but it's the best word I can think of right now. I feel this really grounded sense of accomplishment."
In the interview, she also revealed that she hadn't heard her first album in a while until recently, and when she listened, she recognized the power in her voice at such a young age and its ability to effect change in the music industry. Sis was only 25 years old and had been working on the project since 22. How many of us can say we have the same mind frame we did when we were 25?
"When I listen to 'Acoustic Soul', I really hear where I was emotionally and developmentally because there was part of my voice that's not even on that album at all. There's a whole part of me that's not even there but I didn't have it then. I hear a kid."
With Acoustic Soul, India.Arie was positioned to join the ranks of turn-of-the-millennium neo-soul mavens such as the D'Angelos, or the Erykah Badus, or Jill Scotts, and even Alicia Keys of the culture. These artists re-introduced elements of intimacy, spirituality, and organicism absent in "mainstream" radio R&B. These performers, many of whom wrote their own material, all drew from old school soul, and filtered it into the new wave of social consciousness, Black Feminist thought, and New Age spiritualist symbolism.
In fact, in many ways, India unquestionably led this movement--her and her guitar.
Her success led her to a 50-city tour with the one and only, Sade, and ultimately led to seven Grammy nominations. Seven! All of which she didn't win.
"It took me a good three or four years to realize that winning none was a certain type of success too."
Whew, ladies: read that again, and get your entire life, m'kay? She continued:
"Because everybody was talking about me. I sold under a million copies and everyone was talking about me. At the moment it sucked, but in the end, it all worked out for the best."
To celebrate the moment, India.Arie invited us all along to a special Acoustic Soul 'songversation' virtual event via her social media. The "Brown Skin" singer went directly to fans and cemented the moment through conversation and song, which we wouldn't have any other way, and honestly, was the perfect way to commemorate such a refreshingly ground-breaking body of work.
"I knew I was something different for the industry, I knew I looked different, I sounded different and the songs I wanted to sing were different. I thought I was telling people, 'Make way, something different's coming,' but in hindsight, I was telling all of our stories about what it means to affirm yourself because the world will always tell you that you're supposed to be something different."
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