The Soul Within

India Arie reinvents herself

Inside Atlanta’s Northyards Complex on a cloudy spring afternoon, India Arie performs “Gift of Acceptance” to a rapt crowd. The ethereal singer twirls in a floor-length white dress, accompanied by her new songwriting partner, Israeli pianist Idan Raichel. Their contemplative set leaves much of the audience visibly moved at the TEDx conference—organized by the local branch of an exclusive, multidisciplinary think tank devoted to technology, entertainment, and design (like Mensa for the culturally aware).

Photograph by Amanda Lucidon / Care

“I wasn’t the only one who felt we were witnessing the debut of the next ‘Peace Train,’” TEDx Atlanta organizer Tod Martin reflected a few days later, comparing “Gift” to the 1971 Cat Stevens ballad.

Open Door, Arie’s soon-to-be-released CD collaboration with Raichel, supplants the smooth R&B of her earlier hits with a world music vibe and lyrics about tolerance and “peace, love, and prosperity.” “I love every song I’ve ever released, but I always felt like something was missing,” says Arie. “Without the foundation of spirituality, everything feels shallow, even winning Grammys.”

>> VIDEO: Watch Arie perform “Gift of Acceptance”

In fact, Arie—who’s racked up twenty-one Grammy nominations and four golden phonographs in her decade-long career—began traveling alone and considered quitting the music business. Even as her song “Beautiful Day” was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America and her SoulBird Music label launched, Arie remained unsure about continuing in an industry that would laud the brashness of her 2006 mantra “I Am Not My Hair,” yet pressure her to act like the women she disdained in her first hit, “Video” (2001). “I needed to drop everything,” Arie says of her breaking point after a grueling tour in 2009.

After discovering Raichel on a Putamayo CD compilation, Arie ended up at the piano in his Tel Aviv apartment. Before the two knew it, they were playing for the Obamas at the Kennedy Center in D.C., and at last year’s Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway. Inspired once again, she says, “I believe God put me in this place at this time. Things just happen. I’m always surprised by what comes up.”