Review: India.Arie at Strathmore Music Center

Her music has the power to heal through its spiritual power.

India.Arie is music therapy for the soul – part mindfulness meditation through song and part groove-funk to keep it real. Authenticity is her brand essence, but her performance is much more than a musical concert. India.Arie is an awakening and a consciousness-raising experience of meaningful music that sublimely celebrates the power of self-love.

India.Arie. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.
India.Arie. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

She intentionally brought healing energy during a moving one-night stop at the Strathmore Music Center on her “Worthy” tour, named for her latest album released in February. Singing a mixed bag of R&B, pop, and neo-soul, India.Arie’s Grammy-winning music is interesting to try to define as she embraces social activism within a deeply spiritual context without being religious. Her themes are universal and the lyrics are as healing as the music — if not more so. And she asks you to listen to them carefully.

In her sacred space “songversation” she spoke of her musical mission “to spread love, peace, and joy through the power of words and music.” She amply fed the spirit at every level with empowering videos and graphics, beautiful vocals and musical artistry to enchant the senses and a transformational message that “celebrates the best of who we are.”

You would expect a Light Worker like India.Arie to bask in the light as she played her guitar opening with her favorite song, “I Am Light,” a rapturously beautiful melody with divinely inspirational lyrics embraced by her rich, booming, and multi-octave vocals. India doesn’t just sing a song, she caresses it.

Warm, chatty and personal, India.Arie’s down-to-earth but tall, ethereal presence is a study in the best of human contradictions. Dressed in a flowing floor-length white tulle skirt and African Gele headwrap with sunshine yellow accents, Sista Girl is still from ‘round the way sporting a white tee shirt with the word “Worthy” proudly emblazoned across her chest.

But she is still a queen onstage and she transported us through her earlier songbook with the smash hit “Because I Am a Queen/Video” that the audience sung along almost ahead of her beat, wowing them with “I Am Not My Hair,” a self-affirming ode to being one’s natural self.

New Age love filled the air during her 2-hour performance accompanied by India’s sensational “This Is Us” band with music director Kevin Randolph on keyboards, backup singers Maya Dyson and Gene Morris, Joe Cross on guitar, and Charles Lamont Garner, drums and vocals. Each musician performed magical solos and had their own moments to shine as India shared the light literally and figuratively.

The phenomenal Gene Moore soloed as the opening warmup, whipping the audience to a feverish churchy pitch with tunes from his latest album “Tunnel Vision” adding crossover appeal from gospel, Motown to Old School R&B. Gene Moore can blow.

India Arie passionately appeals to the common bonds of humanity in her songs as she unabashedly shared her philosophy of life in the interfaith “One,” “Hour of Love,” the title tune, “Worthy” and “Prayer for Humanity.” Beautiful videos and motivational projected graphic quotes from luminaries such as Desmond Tutu, Victor E. Frankl, Charles M. Schulz, Marianne Williamson, Nikola Tesla, Anita Moorjani, Toni Morrison, and President Barack Obama provided inspirational backdrop.

An India.Arie performance feels like a moving meditation and at one point in the show, she actually leads the audience in a seated full-body relaxation activity accompanied by instrumentals of enchanting Indian-sounding percussion and Krishna-like flute melodies without being too woo-woo.

India doesn’t skip over the strictly earthly stuff, however, and touches on the current political climate in “Coulda Shoulda Woulda,” ”Roller Coaster,” and “What If” referencing what this world would look like without the sacrifices by African American leaders such as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and W.E.B. Du Bois, with flashes of historic video footage of protests during the Civil Rights era.

“Steady Love” kept our feet firmly on the ground with earthy romantic notions and a sexy finger-popping video starring India.Arie and David Banner. “That Magic” was another smooth tune from the “Worthy” album exalting love that stirs up the magical in us.

An India.Arie concert would be incomplete without her anthem to African American women in “Brown Skin,” a proud declaration of self-acceptance set to a funky beat.

Her closing retro of “Worthy” had the audience spiritually attuned and vocally affirming that “Every one of us is worthy.” India.Arie sang it with the power of belief and the audience echoed her words in grateful unison as she told us, “This is what I have to give toward the elevation of humanity.”

India.Arie is a powerful presence, a gifted singer, a talented musician and so much more than just a performing artist. She is a spiritual healer using the power of song to soothe, to inspire and to transform human consciousness. What an incredible show.

Running Time:  Two hours without an intermission.

India.Arie performed on Friday, October 11, 2019, at The Music Center at Strathmore — 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD. For tickets for upcoming performances, go to Strathmore’s website.

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Ramona Harper
Ramona Harper is a retired Foreign Service Officer (career diplomat) of the U.S. Department of State. While in the Foreign Service, her specialization was Public Diplomacy and Cultural Affairs. Her overseas postings were Senegal, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Panama and Germany where she presented American visual and performing artists on behalf of the U.S. Government. Before joining the Foreign Service, Ramona was a counselor and administrator in higher education. Her academic work includes a Master of Science degree in Counselor Education from Florida International University and a Master of Science degree from the National Defense University. Ramona is an avid theatergoer, dance enthusiast and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.


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