NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of audience applause)

Singer-songwriter India.Arie is not your average artist. She's sold more than six million albums, received two Grammy awards and a dozen nominations, mostly recently for her collaboration with Stevie Wonder. Her much-anticipated album Testimony: Vol. 1, Life and Relationship, got raves from most of the critics and debuted at number one on the sales charts.

In the unlikely event you're not familiar with this phenomenon, we'll introduce her to you this hour. India.Arie is with us in Studio 4A. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. INDIA.ARIE (Singer): Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And if you have questions for India.Arie about her music, her career, or her efforts on behalf of social and humanitarian causes, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And can you begin us with a song?

Ms. ARIE: Yes. Which one?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Hair? This is a new single from my album Testimony: Vol. 1. This is called I Am Not My Hair.

(Soundbite of fingers snapping)

(Soundbite of song, I Am Not My Hair)

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Dah, dah-dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah. Dah, dah-dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah.

CHORUS: (Singing) Dah-dah.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Little girl with a press and curl, age eight I got a Jheri curl. Thirteen and I got a relaxer. I was the source of so much laughter at 15 when it all broke off. Eighteen and I went all natural. February 2002, I went on and did what I had to do 'cause it was time to change my life, to become the woman that I am inside. ‘97, dreadlocks all gone. I looked in the mirror for the first time and saw that, hey.

CHORUS: (Singing) Hey.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not my hair. I am not my this skin. I am not your expectations, no, no.

CHORUS: Hey.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within. Dah, dah-dah-dah, dah, dah-dah-dah, dah. Dah, dah-dah-dah, dah, dah-dah-dah, dah.

CHORUS: Dad-dah.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Good hair means curls and waves. Bad hair means you look like a slave. At the turn of the century, it's time for us to redefine who we be. You can shave it off like a South African beauty. Got it on lock like Bob Marley. You can rock straight like Oprah Winfrey. If it's not what's on your head, it's what's underneath and say, hey.

CHORUS: (Singing) Hey.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am not your expectation, no.

CHORUS: (Singing) Hey.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.

CHORUS: (Singing) Oh-oh-oh.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?

CHORUS: No, no, no.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend, oh?

CHORUS: (Singing) No, no, no.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?

CHORUS: (Singing) No, no, no.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am expressing my creativity. Breast cancer and chemotherapy took away her crowning glory. She promised God if she was to survive, she would enjoy every day alive. Oh-oh. On national television, her diamond eyes are sparkling. Bald-headed like a full moon shining, singing out to the whole wide world like hey-hey. Hey-hey-hey.

CHORUS: (Singing) I am not my hair.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not my hair. I am not your expectation, no.

CHORUS: (Singing) Hey. I am not my hair.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within, hey.

Ms. ARIE and CHORUS: (Singing) I am not my hair.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: India.Arie with her band: Shannon Sanders on keyboard and vocals, Blue Miller playing guitar and also on vocals, Khari Simmons on base, Chris Johnson on the drums, Ametra Doc(ph) and Shante Kan(ph) on vocals. And thanks all of you for coming in today. We really appreciate it.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: India, tell us a little bit about that song if you would. What made you write it?

Ms. ARIE: I was afraid you would ask me that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Well, I wrote it when I had long dreadlocks, and I cut those. And I kept it short for a couple of years. And then after that I started to wear it, like, different braid extensions and do all kind of stuff with my hair, and people were looking at me crazy. So that was part of it, like...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: But the song is not really about hair. Obviously, it is, but it's also on other metaphoric levels. It talks about defining yourself for yourself and not painting your own self into a box of what you can or can't do or can or can't be, you know. There's a remix where I have a man, a male singer named Akon, on there...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: ...and I wanted to do that with him to show that this is not a - it is a woman's statement because I'm a woman and that's what I do, but it's also just a human statement, like, define yourself for yourself and being a part of that whole thing that they like to call neo-soul.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: Neo-soul is really less about a sound than it is about a look, in my opinion.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. ARIE: It's more, like, if you have natural hair and you're young and black and you play an instrument or write your songs or you're a little bit more than anyone's expectations of a young black person...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: ...then you're neo-soul. And I don't love that term. I accept it. It is what it is. People have to label things, but...

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. ARIE: ...it - that song also speaks on that level. Like, I know what you think you think of me, but I'm a lot more than that, you know what I mean? So it's personal, but it's also just about the human experience of defining yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: You know what I'm saying?

CONAN: Well, in terms of expectations, I had read that you were a very shy person. You seem to have gotten over that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I don't know. I think so, but I think that just happened in the last couple of years.

CONAN: Yeah?

Ms. ARIE: Yeah. I'm not shy, of course, with people that I know. But, you know, in the last couple - but I'm 30 now, so I should be able to talk...

CONAN: Over the hill just about, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I know, I know. I'm old. I love 30. I wouldn't be back in my 20s for anything.

CONAN: We want to get some listeners a chance to talk with you, so let's get a caller on the air. By the way, if you'd like to join us, our guest is India. Arie. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and let's talk with Shauntelle(ph). Shauntelle's calling us from Anchorage, Alaska.

SHAUNTELLE (Caller): Oh, hi, India. I first heard your sound about five or so years ago here in Anchorage, and I felt it so inspiring, and I thought it was a...

CONAN: And can you hold on just for a second, Shauntelle. India's having a hard time hearing this.

SHAUNTELLE: Okay.

CONAN: ...so we're just going to set her up so that she's going to be able to find out what you're talking about.

Ms. ARIE: Well, I think I heard her.

CONAN: Now?

SHAUNTELLE: Oh, okay.

Ms. ARIE: Hi, Shauntelle.

SHAUNTELLE: Hi. I'm so excited to talk to you.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAUNTELLE: Plenty of women, and I guess - well, men, as well - who just love the music and the message about self-acceptance. And my introduction to you was about five years ago, and it was video.

Ms. ARIE: Yeah.

SHAUNTELLE: And as a black woman in America, I think a lot of us can relate to the - what, you know, people say we're supposed to look like. And just about loving yourself and coming to terms with who you are, what you look like, what you do, and how you treat other people and yourself. So we love you, and we wish you all the best.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Shauntelle.

SHAUNTELLE: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Again, if you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. She mentioned your first big hit, Video - which is also, to some degree, about appearances, too.

Ms. ARIE: Yeah. Well, see I didn't realize when I wrote the song I Am Not My Hair that I was going to have to explain it so much. I don't really know how to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm sorry about that.

Ms. ARIE: No, it's not your fault. It's mine. But Video is really about appearances. I Am Not My Hair is about defining yourself. It's a whole other thing for me. It's a whole other thing. But I know that they seem like very similar statements, and they are. I know they seem like the same statement -and I know that they're similar - but they're not the same. But Video is really about your appearance and learning to accept how you look and working what you have, and accepting the things that you don't like and just like, keeping it moving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. Let's get another caller on the line. This Skylar(ph). Skylar's calling us from Scottsdale, Arizona.

SKYLAR (Caller): Hi, I'm Skylar, and I love to sing, and I love your music.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

SKYLAR: And I was wondering if you could give me advice of how perform confidently.

Ms. ARIE: Uh-oh. I can't hear you.

CONAN: How did you learn how to perform confidently?

Ms. ARIE: Oh. How old are you?

CONAN: Skylar?

SKYLAR: Yes?

CONAN: How old are you?

SKYLAR: I'm 12.

Ms. ARIE: Hi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Well, and that's what - did you just hear…I'm sorry, what's your name?

CONAN: Neal.

Ms. ARIE: Sorry, Neal. Did you just hear Neal me being shy, and how I used to be shy?

SKYLAR: Yes.

Ms. ARIE: Part of me learning to be a confident performer was learning to be a confident person, and they both help each other. So one of the things that I did was just take one step at a time. So there was time I used play my songs sitting in a chair with my eyes closed. And then I would open my eyes after a year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: And then I would stand up for half of the show, and then sit down or just keep pushing myself to try more and more things. And even when I was uncomfortable, I would just do it anyway and see if I liked it. Because a lot of times, I don't think that confidence is about doing a lot. You don't have run across the stage and roll on the floor, but confidence is a feeling that you have inside. But you have to decide what kind of performer you want to be just by experimenting, by having the confidence inside to experiment. You know, but a lot, also - I'm just thinking of this right now. One of the things that helped me to be confident is to be the kind of musician that I respect. I always liked musicians who wrote their own songs and so, I started writing my own songs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: You know, and I like musicians who played instruments, so I just started playing around with the guitar. I'm not great, but I do it because I love to, and I do it confidently because it brings me joy and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. But, like I said, I think you should experiment, and I think that you should shape yourself into what your ideal of the best performer is and just keep pushing yourself to be better.

CONAN: Mm. Skylar, are you performing? Are you writing songs?

SKYLAR: Yes.

CONAN: Well, you clearly don't lack the confidence to call a national radio program.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: What instrument do you play?

CONAN: Did you hear the question, Skylar?

SKYLAR: No.

Ms. ARIE: What instrument do you play, or instruments?

SKYLAR: Do I - what instruments?

Ms. ARIE: Uh-huh.

SKYLAR: Oh, I play - I learning how to play the guitar and the piano at the moment.

Ms. ARIE: That's good.

CONAN: Well, Skylar, good luck to you.

SKYLAR: Thank you.

CONAN: And thanks very much for calling.

I'm Neal Conan. We're talking today with India.Arie, and her band is here in studio four A to perform live for us. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk at npr.org. We're going to take a short break and be right back. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: We're joined here in studio four A by singer/songwriter/guitarist and two-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie and her band. That's Shannon Sanders on keyboard and vocals, Blue Miller on guitar and vocals, Kari Simmons on bass, Chris Johnson on the drums, Amitra Doc(ph) and Shanti Kan(ph) on vocals. Of course, we want to hear from you. If you have questions about the new album, about her music, or the life of India.Arie, give us call: 800-989-08255 - 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And you've the guitar in your hands. Are we going to get another tune?

Ms. ARIE: Yes.

CONAN: Great.

(Soundbite of Ms. Arie vocalizing)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I don't know why I wasn't thinking when they asked me what I wanted to play. I didn't put this song in the playlist, but - I don't know why I did that. This is how I was introduced to the world. This is my first song. This is called Video. This is how I introduced myself to the world.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Sometime I shave my legs, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I comb my hair, and sometimes I won't. Depend on how the wind blows, I might even paint my toes. It really just depends on whatever feels good to my soul. Oh, I'm not the average girl from your video, and I ain't built like a supermodel. But I learned to love myself unconditionally, because I am a queen. I'm not the average girl from your video.

My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes. No matter what I'm wearing I will always be India.Arie. Now, when I look in the mirror, the only one there is me. Every freckle on my face is where it's supposed to be. And I know my creator didn't make no mistakes on me. My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes - I'm loving what I see, yeah. I'm not the average girl from your video. And I ain't built like a supermodel. But I learned to love myself unconditionally, because I am a queen. I'm not the average girl from your video.

My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes. No matter what I'm wearing I will always be India.Arie. Am I less of a lady if I don't where panty hose? My momma said a lady ain't what she wears but what she knows. But I've drawn the conclusion, it's all an illusion Confusion's the name of the game. A misconception, a vast deception, something's got to change.

Now don't be offended this is all my opinion. Ain't nothing that I'm saying law. This is a true confession of a life learned lesson I was sent here to share with y'all. So get in when you fit in, go on and shine. Clear your mind. Now's the time, put your salt on the shelf, go on and love yourself ‘cause everything's gonna be all right.

You've got to love yourself just the way you are. Love yourself no matter what they say. Love yourself no matter what they do. Love yourself. Yeah, yeah. Love yourself. (Unintelligible) You've got to love yourself.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ARIE: I don't know what I was doing with ending.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: India.Arie and Video. You said that was the song with which you introduced yourself to the world. You sprung upon us fully formed yet you had some growing to do up in - you didn't come as a surprise to people around Atlanta, did you?

Ms. ARIE: People around Atlanta kind of watched me build myself up.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. ARIE: Like I just started playing guitar one day. Three months later, I was singing at coffee shops. Six months later, I was up in Atlanta doing and getting a little money, but it was a lot to me at the time. And for a bout four or five years, I was just in Atlanta playing songs and putting on my own shows. I was part of an artist collective called Earthseed/Groovement - wait, we did it the other way. Groovement/Earthseed. We used to say planting seeds of positive music in the earth. Yeah, that was a good time.

There's a singer named Donnie Johnson. He has an album called The Colored Section. He was part of Earthseed.

CONAN: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, some people say - you seem to have had such success so young, but you're saying you did have the opportunity to hone your craft in small clubs and (unintelligible)

Ms. ARIE: Yeah, I definitely did. But at the time, as long as I could sing my song I was successful. So I was just like - as far as I was concerned, when I was honing myself I was doing it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: And I still feel like I'm honing myself, but I'm still doing it at the same time.

CONAN: Let's get a question from a member of the audience here in Studio 4A. Go ahead, please.

Ms. CHANTEL HARLEY(ph) (Audience Member): Hello. My name is Chantel Harley. I work here at NPR. My question is - first of all, I want to tell you that I love you, you are so awesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

Ms. HARLEY: And I love the fact that you keep everything so spiritual. And also, you know, you have such an open mind. I love that. Who are the people you keep around you to stay humble and spiritually connected?

Ms. ARIE: That's a big question. I definitely have a lot of people who love me. Everyone in my band back there, they love me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: But a lot of these people that you see up here I've been knowing them for a long time. And like the bass player, we've been friends for ten years. I met him when I had written two songs and his friend - his godsister was like, you have to see this girl across the hall, you have to hear her play. And he came over and I played for him and we've been friends ever since. And now we tour together. So I like to keep the people around me that I know I came up with and I know love me. But of course there's my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother, and they pray a lot. But I also, I like to - for me, living a quality life is being able to live and go and experience things and meet people. And when you put yourself above people and act like, I'm a star, you don't get a chance to really relate to people. Sometimes people do that to you, but I don't like to do that to myself. So I stay - I'm no different form anybody else anyway. I'm not trying to say that I am but I'm trying to act like I'm not. You know, so there's my family. And my friends - were also my philosophy on life and what it means to be happy is to be able to experience people. And it's funny, because as I was walking around the NPR hall I kept hearing people like, wow, she's so down to earth. I'm just like, I'm just walking down the hall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: But it's funny because I guess I was kind of walking like this and singing to myself. And this nice lady in the front, she set up a room with a fountain and I walked in - and I walked in like, you know, cause I'm a little tomboy sometimes - and I walk, I was kind of like (unintelligible) in the room when I walked in and there's candles and there's a fountain and I turned into the other India.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question. Let's get a caller on the line. Rick(ph). Rick's calling from San Francisco.

RICK (Caller): Hi, India.

Ms. ARIE: Hi.

RICK: Hi there. Well, I hope that people are getting that lesson that you were sent here to teach, kind of like you just said in your last song. Because I just hear - I don't hear race or any thing in your words and music, I just hear humanity and wisdom. And like I said, I just hope people really, really are getting the lesson that you're trying to teach. I think it's amazing.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you. I don't really consider myself a teacher. I think - like, I have opinions like everyone else and I just share my opinions. I don't that I know anything, I just know what I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: You definitely know. And again, it's the wisdom and the humanity about your songs and your words. I mean, it just rises completely above race or anything - looks, obviously, hairdo, anything that's petty in this world and about what it is to be, you know, a human being and to live life. I get that message loudly and clearly and I just hope that that gets through to others.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Rick.

RICK: Thanks.

Ms. ARIE: Very much.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question we got from Ria(ph) in San Antonio.

(Reading) My 10-year-old daughter and I are huge fans of India.Arie. I'd like to know more about her involvement with UNICEF and her work with children around the world.

Ms. ARIE: The involvement is very new. I did a show in Atlanta and when I - as you can tell - I like to talk. During my shows I talk and sing, because to me it's just about sharing.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: I did a show where I was just talking about my ideals about humanitarianism and stuff. And after the show Some people from UNICEF asked me if I wanted to be a goodwill ambassador. And all I do as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador is go places in the world, see what's going on, come back, talk about it. And I've been on - they call it a field trip - and I've been on one field trip with UNICEF, and there was another place where I was where I did some UNICEF stuff just because I was there, which was South Africa. The other field trip was Kenya.

And I just am learning. I don't feel like I've done anything yet. I've helped a couple of people, but, you know, it's just normal helping someone who needs help. But I'm still learning where I can be effective in the world other than through my music and you know.

CONAN:

Now, you say you made a trip to South Africa and to Kenya. I know you were active in looking into the AIDS question. You met Nelson Mandela, too.

Ms. ARIE: I did.

CONAN: That must have been a trip.

Ms. ARIE: Oh, yes. I wrote a song about it. Well, the first trip - the one to Kenya, which was in Mombasa. I did that with - I'm sorry, no. I went to Mombasa with UNICEF. So it was a two-week period. The first week was with VH1, for a documentary called Tracking the Monster. And they air that periodically on VH1.

Then I went to Mombasa the next week with UNICEF. And then, of course, I went to South Africa at another time, like six months later. And I've been to South Africa three times, but I got to meet Nelson Mandela once. It was funny because I met him because I just called his room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I called his room. Nobody was hooking it up and I was like, I didn't really come to do the show, I came to meet Nelson Mandela.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: And I called his room and they said come down in 10 minutes. And I went down and me and him just sat in the room and talked.

CONAN: Guess that shyness problem has been worked through.

Ms. ARIE: I don't know. I was shy, but sometimes you just want things and you're just scared and do it anyway.

CONAN: What'd you talk about?

Ms. ARIE: Talk about somebody being down-to-earth. He was just like, so how are you. You know, we were just talking. I did - this album's called Testimony, Vol. 1: Life and Relationship and I have a Testimony, Vol. 2: Love and Politics. So, I told him about this song that I wrote for Testimony, Vol. 2: Love and Politics and - see, I'm even scared to say the title, because I told him - see when I write songs I just listen to what I hear and that's what I write.

And I told him I wrote this song about AIDS and about the responsibility of people in developed nations to help, right, to give back. And I said, do you think it's bad that I wrote a song called Get Up Off Your Ass?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: And he said - because I don't curse in my music and I rarely ever will curse around an adult - and he said, well it depends on how conservative the person is, but I think a lot of people in this world will appreciate you saying that. And I said, so can I tell people that Nelson Mandela told me it's ok to say get up off your ass.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: And he said, yes you can.

CONAN: Well, if you got permission from Nelson Mandela I guess you can put it on the record then.

Ms. ARIE: We'll see.

CONAN: This last record that just came out people had been waiting for it for awhile. I understand you're well along on Vol. 2.

Ms. ARIE: Yes. It's sitting there waiting to be polished off.

CONAN: All right. We're talking today and listening to the music of India.Arie. She's with us here in Studio 4A. If you'd like to join us, our number: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We have a few minutes left just before break. How about - I understand you're ready for us with There's Hope.

Ms. ARIE: It would be my pleasure. This song is actually inspired by my travels to - ya'll can start anytime - inspired by my travels to all the places that I've been.

(Soundbite of song, There's Hope)

Ms. ARIE: Even after seeing people dying of AIDS in Africa and everything, I still believe that we have to believe that there's hope. Here it goes.

(Singing) Back when I had a little, I thought that I needed a lot. A little was overrated, but a lot was a little too complicated. You see, zero didn't satisfy me. A million didn't make me happy. That's when I learned a lesson. That it's all about your perception. Hey, are you a papa or a superstar? So you act, so you feel, so you are. It ain't about the size of your car. It's about the size of the faith in your heart.

There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that.

Off in the backcountry of Brazil, I met a young brother that made me feel that I could accomplish anything. You see just like me he wanted to sing. He had no windows and no doors. He lived a simple life and was extremely poor. On top of all of that he had no eyesight, but that didn't keep him from seeing the light. He said, what's it like in the USA, and all I did was complain. He said, living here is paradise. He taught me paradise is in your mind. You know that...

There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. There's hope.

Every time I turn on the TV…

CHORUS: (Singing) There's Hope.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) …somebody's acting crazy…

CHORUS: (Singing) There's Hope.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I almost let it drive me crazy.

CHORUS: (Singing) There's Hope.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) But I'm taking back my power today.

CHORUS: There's Hope.

Ms. ARIE: Gas prices they just keep on rising. The government they keep on lying, but we gotta keep on surviving, keep living our truth and do the best we can do.

Because there's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that.

Stand up for your rights.

CHORUS: (Singing) Stand up for your rights.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Keep shining your light.

CHORUS: (Singing) Keep shining your light.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) And show the world your smile. Stand up for your rights.

CHORUS: (Singing) Stand up for your rights.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Keep shining your light.

CHORUS: (Singing) Keep shining your light.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) And show the world your smile. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. Hey. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. Yeah. There's hope. It doesn't cost a thing to smile. You don't have to pay to laugh. You better thank God for that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Brazil - all of a sudden Brazil gets mentioned.

Ms. ARIE: Ah, well, you know, what's funny, and this is what I love about this song. If you go to the store and buy a CD called Music In High Places, India.Arie in Bahia, you will see that story. And it's a perfect example of how autobiographical and detailed and laser-point accurate my songwriting is to my real life experience. You'll see it right there. You'll see the blind guy playing guitar, see me bust crying because my life is so complicated and his life is so simple.

CONAN: We're going to have to take another short break now. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail is talk@npr.org. We're also going to get a chance to hear some more music from India.Arie when we get back.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Tomorrow it's SCIENCE FRIDAY and Ira Flatow will be there with the ABC's of missile defense systems and a look back at transistor history, plus 30 years of Mars exploration. That's all tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Today, the music of India.Arie. She's with us in Studio 4A, along with her band. Shannon Sanders on keyboard and vocals, Blue Miller, guitar and vocals, Khari Simmons on bass, Chris Johnson(ph) on drums, and Amitra Dock(ph) and Shante Kan(ph) on vocals. The new album is called Testimony, Vol. 1: Life and Relationship. If you'd like to join the conversation our number is 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Craig. Craig's calling us from Hastings in Michigan.

CRAIG (CALLER): Yes. How are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

CRAIG: Neal, thanks. I enjoy your show. First-time caller. Your guest has truly touched me.

Ms. ARIE: Oh, thank you.

CRAIG: This is the first time I've heard your music. I was touched. I didn't think artists like you existed anymore.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ARIE: That does my heart good.

CRAIG: I will be stopping to purchase any work that I can find with your name on it.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CRAIG: I guess the best way to put that is - take it from a 47-year-old grumpy old truck driver, you're beautiful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Craig, thanks very much for that. And hey, take care on the road, will you.

CRAIG: Yeah, thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: All right.

Ms. ARIE: That does my heart better than you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: You have no idea.

CONAN: You have another tune for us?

Ms. ARIE: Yes. We just changed the set list. Which I do often. Because we were talking about Nelson Mandela and this is the song that was inspired by him.

(Soundbite of song Wings of Forgiveness)

Ms. ARIE: Some of the critics who don't love my music, one of the things that they say is that it's overly idealistic or unrealistic, and that it's unreasonable for me to be so gracious and forgiving about things that are of so much pain or whatever. I'm just being myself. I am gracious. No.

But this song - and what I love about this song is I had to go all the way to South Africa, meet Nelson Mandela, and speak to him alone in a room before I got to the point where I could say let me forgive this man for just being a jerk. If he can forgive people for putting him in prison for three decades, I can forgive too. So I don't mean to make it sound like it's easy, you know, I work on myself. I think my songs are just pretty and it fools people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) I just want you to know after everything that we've been through. I just want you to know that I still love you. Want you to know that I forgive you. And I want to let you know how much you changed my life. I want to let you know you taught me how to fly. And I wrote this song to tell you this, I'm better 'cause you taught me how to give.

I had to go across the water just to find what was here in my life all along. Spent so much time trying to be right that I was dead wrong. If Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors, surely I can forgive you for your passion.

CHORUS: (Singing) Only human.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Let's shake free this gravity of resentment and fly high and fly high.

CHORUS: (Singing) Only human.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Let's shake free this gravity of judgment and fly high on the wings of forgiveness. Ohhh.

I had to run to the arms of curiosity just to find what was here in my heart all along. I have found that the art of simplicity simply means making peace with your complexity. If Gandhi can forgive persecution surely you can forgive me for being so petty.

CHORUS: (Singing) Only human.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Let's shake free this gravity of resentment and fly high, and fly high.

CHORUS: (Singing) Only human.

Ms. ARIE. (Singing) Let's shake free this gravity of resentment and fly high on the wings of forgiveness.

I've searched for romance, flowers and affection. What I found is a lesson on what love really is. Found the game of love is not about how much you can take, but in fact authentic love is about how much you can give.

After everything that we've been through I just want you to know that I still love you. I want you to know that I forgive you. Thank you for teaching how to give. And I wanna let you know how much you changed my life. I wanna let you know you taught me how to fly. And I wrote this song to tell you this. I'm better ‘cause you taught me how to give

I took a swim in the sea of guilt and misery to find myself on an island in the middle of nowhere. In my solitude I asked to know the highest truth and what I was told is to thine own self be true. If Jesus can forgive crucifixion surely we can survive and find resolution.

Let's keep it moving, let's shake free this gravity of resentment and fly high, and fly high.

CHORUS: (Singing) Only human.

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Let's shake free this gravity of judgment and fly high, and fly high. Let's keep it moving, let's shake free this gravity of commitment and fly high on the wings of forgiveness

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: India.Arie. Let's get a question from the audience here in the studio.

Ms. OYIA JOHNSON(ph) (Audience Member): Hi, my name is Oyia Johnson and I was introduced to your music when I was living in Japan. So on behalf of all the sisters living in Japan, thank you for bringing flavor to the land of the rising sun.

It seems like quite a few tracks on your current album are based on life lessons learned from the end of a particular relationship, and I was just wondering did you draw on a particular relationship more so for this album than on others?

Ms. ARIE: No, I didn't. It's not more so about a particular relationship than my previous two albums, but the difference is that it's much more - a much more melancholy and sad at times look - if not a look at the romantic idealistic part. It's about what I have now deemed the real side of relationships, like what it means to coexist with someone and the lessons that you learn from that, which is why it's called Life and Relationship.

Ms. JOHNSON: Right.

Ms. ARIE: But yes. When I hear these songs, I hear melancholy in place and sadness and stuff in places and some other people don't hear it. They think it's like overly optimistic, but I am expressing myself and all of my pain.

Ms. JOHNSON: There's a lot of stuff in there.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's get a caller in. This is Demetrius(ph), Demetrius calling from Detroit.

DEMETRIUS (Caller): Hi, India, and thank you for your music.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

DEMETRIUS: I want to ask a question. Even though I was going to ask about your exploration into black rock, but I think you've answered a lot of that already with a lot of your comments. But I want to know if in the future we can expect something a little - because I play rock and I'm not that black anomaly, which I shouldn't be; but I think a lot of times we get put in this pigeonhole like you were talking about with the neo-soul label. And I want to know if in the future we're going to see any hard rock from India.Arie because I'm writing a book about black rock and you're already in it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEMETRIUS: (unintelligible).

Ms. ARIE: Thank you. I think I have more of a rock-and-roll attitude than a rock-and-roll sound. I don't know if I would ever do hard rock because I don't like to sing that hard. Like I like to really sing right here, but I - you never know. And I know you didn't ask me this, and this is totally the opposite of rock, but it's definitely - for a black woman to delve into the realm of country music is as rare as a black person doing hard rock, but country music is one of my loves, so you might here that first.

DEMETRIUS: Okay.

CONAN: You might have to change the book, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I know. But I am a rock-and-roll addict. What did you say?

DEMETRIUS: You've already made that because there's a lot of stuff that you've done even on your first - especially your first album where you actually I think touch a lot on those rock influences like - I mean there's a lot of black artists who we often forget that, you know, they touch that.

It's like even Brian McKnight had a hard rock sound, which it wasn't that hard, but it was hard enough where you've got blaring guitars. And I think, you know, and there's a lot of stuff you've already done that, you know, people listen to it and say, look, that's rock.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: I heard that.

DEMETRIUS: It's rock.

Ms. ARIE: Okay, okay. Now see, because you said hard rock, so that was giving me a different - the term hard rock carries another connotation for me, but I hear what you're saying. On this album Testimony, Vol.1 I have a song at the end of the album - now you've got to buy it now - at the end of the album. It's called I Choose, and it rocks out, as far as I'm concerned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Bonnie Raitt is on there killing - she's on there killing the slide guitar. It rocks out.

DEMETRIUS: And if I could just throw a dream out there that I hope would come true if I throw it out there. I'm hoping maybe in the future you'll do something with Ben Harper. I think that would be an awesome...

Ms. ARIE: Oh, I love Ben Harper. Too bad he's married.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Every time I see him I'll be like oh my God there he is, there he is, there he is, there he is, there he is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: No. We had talked about doing a tour of Europe, and especially because, you know, he was in Europe and New Zealand and Australia. And he said yes. We've just got to get the timing together, but if that tour happens we're definitely going to make some music.

DEMETRIUS: (Unintelligible)

Ms. ARIE: Listen to that song I Choose. Nobody's going to have to even stretch to hear that as a rock song.

CONAN: Demetrius, thanks very much for the call and good luck with the book.

DEMETRIUS: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Demetrius calling from Detroit. We're talking today with India.Arie, live performance in Studio 4A. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

And we're going to get one more tune. We're going to ask for one more tune, but I want to also begin by saying thanks to India.Arie, to her band and to her crew for making all of this possible today here in Studio 4A.

Thanks to our technical directors Chris Nelson and Kimberly Jones. They got help today from Kevin Waitt(ph) and Vaughan Baladunni(ph). Gwen Utin(ph) and Sarah Handle(ph) directed our program. And TALK OF THE NATION senior producer is Carline Watson. Sue Goodwin is the executive producer. And I needed to say all of that because we thought we might not have time at the end. But anyway, here we go.

Ms. ARIE: Okay. We were talking about the country music. I have a song on my album, it's bluegrass-ish. And before I go into that, please let me say that I love TALK OF THE NATION.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

Ms. ARIE: I'm sorry that I couldn't remember your name. I just never thought I'd be on this show.

CONAN: I forget it sometimes, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: But I know the Neal Conan. Now when you cut off the Conan part, I'm like what's your name again?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: But Neal Conan, from TALK OF THE NATION.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIE: Okay, so this is Summer. This is one of those break-up songs again.

(Soundbite of song, Summer)

Ms. ARIE: (Singing) Ooh ooh ooh ooh. Hello, summer. I hate to see you go. I wasn't ready for autumn wind to blow. So lonely. We had a fine time holding hands in June. Warm in a sunshine watching love in bloom. Where are you now?

My heart is frozen in this place waiting for another summer's day to bring you back my way. Ooooooh oooooh.

Hello, winter. Watch the swirling snow. I didn't have a blanket for the cold. I'm so lonely now. My heart is frozen in this place waiting for another summer's day to bring you back my way. Oooh oooh oooh oooh.

I'll be waiting under the poplar tree, anticipating when you'll come back to me in the spring ooooh, in the spring yeah.

Hello, summer, a kiss from my old friend. Been such a long time, tell me how you've been. I'm so lonely now. yeeaahh. My heart is frozen in this place waiting for another summer's day to bring you back my way. Ooohhh ooohhh. Goodbye, summer, I hate to see you go.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

CONAN: And I think we have time. I think we have time for one last phone call. This is Netty(ph). Netty's calling us from Oakland, California.

NETTY (Caller): Yes. Hi, India. I love you and I think you're an inspiration to all women over the world. You are such a wonderful soul, and I really, really truly appreciate you as a woman. Thank you.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Short and sweet from Netty in Oakland, California. Well, I'm not going to - thank you very much for calling. I'm not going to risk another call because I'm afraid we're out of time, but I wish we had more time for music. This has been great. Thank you so much.

Ms. ARIE: Next time - you're going to have me back.

CONAN: Yes we will. Next time.

Ms. ARIE: Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We'd also like to thank the band. Shannon Sanders on keyboard and vocals, Blue Miller playing guitar and vocals, Khari Simmons on bass, Chris Johnson on the drums, Ametra Doc(ph) and Shante Kan(ph) on vocals. The new album is called Testimony, Vol. 1: Life and Relationship.

I'm Neal Conan. Ira Flatow will be here tomorrow. We'll be back on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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