India.Arie’s Chicago Songversation

By//Miya Williams

In a small venue at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago, India.Arie held a private acoustic set for her fans. The Angels & Kings club held no more than 150 people who were all there for one reason—to hear Ms. Arie.

“I can’t promise I am going to sing what you want to hear,” she cautioned. “But I promise whatever I sing, you will like it.” Fortunately, she did not disappoint.

Her 45-minute set seemed like all but five minutes long as the songstress gracefully shared her vocals with the crowd. Though the majority of her set was new songs from her album Songerversation, out June 25, she started and ended the show with classic fan favorites.

Arie was easily swayed by the crowd from the moment she walked on stage. Knowing she wanted to highlight her new work, yet also aware that fans wanted to hear familiar music, she briefly hesitated before opening with “Brown Skin.” A good choice, as evidenced by everyone singing along, taking pictures and recording video, not wanting to miss a bar.

She followed “Brown Skin” with her current single “Cocoa Butter.” While this was the fourth time Arie performed songs from the new CD in front of an audience, she sang “Brother’s Keeper” for the first time that night in Chicago. “I can’t think of a better place,” said the songbird.

Before singing her next song, Arie spoke about a conversation she had with veteran actress and recent Tony Award winner Cicely Tyson. She shared the advice Tyson had given her about being comfortable and letting go, advice that she personified in the present moment. “Break The Shell” was clearly one of her favorites as she warned and then proved that it made her cry.

The title of Arie’s new album is premised on the concept of having a conversation while performing. A Q&A was proposed halfway through her set but fans preferred to enjoy her voice for as long as possible and quickly voted to hear two more songs instead.

The soul singer eased any dissenters when she quickly informed that in her upcoming televised interview on OWN (airing June 23), she “told Oprah everything.” The Denver native then performed a song about God called “One,” which she prefaced with a statement that it expressed things she wanted to voice earlier in her career but felt like she couldn’t. Any true fan, however, would recognize the frequent religious references in her music and appreciate her spirituality versus condemn it. People shouted “Preach!” as the song referenced various life scenarios, yet concluded that “it all comes down to One.”

The set was bookended with “Completed Melody” as Arie harmonized with her background singers and integrated her classic ballad “Truth.” But before she left the venue, her mother grabbed the mic to emphasize to attendees that after a four-year hiatus, her daughter’s forthcoming album is “her best one yet.”

With Arie’s 21 Grammy Award nominations and four wins over the course of her career, that seems like a bold statement to make. But if she proved anything during her performance at Hard Rock, it was that she can still be counted on to deliver real, beautiful and soulful music, and that is certainly worth the wait.

Check out photos from the event below.

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