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India.Arie: 'Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics'

Worldly Soul

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India.Arie: 'Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics'
© Motown Universal.
The title of India.Arie's fourth studio album, Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics, may be a little long, but its also highly accurate. That's because on the album sister India testifies about two things: romance and social issues. And although the love songs find India in a good place spiritually and emotionally, the political and social commentary songs show a different side of her: they reveal the soul of a woman who's very concerned with poverty and the well being of the people of the world. The album, released in the U.S on Feb. 10, 2009, is the most global-oriented music she's released to date.

Beautifully Happy

Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics, which is the sequel to India.Arie's 2006 album, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, is almost evenly divided between the "love" and "politics" songs that make up the album. The "love" half is exemplified by beautifully happy relationship songs, among them: "Chocolate High," a strong, sexy duet featuring Musiq Soulchild that has a very nice vocal chemistry; and "Therapy," a bright & sunny track about love being the best medicine. "Therapy," which features roots reggae artist Roy "Gramps" Morgan is a good example of how India is expanding beyond her distinctive "acoustic soul" sound and delving more into world and folk music. In addition of Gramps Morgan, a couple of other world music artists contribute to the album: Turkish pop singer Sezen Aksu whose lovely voice appears on "The Cure;" and Dobet Gnahoré, a singer, dancer and percussionist from the Ivory Coast, who's featured on a cover of the Sade song "Pearls."

In addition to featuring world music artists on the album, India also showcases a new, more global outlook in her lyrics. Probably the best example of this is "Ghetto," a Spanish guitar-flavored track about how poor people in the U.S. are no different or better off from those in so-called 'third world' countries: "There are places in Havana that remind me of Savannah; parts of West Virginia that might as well be Kenya/Parts of New York City, parts of Mississippi, parts of Tennessee look like another world to me. The ghetto might as well be another country," she sings.

Continued Growth

© Motown Universal.
Another worldly "message" track is the sad yet poignant "Pearls," which tells the separate tales of women in east and central African countries who struggle through difficult lives. "And it hurts like brand-new shoes," India sings. Some message of social commentary songs have a tendency to be heavy-handed or overbearing. But to India's credit, she manages to make the ones on this album mostly inspirational and uplifting, even when the lyrics are slightly cliche and a little too simplistic, such as on "The Cure," a song about loving your fellow human being: "The worst disease in the world is not cancer, it's not AIDS ... the worst disease in the world is hate; the cure for hate is love," she sings. If only it were that simple.

Maybe the most interesting - not best, just most interesting - song on the album is "Psalms 23," on which a cooly defiant India sings about how she won't be defeated by people out to see her fall: "I see money come between my best friend and me, I see old friends become new enemies, I've been through a couple of litigations, I've been through character assassination. They tried to put this stick in between my wheels but they can't stop my motivation, nothing will."

Overall, the album's balance between the two types of songs is excellent, mostly due to smart track sequencing, and as always, India's lyrics are intelligent, thoughtful and engaging. The music veers aways from the R&B/Soul of her first three albums, but instead of being a drawback, the change reinforces India's growth as an artist and person.

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