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The soul and RandB singing sensation is finally where she wants to be

Robin Hamilton | 4/29/2009, 7:11 a.m.

The soul and RandB singing sensation is finally where she wants to be

Nearly a decade after hitting it big, India.Arie says she feels she is just now taking flight.

The Grammy Award winner will make a Bay State stop on Thursday, April 30, at Showcase Live at Patriot Place in Foxborough, as part of her “SoulBird” tour. During the 30-city cross-country trek, Arie will showcase songs from her latest album, “Testimony: Vol. 2, Love and Politics,” which was released in February.

Arie recently told the Banner that the new record — a follow-up to 2006’s “Testimony: Vol. 1, Life and Relationship,” and her release on SoulBird Music, the label she launched last year through Universal Republic Records — offers a fuller representation of the way she sees things than her previous albums.

“I knew what this album was going to be,” she says. “I knew it was going to be more bold about my statement of the world.”

Known for her authentic style and honest, uplifting lyrics, the 33-year-old neo-soul singer has become a role model for empowerment and change. Arie burst onto the scene in 2001 with her album “Acoustic Soul,” which included her chart-topping hit “Video,” a song that celebrates self-love and dismisses conventional standards of beauty.

Three albums later, Arie says she has evolved into the singer and songwriter that she wants to be.

“I’m talking about what I want to see, even though critics say I am too idealistic,” she explains. “My spiritual philosophies are completely why I write.”

According to Arie, the evolution has its roots in the firm foundation she established at the outset of her career. As an unknown artist coming up in Atlanta, she performed in intimate venues like small clubs and coffee shops, building a core following and enjoying the relationship with her fans.

“Back then, people listened and people were very supportive,” she remembers. “It didn’t feel like it was work.”

A performance during the 1998 Lilith Fair captured the attention of record executives, and soon after, Arie signed to Universal/Motown Records. Looking back, she says the major label deal was both a blessing and a curse, noting that with the increased exposure came “more pressure,” seemingly “overnight.”

Arie says that holding onto who she is has been a challenge in an industry that often celebrates superficiality over substance. Asked if she has ever had to change something about her craft or herself to keep her career moving forward, she says, “I feel like I am a tree that is strong enough to bend.”

She does admit to having buckled to pressure on occasion.

“I really made a mistake thinking that anyone could tell me what to do,” she says. “One of the biggest mistakes I made [was] making containers for myself. I was putting myself in a box, and I thought it was them.”

As she has grown as an artist, Arie says, she has come to see the process of writing songs and making albums as an exercise in how to take suggestions from others without compromising herself. That honest approach and knowledge of self have made her a favorite of fans and music legends alike — just recently, Stevie Wonder himself called her up to invite her to perform with him during President Barack Obama’s inauguration. As she thinks back to that call, she says, “That is amazing.”

Now back on the road, Arie says she is looking forward to getting back to bonding with her fans.

“When I am on stage and [I feel] how the audience relates to me, I know it is the right thing to do,” she says.

She remembers one performance in Oregon where she had a case of laryngitis, and she got up on stage and apologized for her strained voice. Arie then asked the crowd to help her out if they knew the words, and the evening became a two-hour sing-along.

 “[For] 45 minutes, the crowd sang to me,” she says with a laugh.

Arie has been resting up her vocal chords in preparation for this week’s Boston-area gig, and she says she hopes fans will be ready to soar with her.

“It took me three albums and 10 years to do, [but] this last album that I made is exactly what I meant and wanted to do,” she says.

India.Arie performs Thursday, April 30, 2009, at Showcase Live at Patriot Place in Foxborough. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.showcaselive.com