It’s the end of June and the sweet sounds of the National Symphony Orchestra fills the air of the Concert Hall of the mighty Kennedy Center as the BGR Fest continues with an epic night of music with special guest India.Arie – who didn’t just deliver a dynamic show…. She took us on a journey.
The night began as the Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music, Simone Eccleston, declared “I’m a black girl who rocks” to a near sold out crowd on the first of two nights. She in turn introduced the inspiring founder of Black Girls Rock, Beverly Bond. Bond explained that during its fourth year at the venue, the BGR fest has expanded to include a two-day tech hub for black trailblazers, the launch of Black Men Rock concert & celebration and a film festival that will show films at the Kennedy Center, Angelika Pop-up, and the Eaton Cinema. She wrapped by introducing the night artist as “a revolutionary and healer”. Those words that truly describe multi-Grammy award winner and R&B icon India.Arie.
When India.Arie walked across the concert hall stage, she dressed as the true African queen she is to an audience giving her a standing ovation. This is the second time she has done at the concert hall that she even kept track of the days it has been since the last encounter – 959 days. She starts the show by saying that “playing with the NSO is so rare and so special. I don’t do shows, what I do is a songversation”. She starts the program with a prayer and advises all in attendance to listen to the words and your eyes for the theme of the program is “Prayer for Humanity”.
“Prayer for Humanity” was in fact her first song of the night. As we listened to the words, on the screen overhead, we see the words of “Columbine”, “Buffalo” and “Uvalde” flash before the final words were “Roe vs. Wade”. She explained why she made Columbine the first words we see. The day the Columbine shooting occurred was the exact day she signed her record deal. In addition, she was a Colorado native. India feels that her mission at the time is to spread love, healing, and joy through the power of words and music. “You are seeing a woman in transition. Tonight, I’m trying to figure out my mission statement.”
With the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by award-winning conductor Henry Panion III by her side, the next ninety minutes was a journey I was proud to witness before my eyes and my ears. For the next song, she took off her shawl and pulled out an acoustic guitar started performing her hit debut “Video” then going “I Am Not My Hair”. For the people there, the vibe was great, and it was fun seeing the crowd dancing in the seats and singing along. For the NSO, I said it once and I will say it again, they can take any song and make it so majestically that it takes on a life of its own.
When Act II began India announced, “We back” and started the act with “In Good Trouble”. Dressed in a long white dress with orange accents. The strings from the NSO were stirring and the brass were on point. Next was a beautiful black love song “That Magic” especially such powerful lyrics like “Every other man next to him is so mundane, In a world of cocaine he’s like fine champagne.” The visuals truly celebrate Black love. This was followed by another wonderful love song “Ready for Love”. Once again, the NSO put its magic in the song with a great flute solo and some sweet soothing cello.
Next came the powerful ballad “What If” which should be on everyone’s playlist if you need some inspirations. The visuals onscreen help tell the story featuring Malcolm, Martin, Rosa, the Black Lives Matter movement, and some of the most powerful Black queens we know from Oprah to Serena, to Viola. If this wasn’t a powerful song, I don’t know what is. She declared after the song “My name is India.Arie and I’m a Black girl who rock” which the audience agreed and cheered on.
By this time, the ladies were grooving to the chorus with “Brown Skin”, since I feel its an unofficial anthem for Black women everywhere. This is where I felt that NSO was on the most “A” game when they killed it on the drums, the piano, and the strings. We are getting close to the end of the show and India took off her orange head wrap and showed her natural crown. She sung “Steady Love” before closing out with the title track of her 2019 album “Worthy”. The icing on the cake was when her mother, who designed her dresses tonight, came out on stage to sing a few bars of Worthy to the audience delight.
The journey of India.Arie this night as taken us was inspiring, moving, and breathtaking, for she is totally worthy!
FINAL GRADE: A++