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India was 'IRIE'

By Terry Joseph
January 20, 2004

IT REMAINS difficult to isolate a high point of the 11th annual Barbados Jazz Festival, given the universally superior products on offer but, Friday night's concert at the Sir Gary Sobers Gymnasium, featuring saxophonist Kirk Whalum and singing star India.Arie was definitely one of the week-long event's most precious moments.

Whalum, a Warner Bros. recording artiste opened, bringing spiritual intervention (mostly from his recently released CD The Gospel According to Jazz-Part 2) to a week of varied jams that had already included the work of Herbie Hancock, Lizz Wright and Joe Sample and promised a weekend of equally sensational acts.

The former chaplain with Whitney Houston's touring six-piece band charmed the audience from first note but, midway through his opening song and shortly after bringing the house to its feet with a riff sustained by cyclic breathing for what seemed an eternity; the sound system failed. Undettered, Whalum climbed down from the stage and entertained the house with acoustic sax at close quarter, meeting members of the audience and even ushering late arrivals to their seats, to ride out the duration of the untimely disruption.

Among his best received renditions was a cover of Maxwell,s "Did You Ever Wonder?" for which his chorus wrapped just about every person in the house in a swaddling but funky groove. Whalum's guests included former Atlantic Starr singer Barbara Weathers and his brother Kevin, who continued the musical ministry with a singing and scatting session (and you really have to hear his impression of an intricate solo by an imaginary drummer). He gave us rousing renditions of Johnathan BUTLER'S "Falling in Love (With Jesus)" and "Thank You, Jesus", relating the latter to a personal experience.

The hour-long session earned a sincere standing-ovation from the sold out gymnasium, whose demand for an encore was denied both by available time and a polite but firm MC.

India.Arie came to the stage at 9 p.m., fully two minutes after first announcement, a delay that stirred minor audience complaint, as evidenced by a less than stout slow-handclap. She would, however, stay and entertain non-stop for two hours, leaving them still begging for one last taste of her sweetness.

For openers, India had cut her dread locks, producing an image astonishingly different from her promotional pictures. She also oiled her way across the floor to the microphone, swathed in pastels, tangerine sleeveless floor-length gown that featured an olive-green design of a stylized ladder ascending from hem to neck and for striking contrast, a powder blue shawl would later be turned into a turban, scarf and eventually hand from the microphone stand as she played close on a white guitar that further accented her ensemble.

But that was just the visuals, the hair cut, now short twists in can row style was, by her own admission, a move that dovetailed with her yearning for a fresh start, something that cleared her head in more ways than one. Her wardrobe was all designed and made by her mom (simply known as "Simpson"), who later came onstage at Arie's signal to join for a duet on the immortal "Summertime".

Her first live performance after a two month holiday, India played a fine guitar, proffered two pieces on the flute and included the work of her co-writer and musical director keyboardist Ashani Trotman. She gave us "The Right Direction", "A Change is Gonna Come", "Get it Together", "Broken Wings", "Talk to her", "I'm Interested" and of course, her giga-hits "Brown Skin" and video".

Thunderous applause capped each rendition. "This music with which I've been blessed by having it come through me is intended to make people happy," she said. "And it is what I believe we should use the power of words for, to heal, to fix things."

Before closing, she gave us "Radio", the title track of her latest CD and a song currently nominated for an Image Award. It was now 11 p.m. and as the thousands exited the Sir Gary Sobers Gymnasium agreeing that India was indeed "irie", the singer prepared herself to keep her promise to meet the media, even though the show had gone far past the agreed time.

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