Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blog #5 by Rebecca Tirabassi

I Am Not My Hair
by India Arie

Release Date: June 27, 2006
Artist: India Arie
Songwriters: India Arie, Andrew Ramsey, Shannon Sanders

Opening with a quick question about India’s hair, a “beat-box” background, and audience laughter, a jazzy Motown sound sets the tone that this going to be a fun song. Even still, India respectfully preaches the distinct message of an awakened feminist who sings, “I am not my hair.” It includes a solo track mixed with a gospel choir effect and lyrics that tell India’s—and every woman’s—story.

I chose this song because I was more familiar with the artist’s name over most other names on our list, though I had never heard of this song. The lyrics to I Am Not My Hair tell a universal story. And as often happens, when music is added to a message, it becomes memorable, repeatable, and even makes you want to dance, or bob your head and shoulders!

I Am Not My Hair is simply relevant—no matter one’s gender or race—as the opening conversation and choruses ring true to every listener:

Is that India.Arie? What happened to her hair? Ha ha ha ha ha
Dat dad a dat da [4x] Dad a ooh

[Verse 1]
Little girl with the press and curl
Age eight I got a Jheri curl
Thirteen I got a relaxer
I was a source of so much laughter
At fifteen when it all broke off
Eighteen and went all natural
February two thousand and two
I went and did
What I had to do
Because it was time to change my life
To become the women that I am inside
Ninety-seven dreadlock all gone
I looked in the mirror
For the first time and saw that HEY....

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I ma not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

At this juncture, India Arie awakens to who she is. . .she is more than her hair! She says what everyone knows, but few act as if they believe! A woman’s hair does not make her less of a friend, or less of a person, or more or less feminine. Neither does a woman’s color (race) define her character or passions or purpose in life. And she closes with a captivating last line in the chorus, “I am a soul that lives within.”

When India moves from self-disclosure to self-discovery, she not only admits she has been living the lie that “you are how you look,” but she is also willing to admit that she must shed the “look” in which she has grown accustom, in order to embrace her true self.

In a brilliant flash of reverse psychology, she tricks those of us who often judge a woman (or any person) by their hair or appearance, reminding us that those who’ve lost their hair due to chemotherapy are NO LESS wonderful, or beautiful, or feminine.

For me, the message in this song is as much about freeing ourselves from judging others by their appearance as it is about freeing ourselves from others’ expectations of us.

As India continues her story, the following verses and chorus of this song thread allegory with empathy, laughter with tears, and pits truth against the lies of culture: a woman, no matter her race or shape, is not her hair!

What'd she do to her hair? I don't know it look crazy
I like it. I might do that.
Umm I wouldn't go that far. I know .. ha ha ha ha

[Verse 2]
Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
Its time for us to redefine who we be
You can shave it off
Like a South African beauty
Or get in on lock
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight
Like Oprah Winfrey
If its not what's on your head
Its what's underneath and say HEY....


(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person?
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend? Oooh
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity?
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)
I am expressing my creativity..
(Whoa, whoa, whoa)

[Verse 3]
Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy
Took away her crown and glory
She promised God if she was to survive
She would enjoy everyday of her life ooh
On national television
Her diamond eyes are sparkling
Bald headed like a full moon shining
Singing out to the whole wide world like HEY...

[Chorus 2x]

[Ad lib]
If I wanna shave it close
Or if I wanna rock locks
That don't take a bit away
From the soul that I got
Dat da da dat da [4x]
If I wanna where it braided
All down my back
I don't see what wrong with that
Dat da da dat da [4x]

Is that India.Arie?
Ooh look she cut her hair!
I like that, its kinda PHAT
I don't know if I could do it.
But it looks sharp, it looks nice on her
She got a nice shaped head
She got an apple head
I know right?
It's perfect.

In closing, I particularly appreciated how the artist and song writers didn’t use their platform to denigrate others, but inspired individuals of all colors and hairstyles to dig deeper inside and redefine themselves by who they are not by how they look! They gently and joyously give all women permission to remove any outer “masks” (or hairstyles) that are inauthentic and cumbersome and be set free!

India Arie sets the stage and paves the way for all women to sing--I Am Not My Hair!

Free download: You may need download RHAPSODY.com, which is a free player that allows you to hear this selection for free or listen to a free sample of I am not my hair on/at Itunes Store.)

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