Alicia Keys Gets In A Global State of Mind

28 Nov

By Christopher John Farley
Alicia Keys proclaimed that she was in an “Empire State of Mind” in her hit anthem with rapper Jay-Z. But recently, her outlook has been more global.

Keys, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, is the co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit that offers support to children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa and India. The native New Yorker is featured in a new documentary called “Keep a Child Alive with Alicia Keys” for which she took five young Americans on a tour of places in South Africa that have been hit hard by HIV and AIDS. The documentary airs on Showtime on Dec. 1.

Keys also produced and wrote music for the new Broadway play “Stick Fly,” which tells the story of a wealthy African-American family on Martha’s Vineyard. The show opens Dec. 8. “It’s totally life,” she says about the production, which is not a musical but features her music between scenes. “And so the music will assist—I hope—in that energy and the emotion that you’ll get from seeing the show. I’m excited. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Speakeasy talked to Keys about her most recent work.

In order to win a trip with you to South Africa as you filmed your documentary, people texted you words that they associate with the country. When you think of South Africa, what words come to your mind?

When I think of South Africa, I really think of…I guess I can only say one word, but the word that comes to mind is inspiration. The people that I meet, they are the most powerful people I’ve ever met. I’ve met kids who are 14, 15 years old who have lost everything but are still figuring out ways to care for a younger brother or a way to keep a roof over their heads or put food in their mouths, or figure out a way to still go to school which is so hard when you have to be the adult, the parent, the breadwinner, the caretaker. I feel like that’s so inspiring to see how strong the spirit of a human being can be, how much gratitude there can be for the simple things in life.

Have your experiences in Africa had an effect on your songwriting?

If affects me very deeply, and I have definitely always wanted to do a conceptual album, like my version of [Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album] “What’s Going On.” Those kinds of albums can be brilliant, but they’re not easy to do at all. Because there’s a particular way they need to be done so the audience feels the emotion of it as opposed to feeling like someone is telling you something you already know. I would really like to figure out my version of that.

There’s a striking moment in the documentary where children in South Africa who have been sexually assaulted write about the abuse on the body parts of a stuffed bear. When you first saw that, what were your emotions?

Operation Bobbi Bear is an incredible organization that was started by women that saw this large problem happening in their area and wanted to do something about it. Keep a Child Alive helps to fund NGOs like that who are on the ground, know exactly what is happening in their community, and refuse to let it go on any longer. And so Bobbi Bear saw that there were these young children who had lost parents to AIDS being raped, and would often times end up infected because there’s this terrible myth [in parts of Africa] that if you have sex with a virgin that you’ll be cured…The first time I saw the bear was when you saw it on the show. I was pregnant. You see that the bear represents the child’s emotions and what they went through during the assault. I felt so angry at anyone who had ever touched a child like that. The evidence is right there, and they’ve been able to put away a lot of offenders with it.

One Response to “Alicia Keys Gets In A Global State of Mind”

  1. insidersgroup November 28, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    As an Insiders Group Member, we learn in our financial workshops with Heru Ur Nekhet, to think globally when building, promoting and structuring our businesses. The reason is partly due to the way the world is connected globally through technology and the culture of our times.

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