R&B sensation Alicia Keys goes on her first major South-East Asian tour and this Friday, she hits Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur. ZACK YUSOF gets on the long distance line with the diva.
GRAMMY award-winning producer, songwriter and R&B artiste Alicia Keys is certainly a very busy young lady these days but hectic is just how she likes the pace of her life to be.
At the moment, the 23-year-old from Manhattan, New York, is working flat out. In between appearing at award ceremonies (she performed at the MTV Music Awards in Miami in late August with Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder), Keys has been on the go – proof-reading her first book of poetry (Tears for Water) to be released at the end of the year, preparing for her big screen debut in a biopic about the life and times of little-known concert pianist Philippa Schuyler co-produced by Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry, working as a roving travel correspondent for the New York Daily News, and fine tuning the details of her forthcoming MTV unplugged album slated for a Christmas release.
ALICIA KEYS: I’m a person who lives by the music and the creation of it and I want it to be honest and truthful to who I am and represent what I do.
So how do you follow up a worldwide smash hit? By going back to the future in order to move forwards of course. Listening to The Diary Of Alicia Keys, it appears that Keys has been “vibing” on plenty of old soul and R&B classics for inspiration, judging by the starry-eyed glaze of wah-wah’s, honeyed choirs and heavenly melodies. Seductive first single You Don’t Know My Name boasts a vintage Issac Hayes string-laden 1970s sound while Heartburn melds Timbaland’s electro beats with Keys’s authentic soul croon. Elsewhere, Keys unites Gladys Knight’s 1970s classic If I was Your Woman with Hayes’ epic version of the Burt Bacharach classic Walk On By.
“I would describe my new record as a good representative of who I am as an artiste right now,” said Keys in a recent phone interview from Beijing where she was due to perform at the Great Wall of China as part of the Wall of Hope – China 2004 concert (Keys played the Wall of Hope concert to 10,000 fans last Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the wall’s restoration project).
“I really love my record and I feel that it is a really honest record. It’s a truthful record that challenges my inner spirit. It’s a beautiful sounding record and I look forward to growing from there,” she added.
Having scored such a massive hit with Songs In ‘A’ Minor, the general consensus in the music industry was that the heat on Keys to top or at least emulate its achievements with her sophomore release would be intense but according to the level-headed singer, she did not feel any pressure at all and that her only concern was to deliver an equally good sounding record musically.
“I’m sure people around me felt pressure, in regards to people who live by dollars and cents, but me, I’m a person who lives by the music and the creation of it and I want it to be honest and truthful to who I am and represent what I do,” stated Keys firmly. “I feel like I am 10 times better than I was on ‘A’ Minor and in few years time, I’m going to be 10 times better than I am now so …”
With a title like Diary Of Alicia Keys, one can literally expect Keys to bare her soul in her current album’s lyrics. But while it remains a personal record, the lyrics are not as open as one would expect on first impression.
“I think that you have to know my mind to know how personal it is,” explained Keys about her record’s lyrical content. “If you don’t really know me, than you wouldn’t really know how personal it is. Each person should really take it for how it affects them – it’s going to be different for every single individual. Every part of my life that means something to me is why I write and in essence all my songs are part of my diary.”
Musically, the record was party to a wide range of influences as Keys sought to incorporate a wider, more expansive sound.
“I listened to things that had a lot of meaningful lyrics. A lot of my favourite soul stuff from the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of Sly Stone, a bit of the Rolling Stones. The record does reflect my tastes. It wasn’t my intention to have a specific sound or anything. It was until the end of the record that I realised that it (her musical tastes) all connects in a way that I realised how important soul music, music that really comes from that special place inside, was to me. It was until after I had made the record that I sat down and went, ‘Wow, I see it.’ ’’
In the pipeline at the moment are plans to release an unplugged version of Diary, tentatively at the end of the year. It is a project that Keys is really excited about, given her love for live performances.
“My live shows are very much a huge part of me.The project gave the opportunity to do a version of the show that is more stripped down and raw which is a major part of my essence. That was something that definitely appeals to me – to do a whole album like that.”
Travelling around the world and playing live is something that Keys enjoys immensely and according to her, a lot of it is down to her excellent crew who make the whole process of touring a lot of fun.
“I’m very lucky that I have a great crew around me. We’ve developed a great family essence and I have to say that I love to travel and I love the way that I can see different countries and cultures and all our likenesses. I can see the ways that we are all very similar. I enjoy that and it’s kind of like a humanity study for us in a way. And the way the music gets this great reaction around the world, it just leaves me in awe.”
Next on the agenda for the ever-busy R&B songstress is her forthcoming show at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur this Friday. And what can Malaysians expect from the show?
“Well, everybody can expect the unexpected, you know? Every show is very different. It all depends on the audience but you are definitely going to get a nice compilation of my two albums and you are going to be able to take a journey with me on the highs and the lows and everything in between.
“It’s going to be an action-packed hour and a half of what I know will be an unforgettable show. I’m so honoured to be invited, it’s going to be great and we are going to rock the road,” Keys promised before saying her goodbyes on the phone.
Thx 2 Giu!!
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