Interview by Maranda Pleasant
Maranda Pleasant: What inspires you?
Alicia Keys: Many things inspire me. First and foremost, my family, my husband, and our son, Egypt. I find that the love we share fills me up and makes me see and appreciate life in a different way. I’m also inspired by many of my friends, colleagues, and the extraordinary people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way. Through my organization, Keep a Child Alive, I’ve met many young women who are HIV positive and courageously fighting the disease. Their determination to live a full life and see their children live in a better world is deeply inspiring to me. I’m inspired by artists and musicians. There are so many wonderful and talented people in the world. I love discovering new music, new writers, or new art.
MP: What are you passionate about?
AK: When I’m on stage, my interaction with the audience is something that really makes me come alive. It’s a feeling like no other. The energy of the crowd fuels something new inside. It reminds me to live in the moment. Moments are so fleeting; I want to hold on to the good ones. When I am truly present, I feel alive, and I want everyone around me to share that feeling so we can make the most of that moment together. I also feel alive in quiet moments with my son, riding our bikes or watching him line his trains up in a particular order, witnessing how his mind works, hearing him learn a new word. I’m alive in these special moments because I never knew a love like this.
MP: What breaks your heart?
AK: What breaks my heart is suffering of any kind. Too often our world is divisive and cruel where it needs to be uniting and loving. We have the potential to help people out of poverty, out of disease, out of slavery, and out of conflict. Too often we turn the other way because we think there’s nothing we can do. If we took the time to learn more about different places and people, perhaps we would have more empathy for each other. I’ve seen so many lives turn around from the impossible. I have come to embrace the idea that even the simplest act of understanding, love, and attention can produce the biggest results.
MP: What is love to you?
AK: Unconditional and reciprocal. It’s accepting people for who they are and what they are, regardless. There is a love song on my newest album called “101.” It’s about a woman who loves a man even though everyone else thinks she’s crazy for doing so. He’s acted a certain way towards other women, but she sees something inside of him that’s deeper and truer and unconditional. Love is giving of yourself in a way that is free of fear.
MP: What makes you feel vulnerable?
AK: Not having all the information can make me feel vulnerable. If I know everything around the situation, all the facts, I feel like I can handle just about anything. It’s the unknown that makes me feel the most vulnerable. I’m in constant pursuit of growing and evolving. The more you know the stronger you become, the closer you feel to yourself, and the farther you can go.
MP: What has been a life lesson you learned the most from?
AK: Early on in my career, I was more closed off in every way. I thought I was protecting myself; instead, I was robbing myself of all I could learn and experience. I thought I had to be perfect. I would often make choices I thought would make everyone else happy. I lived at a pace that was “good for my career,” whether it was good for me or not. I have learned how important it is to check in with myself and listen, really listen. I learned to make choices for my personal happiness, and choices that were good for my family, as well. I’m committed to evolving and growing and sitting at the head of my own table with no fears or limitations. But I’ve also learned to be more open now and more spontaneous in life. With each new day, I’m learning how to take control in order to have balance in my life. I plan time for myself and my loved ones and take it. No one will take care of you if you don’t take care of yourself. With all these lessons, I am much happier.
MP: What do you do with emotional pain?
AK: I’ve always expressed myself best through writing. I’ve gotten out all of my deepest feelings that way for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I just sweat it out by running or boxing. When I really need it, talking is the best way to deal with emotional pain.
MP: What causes are you involved in and why?
AK: I’m very passionate about my organization, Keep a Child Alive, which helps women, children, and families in Africa and India who are HIV positive. We provide medicine for children and families who have AIDS and would otherwise not be able to afford the proper medicine to stay alive. We support community-based organizations that understand the needs of the people living around them. I’m very proud of all the work we do.
I’ve also recently become involved with a group called, EMPOWERED. We’re changing the stigma associated with people living with HIV here in the United States. I believe that, beyond music, my most profound work is with people living with AIDS. My hope is that it will be one of my greatest legacies. I believe if you can find something to give back to, your soul will feel fulfilled in a very powerful way.
MP: What projects do you have coming up?
AK: I’m currently on my world tour, promoting my new album, Girl On Fire. It’s been extraordinary. I’m so heartened by the support throughout the world, and the energy and enthusiasm people bring for this music and these live performances. I’m having an unbelievable time on the road. I am taking the time to explore each new city in a way I never have before. Beyond that, I’ve also joined Blackberry as Global Creative Director. We have many creative initiatives going forward, including the Keep Moving Projects, which involve a broad spectrum of artists, filmmakers, authors, and creative people using these new technology platforms in exciting ways. We’re also working to inspire more women to explore technology and science as a career choice, and we’re supporting that beginning with a big scholarship initiative. The plan is to engage young women from grade school all the way through college and into their careers. I’m excited about all the ways we will innovate in technology and entertainment. I’m also continuing to build my production company in film and television. Of course, there will always be more music!
MP: What is one of your greatest loves?
AK: Family. There’s a song on the new album called “Not Even the King,” which is about the true value of having real love in your life. You could have all the riches in the world, but it doesn’t mean much without family. I’m very blessed to have a phenomenal husband, son, and beautiful family and friends around me.
MP: You inspire so many people. How do you recharge your own spirit?
AK: Quiet moments recharge me. Writing in my journal keeps me focused on my spirit and what I need or feel. Listening to great music and art inspires me and recharges me. I’ve learned that one of my greatest secrets is scheduling downtime into a busy schedule. This gives me the time to have quality moments with my husband and son, who both recharge my spirit in ways I never imagined.
MP: How do you stay centered?
AK: I pray. I pray before everything. When I wake up, before I eat, before I perform, before I go to sleep, in the moments I need guidance. I pray to give thanks and to recognize all the good things that are in my life even during times of great change, confusion, or frustration. Prayer keeps me centered.
MP: Do you meditate or do yoga?
AK: I try to do both. Both are beautiful ways of centering myself in a world that is filled with multitasking. It’s important for everyone—working moms especially—to find moments to ground themselves and connect with their own breath. I’ve even begun to show Egypt how to chant and how to give thanks in the morning when he wakes up. It’s beautiful to share the experience together.
MP: Anything else you’d like to add?
AK: Thank you for these thoughtful questions, and for inspiring me to look into myself.
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