Q&A with Alicia Keys
Published in the Sunday Times (17/05/2020)
Was this book always something you wanted to write?
I definitely didn't think I wanted to write a book! I was starting to understand myself better and starting to realise how much I thought I knew myself but, actually, I didn't. I started to unpack the pieces I was holding on to or didn't realise were affecting me, like how much I was looking for other people's approval. I didn't understand that I needed to refine my inner voice. I realised that I was even subscribing to some of the ideals of beauty or perfection that I feel are a lot of the culture that we grew up in, thinking that we have to fit in to feel good about ourselves. I realised, wow, I am really doing that.
So I started to unpack some of these things. I didn't want to feel like if I left the house without makeup on and fully dressed, looking like whatever "Alicia Keys" was supposed to look like, that I couldn't just pick up my son from school or that I couldn't just go to the store - that I had to worry in some way about what some people would think of me. It sounds silly and maybe simple, but that's what was happening. That's not all of it, but that's a piece of it. I was realising that I wanted to break this cycle, this habit. So once I started realising that, people would ask me if I felt "more liberated", "more yourself", "more free". I realised that some of these pieces I was able to uncover was the reason, and I wanted to share that.
You write about your relationships but, as you've said in the past, you didn't feel that relating that part of your life was necessary. Even Oprah gave you that advice. Why did you feel like you could share this with the world now?
I'm just in a different place now. I know myself better than ever before, and I think that we're all on a similar journey of trying to figure out who we are - and how do you actually figure out who you are? How do you actually find out your truth, and live it? I think that's important to share, and something that I've started to figure out and become more clear about. I would want people to be able to also live their lives authentically and find their true voice as opposed to those voices that have been taught to us or told to us and so we just assume them to be true. So that's why I felt like now is a beautiful time to do it, because I've learnt so much about myself.
Why was Egypt the sanctuary you needed when you had to take a break from it all?
It just called me. It really did. I didn't know what I would do. I didn't know how I would make it during a time when I was feeling overworked and overwhelmed and, for whatever reason, Egypt called to me. I think the power of Africa speaks to me in so many ways, and it speaks to all of us. So to go back to my home, back to the origins, back to the most brilliant part of history - which is Africa. It called me, and I had to listen.
You are a spiritual person. In times like these, what are you doing to keep going?
A lot of prayer, a lot of gratitude. I think gratitude helps in uncertain times. If you can simply name something you're grateful for, I think that helps put things in perspective.
Meditation is big for me because we're probably on a seesaw. I can speak only for myself, but it feels like a seesaw; some days I feel clear and strong, other days I feel cloudy, uncertain and fearful. The meditation helps to keep me balanced and also gives me time to take care of myself. Water yourself so you keep blooming and keep tending to your inner growth and spiritual growth.
Then there are some practical things that help me centre - like creating a schedule of things that need to be accomplished, whether it's with the family, the kids, myself, and figuring out how to put it all in, in a way that feels good. Then acknowledge the times when it doesn't feel good and to be able to be in that space and be OK with that too.
During this difficult and sadly wonderful time, can you create? Are you writing songs?
I can't say that I'm writing a lot of songs. I finished all the music for my new project, called ALICIA, before this time. We were entering into a promotional phase as opposed to the "creating it" phase, so it's been interesting to pivot from what we thought our plans were and realising that there's a purpose for this time too.
I've been grateful to be able to put out the song Underdog, which has resonated so powerfully, and my latest song, Good Job, which I can't believe that the words I wrote long ago are so perfect for this moment.
I'm practising piano, playing a lot, not necessarily writing a lot of songs, and I'm cool with that. I figure when the time is right for that, it'll come. I'm feeling creative in other ways. Being able to create moments with music that I think is helping people in this time. People are saying it's helping them. So I'm enjoying that. I'm loving that.
You learnt how to say no and take control of your life. What advice can you give to someone who always feels that they need to impress by saying yes?
Man, I would just say CUT. IT. OUT. Right now. Just stop. There's no way on planet Earth you can impress everybody. There's no way that you can make everybody happy and, honestly, it's so tiring to have to keep up with what you think somebody else wants from you. I would share that I understand how that feels; I've been there and so I get it. I know that it usually comes from the best of places, from wanting to make people happy, from hoping that great things will come your way, from a dream that you might have and that you want to achieve. It all might come from a good place, but just stop it because it's impossible.
I would say tune in to what you feel and start to practise what you actually feel. If a person asks you: "Hey, would you just do this for me?" and for whatever reason it's not a good time for you, practise saying: "I would love to help, but right now I have to make sure that I'm paying attention to myself and I'm listening to myself and I'm helping myself." And that's OK. Whoever told us that helping yourself is something to feel guilty about?
Start to practise that, and it's amazing what comes. It's amazing how when you choose yourself, how much you can actually help others more.
Sending blessings and love. Thank you for thinking of me, thank you for this time and for these thoughtful questions. I'm really excited to connect with you. Be safe.