Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

Review: Alicia Keys proves the power of feminine energy at Tony Robbins event in Dubai

Yes, this girl is definitely on fire

Alicia Keys invented a whole new genre on Tuesday afternoon in Dubai: delivering an hour-long motivational speech while playing the piano, non-stop.

"This is officially my first time doing something like this," she nervously told the crowd at the Coca-Cola Arena.

She’s usually the star attraction, but Keys was one of the opening acts, performing hours before motivational speaker Tony Robbins took to the stage for his "Achieve the Unimaginable" seminar (which featured 8,000 people screaming, shouting, shaking and doing a lot of clapping).

Although Robbins’s “set” was jarring (in a good way, for many), Keys’s first go at motivational speaking was all about lulling the audience into a peaceful state of mind through song and storytelling.

During the time Robbins spent on stage, the energy in the room was a strong 9.5, but while Keys was up there, it simmered at around five. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Keys brought a calming, feminine energy to the event that many of the business leaders in the room ought to have paid attention to (even if many of them didn’t).

The winner of 15 Grammy Awards, Keys is a performer who stridently avoids following trends or bowing to societal pressures: the shock about her decision to often wear no make-up over the past few years only proved it was an important move.

So what did Alicia speak to the audience in Dubai about?

Her main message was to follow your own path, no matter the pressure or fear. “Jump, and the net will appear,” she said.

She started by telling us how she was raised by a single mother in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. “The name itself is an exact description of what it looked like," she said before talking about being a young girl standing at a bus stop, wearing Timberlands “in case she had to run”.

But, she had her headphones in and listened to one particular song by Marvin Gaye over and over, “because it showed me what I wanted”. She then broke into Gaye’s 1972 song Trouble Man: “I come up hard baby, but now I'm cool / I didn't make it sugar, playin' by the rules.”

Gaye’s motivation worked; it didn’t take long for that girl at the bus stop to be discovered. She composed her first song on the piano at 12, and was signed to a record label by 15.

But that, she told the audience while the tone of her piano became more tense, was where the trouble began. She fell into an artistic dispute with her original label, and eventually moved on from them, not releasing her first single until five years later, when she was still only 20. That was her smash hit Fallin’.

The final song she performed at the Dubai event, New York:

“I wanted to be a person who could create on my own turf, by my own vision… I wanted to bring a different type of woman to the forefront in the musical space.

“What I didn’t realise was, that finding people who believe in your crazy ideas is not as easy as I thought it would be. It was much easier to not break the mould, to be marketable. To be what had happened before.”

That she didn’t bow to those pressures as a 15-year-old and release purely commercial music thought up by marketers, really does set her apart.

She then told the crowd, half singing, half speaking, that she doesn’t believe she’d be where she is today without that initial struggle.

“It was actually all those dark times that started making me question who I was, who I wanted to be and who I didn’t want to be. So, even though when you’re going through it you can’t wait for it to be over, [tough times bring out] some of the most important information you can get about yourself.”

While Alicia Keys is an immensely likeable woman with so much to say, her message was still at its most powerful when she sang. (This Girl is on Fire certainly hits me like a motivational speech every time I listen to it.) Song truly is her most powerful medium: and, anyway, it was Marvin Gaye's singing that motivated her decades ago.

While it would have been nice to see her step out from the relative safety of her piano for a while and face the audience head on, the fact she sang and spoke for more than an hour, while never once taking a break from the piano, or faltering on a note, shows pure talent. It's the kind of talent that can only be gained through utter perseverance.

And I, for one, find that truly motivational to witness.

Updated: September 4, 2019 11:38 AM

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