She comes out the improvised dressing room we created upstairs and goes down the tight staircase. The audience is having drinks and chatting. She walks in, gets to the bar, and starts chatting with some of the people at the counter there. A young man tries to flirt with her. She smiles, gets a drink, and walks slowly towards the Rhodes set up in the middle of the room at le Comptoir Général. People are still talking, clinking glasses. She sits down, and our heads starts spinning. Because we have no idea what will happen next. We don’t know anything about what she’s thinking right now, what she’s going to do, and the ball is in her court now.
It’s Alicia Keys. Alicia Keys. An artist who comes from another planet to us, a planet where millions of records are sold, where songs are known by everybody, where shows are in stadiums. She’s the one that you only get to see on TV, whom you’d never get a chance to talk in person, and whose life is so different from yours that you can’t even start guessing what she’s thinking right now and how she’s going to deal with what’s going to happen soon. She’s there, with just a Rhodes and her musician on double-bass. No mic. A few meters away from a couple of fans. We know she’s going to play well, no doubt. But we don’t know if she’s going to live that moment like we will, if she’s willing to get her head spinning like we do, and if she’ll enjoy the atmosphere we created for her.
She says hello, she starts singing. Oh god, the way she sings. It’s amazing, she plays so well. Her sound is round, warm, and her voice is haunting, powerful and hazy. The lights are cosy, and the audience – completely overwhelmed – claps like it’s the end of the world after the first two songs. The only two songs she was supposed to play. And then she does something crazy: because people are clapping so hard, because everyone is screaming joyfully, she smiles. A sincere, spontaneous, childlike smile. I’ll always remember this smile, this amazing, deeply moving smile, and I’ll never forget the moment I understood we touched Alicia Keys, an artist we thought we would never reach.
And then, the evening really started. Here is the film we made out of it.