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Alicia Keys says mixing music, politics natural but "time-consuming"

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TORONTO (CP) - When R&B songstress Alicia Keys wants tips on mixing music and politics, she knows where to turn.

"I had a great conversation with Bono the other day and I said :"Tell me, just tell me how you do it. How?' He's just so successful in the way he's able to make things happen." That she's even able to get some phone time with the crusading U2 frontman is a testament to her humanitarian work. Her foundation, Keep A Child Alive, has been opening medical clinics in AIDS-ravaged Africa for several years now. She's also spoken to Congress about stepping-up America's contribution to debt-relief efforts for Africa.

Keys, who stopped in Toronto this week to talk up her new CD, said she's pleased to see more musicians making blunt political statements in public, lauding recent comments made by Kanye West.

The rapper incited controversy at a Hurricane Katrina relief concert when he told the audience: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

"We all applaud it," she said of West's impromptu remarks. "It's the perfect time to say things like that, to speak the truth, now more than ever before.

"For me it's always been pretty apparent . . . as to their priorities of certain people. But now, with everything that happened with the hurricane and how things were handled. .. it was just a blatant slap in the face.

A classically trained pianist, Keys will be making a trip to Kenya and Rwanda in late December to visit with some of the medical clinics set up by her foundation.

"It's really easy to rewrite the history of AIDS by providing these medications for kids and families who would never be able to afford it," she said.

But before the trip, she'll start rehearsals for Smokin' Aces, her first feature film project co-starring Ray Liotta.

"(Acting is) in my blood. It's a part of me," says the New York native, who grew up surrounded by theatre types thanks to her thespian mother.

"I've held people at bay for years now who've wanted me to do different things . . . I feel like I'm in a place where I feel much more ready to express that side of myself. I'm not doing it because I can. I'm doing it because I should."

Her Unplugged CD, featuring duets with Common, Mos Def and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, is due out on Oct. 11.

She's also continuing work on a novel, loosely based on her childhood diary entries.

Despite the busy schedule, she'll continue to keep an eye on the larger world around her and step in when necessary. She expects her peers will do the same.

Says Keys: "We'll continue to speak out about things because it's necessary. That's always been part of music's goal - to really expose what's happening and what's affecting the people. When we get away from that, we just become cheap."

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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