Keys to our heart

Alicia Keys bares her heart and soul for Tel Aviv

Ignoring BDS calls, R&B star wows audiences in first Israeli performance, which includes a special cameo by Idan Raichel

Debra writes for the JTA, and is a former features writer for The Times of Israel.

Featuring two very special guest stars and a finale worthy of its July 4 timing, Alicia Keys rocked the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv on Thursday night with a show bursting with energy, class, and her trademark soul.

Keys, pop’s piano princess whose soulful R&B tunes have earned her 14 Grammys over a decade-long career, opened her sold-out show with “Karma,” but only after greeting the crowd with a “Ma koreh, Tel Aviv?” (“What’s happening, Tel Aviv?”).

Light on choreography but heavy on charisma, the show, part of her “Set the World on Fire” tour, included beloved hits like “Fallin’” and “Unbreakable,” as well as lesser-known, newer fare like “Brand New Me” and “Tears Always Win.”

Concertgoers had been told a special guest would be joining Keys on stage, and roared with delight when Idan Raichel, the wildly popular Israeli world-music maven, joined her on stage for a one-song mash-up of her “Fallin’” with his chart-busting hit “Mi’ma’amakim.”

Later on in the show, another special guest graced the stage — Keys’s 2-year-old son, Egypt, whom she personally serenaded with her hit single “No One.”

Keys’s show was a triumph for her Israeli fans, who endured some serious nail-biting over whether or not she would play in Tel Aviv after the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement put heavy pressure on the star to cancel her show. “The Color Purple” author and BDS proponent Alice Walker went so far as to issue an open letter to Keys, telling the 33-year-old star that it would “grieve her” to know she went ahead with a performance in an “apartheid country.”

Keys refused to be bowed, however, responding to the boycott calls by declaring her excitement over her upcoming trip and her conviction that music should unify audiences, not separate them.

Fittingly, she closed her Tel Aviv show with her new hit single “Girl on Fire,” followed by an encore performance of “Empire State of Mind,” her ode to New York City which she released with rapper Jay-Z in 2009. It was a fine ending to a July 4 show in which an American star gave the Israeli audience a concert worthy of a truly international pop icon.

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