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Keys to unlock Africa

Mesfin Fekadu Associated Press

Alicia Keys says her first visit to Africa was so emotional and inspiring that she is ready to take others there to experience something similar.

The Grammy-winning singer is launching a contest through her charity, Keep a Child Alive, that will give five people an opportunity to visit the continent with her.

Keys, 28, says her initial trip to Africa “totally changed my life.”

“I was probably like 19 or something,” she says. “I was asked to come to Africa to perform, and so you think, ‘I’m just the girl from Harlem, I wrote a couple of songs on 137th Street, and then suddenly you want me to come to Africa? And people will know me? And people will know the songs?’

“It was a mind-blowing experience for me. I was able to see the great separation between have and have not.

“I was able to see the incredible spirit of people. I was able to learn firsthand about the AIDS pandemic of Africa.”

Fans can enter the contest online at the foundation’s Web site (, or by sending a text. The fee for the text is $5, but it will be donated to Keep a Child Alive.

Keys said the winners, who will travel throughout Africa for five days sometime next year, will visit the people and places that were most influential to her.

“Some will probably not want to come back, some will totally want to stay so that they can be a part of just all this beauty that we’re spreading and light that we’re spreading,” she says.

“And some will come back and say, ‘I’ll never turn my back,’ which is what happened to me,” says Keys, who has traveled throughout South Africa (Johannesburg, Soweto and Durban) and Uganda.

Her fourth studio CD, “The Element of Freedom,” will be released Tuesday.

The birthday bunch

Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry is 89. Actress Patty Duke is 63. Actress Dee Wallace is 61. Actress Cynthia Gibb (“Fame”) is 46. Actress Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) is 21.

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