When Queen of Katwe premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, Lupita Nyong’o won’t be the only award-winning celeb tied the film. Alicia Keys, the 15-time Grammy award winner, has penned the film’s original song, “Back to Life.”
Queen of Katwe tells the journey of Phiona Mutesi, a nearly homeless girl who rises up from selling spices on the streets of Uganda to become the country’s chess master. Keys and her film and TV producing partner had early hopes on optioning the film, but Keys jokes, “We lost it to a little company called Disney.”
Still, the superstar’s motivation to support didn’t wane and she found another opportunity to lend her voice—literally.
“They came to me and said they’d love for me to do a song because of my connection to Africa and my connection just to that type of resilient story,” says Keys. “I went to see the film and I was blown away by it. It’s just one of those pieces that is so authentic and it’s so honest and truthful.”
In the midst of prepping her new album and becoming a judge on NBC’s The Voice, Keys found time to collaborate on “Back to Life” with Illangelo and Billy Walsh.
“The way that I write as a … is always from a personal place. I started thinking about this girl, Phiona. This is a young person trying to figure out who she is and where she’s going to be and how that even related to me and my life now,” says Keys. “We’re always redefining who we are and redefining who we’re going to be. In so many ways, that’s what brings you back to life. That’s what brings you that feeling of ‘I have to live and I have to be my greatest.’”
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.
Directed by Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe stars Nyong’o, David Oyelowo and newcomer Madina Nalwanga; it opens in theaters September 26.
Hear Alicia Keys speak about her inspiration for “Back to Life” in the video above.