Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and political unrest, first-generation Black Canadian artist, Emanuel, has released his passionate EP entitled ALT THERAPY Session 2: Transformation, via Universal Music Canada, the country’s leading music company, and his new U.S. label partner Motown Records.
The EP, a poignant musical homage to the Black woman, features the moving hit lead single, “Black Woman.” Through his music, the millennial artist with parents hailing from Somalia engages in a nuanced exploration of beauty, pain, and Black joy, experienced within life’s complex journey of self-growth. His musical ode to the melanated woman is a straight-up anthem and a song for lovers of music with depth. This past October in Toronto, a massive electronic billboard in Dundas Square featured beautiful images of prominent Black women from the arts and entertainment world, in conjunction with the release of Emanuel’s hit song. On top of the primetime publicity, Emanuel became the first artist to be chosen for Spotify’s-On The Radar program in Canada. With over 13 million global streams, it was simply a matter of time before accolades and opportunities would unfold for the determined artist.
Why did you want to write a song about the Black woman?
The intention behind Black Woman was for it to be a raw, unapologetic love letter. The subject is so magnificent that I didn’t want to hide it in a covert message. There was a time when I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t really see Black women, so there is also an element of apology and regret in the music. I was raised by a Black woman, but I had internalized stigmas against African people that affected the way I viewed certain things. Things that were worked out and cleared up in the song.
How did you feel when the song was released?
It was more than cathartic. It was a validating, answered prayer. When we finished making the song, we were so proud of it but afraid the label wouldn’t get behind the single. We thought of the song as our baby and we didn’t want our baby to have trouble being heard. There was some apprehension but the label has been so supportive. Once it was out there, the song had legs. It was amazing to witness how people responded to it. Receiving DMs from Black women, crying and telling me they felt seen...that stuff is amazing to me!
Tell me about the song’s stripped-down, emotive sound...where did this creative style come from?
I would be remiss if I didn’t credit talented people around me every day, as well as music giants like John Legend, Bob Marley, and Frank Ocean who take sonic risks and aren’t afraid to engage with the listener. Also, someone like Nicholas Britell who created the soundtrack for If Beale Street Could Talk, in which he creates music of overwhelming beauty. I wanted to have those sorts of moments in my music! I have to say, I feel like we were able to achieve that with the inclusion of some artists from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
What do your Somalian parents have to say about your growing music career? Are they like many immigrant parents? Work hard, get that professional career, and be a lawyer?
Right! So even though there’s this huge billboard in downtown Toronto, at first they were like, what’s this, are you a lawyer?
My mom’s a rebel! My mom’s story is really special. Coming from their situation in Somalia, stability is such an important thing. Those jobs that are stable and don’t fit the heart but fit the pocket are very important. It took some time for her not to see my music as just a hobby. When people told her who Kardinal Offishall was and that I’d worked with him, or when Idris Elba hit me up this Spring to direct the music video for my debut song “Need You”... it all started to sink in for her. It took some time, but my mom is amazing! Now it’s like she’s part of the management team. She’s really behind me and excited about my work.
You’re a self-taught artist who had a love for music from a very young age. Now that your EP is out, what’s the ultimate artistic goal?
Where I want to walk with music is somewhere mere men can’t walk. A pivotal moment for me was when I saw the Bob Marley documentary, Who Shot The Sheriff. I learned from watching Bob Marley that it takes a level of humility to understand that it’s not about me. I’m just a messenger. There was this part of the film...Bob Marley is on stage in Jamaica and while performing his music, he brings two political rivals together onstage. Music can change the world. What I find a cathartic and beautiful experience is watching people be affected by my music. I feel like music in its purest form connects people. I want to experience that. I want to be a part of things that men can’t change alone.
Emanuel’s sophomore EP Session 2: Transformation, will be released December 4. His full-length debut album, ALT THERAPY, is due for release in 2021.