Despite the pandemic challenges facing the music industry, 2020 was quite a year for breakout artist Emanuel. The R&B musician, who hails from London, Ont., was nominated for his first Juno Award, and he signed with the legendary Motown Records in the U.S., joining the ranks of music royalty. He also put out a video for his hit “Need You,” which was produced by award-winning actor Idris Elba—who’s the executive producer of Emanuel’s debut album, Alt Therapy (out June 16), as well. “The thing that surprised me most about this past year’s suc- cess is the peace and reassurance I felt from seeing the team I work with come together during a challenging time,” says Emanuel. “[They] helped me bring this project to life. It’s been a humbling experience.” The record is like a point of convergence for the artist, a result of inspiration from various directions: the strong women in his life, the artists he admires, including Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, and the music of his Ethiopian roots. As has been the case for most musicians, lockdown put the stage out of reach for Emanuel, but it also made way for artistic exploration and provided a means for him to feel connected to people around the world and bring the importance and strength of those ties into focus.

Funny Tummy

Cover art for the song “Black Woman” from Emanuel’s debut album, Alt Therapy

Female figures 

“The song ‘Black Woman’ was inspired by the Black women in my life: my mother and all the other mothers who helped raise me; my sister and all the sisters I’ve encountered in my brief walk on this earth. It’s also about history and the stories I’ve heard when family and kin are gathered. It’s the oral tradition of remembering and honouring those stories—the song is a form of that tradition.”

Healing over

“In creating this album, I used the power of testimonials and sharing as a therapeutic tool and saw how healing adding sonics to that process can be. The title, Alt Therapy, also refers to an acceptance and affirmation of any healthy form of therapy people may find. It says ‘We’re all trying.’ And from what I’ve found, that’s the truth.”

Reaching out 

“A close friend and collaborator [shared the song ‘Need You’] with Idris Elba, and he loved it. He then approached us with an idea to reach out across the world and challenge folks to show us how they were coping, asking the question ‘What or who did you realize you truly need?’ During the early stages of the pandemic, we received submissions from countries around the world with videos of people and their loved ones, and we put all these clips together to form the ‘Need You’ music video.”

Ethiopian heritage 

“My roots are a big part of my story, and the sounds associated with that part of me are present throughout my music. As far back as I can remember, traditional Ethiopian music was played at all times in our home. Those tones rocked me to sleep as my mother would hum and sing blessings over me and my sister before bed.”

Dream collab 

“I would like to work with a number of people, but if I had to pick one, it would be Mk.gee. I love his sound; I’ve been rinsing the song ‘dimeback’ from his album A Museum of Contradiction.”

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