The Seasons Interview
By Erin Ashley Lowers | @ellhah
In a year as unpredictable as 2020, many artists were faced with the difficult task of maintaining inspiration and projecting it onto the world, despite their own realities changing drastically and their careers seemingly being put on hold. And yet, through the chaos, artists like Emanuel cut through the uncertainty and made their debut to the world.
"It has shown me the magnitude of what God can do even during a pandemic. We were bent out of shape when the quarantine hit because we thought everything was over, it was a write-off - there was that fear," the London, ON artist says. "Someone like Idris Elba getting involved initially and getting us a lot of help and getting the song out, a lot of people resonated with the music because of the pandemic, and because of all of the loss, it made the music that much more pertinent. It’s given me real supreme confidence in what we can do as a team, what we can do as human beings that put our minds together towards a goal, and trusting God to be the author and finisher of it."
Photos by Matt Barnes
Though his journey is underway now, in 2017, Emanuel found himself at a different place in his life - the crossroad of doing inpatient care at a local hospital and a dream that was bigger than him.
"I was in a position to grow in the place that I was at, but I really loved the interactions I had with patients specifically. In moments I would share music with patients and have conversations, I think it dawned on me one day that music is such a beautiful tool to do that on a large scale if that is your calling. I wrestled with that for a while," he admits.
Of course, he would choose music and soon land a deal with Universal Music Canada, and more recently, an additional partnership with Motown Records, a label whose artists he grew up listening to at home.
“It's a full-circle moment in a lot of ways. Motown artists seem to come up in the journey from informing our sound in basements and listening to records like Bill Withers and all these amazing Motown artists. It’s amazing - like, I’m still at the crib, and we really haven’t been able to be as active as we were last year or period, but it feels surreal, and I’m so honoured. I want to maintain that same thing, and I really appreciate having the opportunity to add to that tapestry Motown has created over history," Emanuel says.
Releasing his EPs Alt Therapy Session 1: Disillusion in June, Alt Therapy Session 2: Transformation this past December, and with his debut album expected in early 2021, Emanuel has crafted out a space for himself that has not only captured global attention but one that also embarks on a journey of mental health as a Black man from an Ethiopian family.
"As recent as a month ago, I had an uncle at a funeral of somebody else downplay the idea of depression. I feel like it’s hard for our parents, from the worlds that they came from, to acknowledge things like that, and it becomes something that festers in communities and households. Despite that, I think it’s all the more important, to be honest about how you feel about things and to not feel the stigma, shame or "weakness" that some people feel when they speak out about mental health or mental instability. Maybe if people can hear the music, hear the title Alt Therapy and feel the full energy, that connection can potentially shatter that reality or darkness," he affirms.
Breaking the projects into seasons, Emanuel explains that the Alt Therapy series, and the music in general, serves as his way to unpack his past and value his present — including the role Black women have played in his life.
“We made [“Black Woman”] in the Cayman Islands almost two years ago now. One thing that came up was how Black women are treated in this world and the way I saw Black women in spite of growing up in that world, and [realizing] what was wrong with that. I had a great awakening when I was able to see my mom as someone who was not defeated - it’s almost like there were some really dark things that I feel like I had to unlearn and some feelings that aren’t based on any truth. My mom has been my protector, my benefactor, my caretaker...she is so wise, so smart, so brilliant, and I think I grew up not seeing that. I think I started to see her for who she was past the world that I was seeing, and the walls that I was hitting, I felt like I blamed a lot of things on my mom that wasn't her fault,” Emanuel shares honestly.
“I don’t think that process is fully complete, but when you peel back a lot of those lies, and you see the majesty that is a Black woman, and I thought that was profound. I feel helpless when I see what happens to Black women in this world, how many missing and murdered Black women there are and hwo much care the system takes for that. It really helped to see Black women for who they are first before even trying to reconcile with the world."
For Emanuel, reconciling within himself and the world around him is one fraction of alt therapy - but it's not the end of the conversation for him or the Canadian R&B landscape.
"I want to talk about more blessings and more things I’ve seen come to fruition and more things I want to see in the future. The biggest thing about [the process] is to understand that the process is never over, and we just want to make music that people can carry with and build with," he avows.
"I feel like the future is really bright, we are seeing so many acts able to take their music around the world like The Weeknd, Daniel Caesar and even Savannah Ré. I’ve seen things that I didn't think I would see when I was young, so I’m excited to see Canada become more of a hub for R&B. When people think about dope R&B or trailblazers, they'll think about Toronto artists, they'll think about Canadian artists, and I think that's a possibility. The way that the music is being heard and felt around the world is super exciting."