When we hear a piece of music that heals us, we pull the song close to our hearts and bring the rest of the world with it. Emanuel is a student and creator of R&B that makes the listener shudder with passion, delight, or pain - sometimes all three - but his chief concern is getting the listener to experience the same curative transcendence that the music’s creation provided to him. This is the crux of Alt Therapy, the title of Emanuel’s debut album and his artistic manifesto; “The idea of healing in my music is the most important thing,” he says. “If I was on stage just to have fun, I wouldn’t take it as seriously. It has to be deeper in order to take me further.”
The Alt Therapy paradigm came to Emanuel when he was working in a hospital. “I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t settle for anything but what I felt was my purpose.” To fan the flames of this first spark, Emanuel drew on the rich texture of his life’s soundtrack: As a child in London, Ontario born to Ethiopian parents, Emanuel was exposed to music from around the world and absorbed it all. His mother played songs from across the African diaspora, while his father introduced him to Western classics, specifically Motown.
Emanuel learned how to sing with no formal training at age nine, huddled next to his family’s computer with YouTube and his sister as guides. Boyz II Men, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, and Bob Marley were the foundation; projects like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly made him want to make music that can live through us long after the song ends. “I would listen to these albums sometimes in my darkest moments,” he says solemnly, “Those songs would affect me powerfully. I don’t want to deify these individuals, but something special was happening while I was listening to the music.”
Session 1: Disillusion, Emanuel’s debut EP released on Juneteenth, is the first collection of songs that will appear on his full-length album Alt Therapy. It contains his breakout single “Need You,” a piano-driven ballad where the yearning drips off Emanuel’s voice like the sweetest honey suffered by the sharpest sting; “Thought It’d Be Easy” on which Emanuel cascades down dreamy guitars to recount how carnal encounters can never solve matters of the heart; and “Addiction,” a funk-infused groove about the ups and downs of drug-fueled debauchery.
Emanuel’s musical journey is inexorably tied to his upbringing. “Black Woman”, the lead single from Emanuel’s second EP Session 2: Transformation, is a love letter to the Black women in his own life and around the world. “I was singing about my mom when I was writing it,” Emanuel says, “and it branched off into me thinking about a more unified view of how Black women have affected history and the communities around me.” Emanuel guides the song from a luxurious sparseness into a swirling orchestra, recognizing the unrecognized and assailed caretakers, providers and warriors as acts of God, and asks them to absolve him of his own shortcomings. Instead of choosing to preach, Emanuel humbles himself before the listener, his voice a diamond-tipped tool that burrows into our heartstrings and consciences.