Halfway through our conversation with young sensation Emanuel, whose debut album has been called “one of the most anticipated R&B albums of the year,” we’re both furiously googling Ethiopian jazz legends.

EmanuelThe London, Ont., singer’s parents came to Canada from Ethiopia about 40 years back, so we casually asked if he’d heard any EthioJazz growing up. “Oh yes, yes!” he says, excitedly. “I love tapping into Ethiopian jazz and Tizita [Ethiopian ballads].” We rave about Hailu Mergia and Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou, and offer to send him links to their music. “I love that you brought that up! And your pronunciations are right, too. Damn!” he laughs. “My mom would be laughing at both of us right now.”

Emanuel says that one day he’d love to make music inspired by that era. Family and roots are paramount to the singer-songwriter, who’s signed to Motown, had his own gigantic billboard in Times Square, and who appeared on the world’s radar last April thanks to Idris Elba. “Those things [billboards and rave reviews] are great,” he says. “It’s amazing to feel the support from the label, but nothing beats that human connection, whether it’s people responding to you being onstage, or telling you how they felt when they heard your music.”

And how does he keep his feet on the ground? “It’s easy to stay grounded when you’re close to your roots, but I do have my moments when conversations need to be had,” he says. “My mother’s a wise woman, and she has a beautiful way of reminding me to stay humble.”

Emanuel has been hearing from a lot of listeners since his debut single “Need You,” which Elba helped promote with his legion of followers on social media last year, and his album ALT THERAPY, dropped on June 16, 2021. Emanuel says he intended the album to be “something people can sit with in times of stillness, or if they’re seeking healing – and people have responded to that. There have been days when I’ve woken up to some really beautiful messages.

“The song was speaking to a deep yearning, of how much I needed the people around me”

“Nobody can take that away from me,” he says. “Nobody can take away those moments of pure love. I’m talking about how the music healed me, and I love that people can hear that. It’s definitely a blessing.”

Emanuel, who says his interest in music has always been based on hearing people’s stories, shares some deeply personal ones on his debut album. The super-catchy “Addiction,” which he says is about “the life of addiction I was living,” is just one example. “I was reflecting on some of the bad relationships I’d been in, and my past toxic behaviour,” he says, recalling the song’s genesis. “The way I was approaching life, I wasn’t leaving room for help, and room to grow and be present.

“It was easy to scrutinize my behaviour, but ‘Addiction’ acknowledges that feeling of stopping a cycle and realizing how much it took from me. When I came up with the lyrics, it reminded me of that fear and anxiety” some of us feel when we’re in a plane that’s descending, he says, adding that the song came together shortly after his producers played him the beat one morning.

“Prodigal son fell asleep with the swine,” is one of the heaviest lines in the song. “Yeah, that’s a visceral bar,” Emanuel says quietly. “I wanted to speak from that place without wallowing in it. I wanted to show the vulnerability, without co-signing bad behaviour.”

The joy he gets from connecting with listeners, and offering his music as therapy, became evident when he released the aforementioned “Need You” one month into the pandemic. Kardinal Offishall had sent the song to Idris Elba, who was recovering from COVID. Emanuel recounts that Elba said it really helped him, and that he wanted to share it so it could help other people. The movie star asked his followers on social media to submit images showing how they were coping with self-isolation, to create an “inspirational collage.” Within a day, more than 3,000 submissions for the collaborative video were submitted by people around the world.

Emanuel calls that chapter of his life a Cinderella story. Describing the song, the singer-songwriter says he was “speaking to a feeling, a deep yearning, of how much I needed the people around me, how much I needed God, and all the other things in this world that give me life.”

He says the pandemic helped him learn how to appreciate stillness, and to embark on a road to self-discovery and healing. “I’ve been taking time to think about how I can have better relationships and build stronger ones, and it’s given me time to think a lot about my future,” Emanuel says, adding that it’s also provided time to “heal from having a negative view of myself, and a chaotic lifestyle [he once led].

“I strongly believe that everybody goes through this on the road to self-discovery, and so I felt it was the perfect thing to talk about on the record.”

For many, one of the pandemic’s silver linings was extra family time. Quarantines, self-isolation, remote work, virtual schooling, and the prolonged domestic existence caused by the coronavirus – especially for musicians used to touring, live gigs, and studio work – forced artists to re-examine how they earned a living, and to develop new skills.

For classically-trained musicians (and SOCAN members) Drew Jurecka and wife Rebekah Wolkstein, who met in music college and perform together in the Payadora Tango Ensemble, this meant taking a deep dive into the unknown world of video production. They decided to take their three daughters along.

Thanks to his ongoing production work and a steady stable of clients, Jurecka, a veteran of the Toronto music scene – who’s written for or played on more than 150 albums, and created arrangements for artists ranging from Hailee Steinfeld and Dua Lipa to Bahamas and Royal Wood – already had a home studio built before the pandemic hit. So, he was kept busy. Meanwhile, Wolkstein saw her regular gigs vanish overnight. She was also tasked with helping her three daughters – Sylvie (8); Annie (6); and Maya (one-and-a-half) – complete their schoolwork. This left a void that she needed to fill. That’s how the Wolkstein Jurecka Family Orchestra was born.

Flash back to March 2020. When COVID-19 suddenly cancelled all of Wolkstein’s performances, she set about to create a family music video. The first was their take on the Shirley Temple tune, “An Old Straw Hat.”

“I’ve always loved jazz, and grew up with Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and stuff from the Great American Songbook,” is how Wolkstein describes the choice. Drew produced, recorded and arranged the song while Rebekah filmed the video. Both created simple choreographed moves for the daughters. The response was overwhelming; the video has already eclipsed 15,000 views. Wolkstein was on to something. Not to mention, she was also having fun.

So, they made another video, “Like My Sister.” The mother of three wrote this original song in between nursing Maya. The composition speaks to the joys – and the pains – of sibling bonds. “Sylvie and Annie were fighting, and it got me thinking about their relationship,” says Wolkstein. “So, one night, rocking my baby to sleep with my iPhone in my hand, I typed out the lyrics. I had to edit it down and make sure it had the best rhyme scheme, but all the material came easily and straight from watching how my kids do, and do not, get along throughout the day.” In this newest video Sylvie and Annie play violin, piano, harp, and sing, while baby Maya also dances and sings along.

What’s next for the The Wolkstein Jurecka Family Orchestra? Wolkstein has already penned a new song: “Years from Today,” on how children yearn for adulthood and adults yearn for childhood, and just needs to rally the family together to shoot the video.

On top of the orchestra’s success, Jurecka recently received his first-ever Grammy nomination, for his string arrangement work on the Dua Lipa song, “Don’t Start Now.” During the pandemic, the married couple also found time to collaborate and co-write songs together for the first time. “This project has definitely brought us into a different creative sphere than we were in before the pandemic, which has been a lot of fun,” says Wokstein.

“What’s come out of this experience for Rebekah and I is that it gave us a framework to collaborate as creators of music,” says Jurecka. “We’ve always had a good collaborative relationship as players, and have worked together in groups, but we hadn’t really done any co-writing up to this point. We’ve even pitched a few kids’ TV shows, and landed one synch in a pilot – which I can’t name until it airs.”

Charmed listeners can support the family orchestra on Patreon.

Tango in the Dark

As if motherly tasks, writing songs in the middle of the night, and playing the odd virtual show weren’t enough, Jurecka and Wolkstein also made a film with their band (Payadora Tango Ensemble) and PointeTango – a group of talented ballet/tango dancers from Buenos Aires. Tango in the Dark features the dancing of Erin Scott-Kafadar and Alexander Richardson, and the score is original music composed by the ensemble. Richardson is also the director of the movie, which takes a journey into the shadows and the mysteries of the city, and tells a tale of two dancers moving to the rhythms of the night in the Argentine capital. You can stream the film online and pay what you can, and it’s also set to be part of various Fringe Festivals in 2021-22.

Charles Aznavour, Jehan Valiquet

L to R: Charles Aznavour, Jehan Valiquet

Charles Aznavour is one of those artists who has stood the test of time, one of the few French-speaking songwriters able to reach an audience that doesn’t even speak their language. To this musical giant, music publisher Jehan V. Valiquet has dedicated his latest major album project.

Valiquet has been working behind the scenes of the music industry for almost 40 years as a publisher – a copyright guardian, in short – for some of the most beautiful songs from Canada, France, and Belgium. He represents, among others, the repertoires of Serge Lama, Julien Clerc, Vanessa Paradis, and Yves Duteil. Some of the most beautiful songs by Ginette Reno, Lara Fabian, Robert Charlebois, Charles Trenet, and Félix Leclerc also have a home at Musinfo, his company.

Over time, he’s earned the trust of Gérard Davoust, the epitome of the unknown soldier, and the general manager of Éditions Raoul Breton, undoubtedly France’s most prestigious publisher.

“At one point, I was able to get Serge Lama, and at that time, he was represented by Breton,” says Valiquet. “What I was doing was making an appointment with Gérard Davoust to present him with reports on what was selling, what was being played. We were always in the ‘vouvoiement,’ which is kind of normal considering brothers and sisters ‘vouvoie’ each other over there!… It was very formal, but from time to time he would invite me for oysters not far from his office on Rossini Street. Once, I said to him, ‘You know, Mr. Davoust, I would really be interested by Charles Aznavour’s catalogue.’ He replied, ‘You know, Mr. Valiquet, it weighs a lot!’ But I didn’t know that expression… So I said, ‘No problem, I have room in my suitcase!’ I thought he wanted to give me sheet music and all that. He must have thought I was a complete moron!”

Amoureuse des motsOver the years, as they met in Paris or Cannes for MIDEM, Gérard Davoust loosened up, finally switched from calling Valiquet “vous” to “tu,” and ended up offering him, almost on a silver platter, the repertoire of the great Aznavour. It’s a crucial moment that Valiquet will always remember. “As I was leaving he said, ‘By the way, I’m giving you Aznavour.’ I wasn’t expecting that. He went into his office and I was in the middle of the street. I yelled, ‘Wow!’ People must’ve thought I was crazy.”

Sixteen years after bringing together many artists – including Pierre Lapointe (who performed “Les plaisirs démodées”) and Diane Dufresne – for an album in tribute to Aznavour, Valiquet is doing it again. The new project is similar in every way, except that it exclusively features women. Among them are the spoken word virtuoso Queen Ka (a.k.a. Haitian-born Montréal-based Rebecca Jean) and pianist Valérie Lahaie. All are complete artists, grand dames, SOCAN members, and songwriters in their own right. The very definition of Amoureuses des mots.

“They’re all singer-songwriters, obviously singers, some of them musicians,” says Valiquet. “They’re all signed exclusively to Musinfo, and I’m the publisher of their songs. I had the idea during the pandemic… It’s a great opportunity to put these girls in the spotlight. They’re all doing their own thing with their social networks, Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, all that.”

Annie Poulain

Annie Poulain

Annie Poulain is one of them, a jazz vocalist with an alto range who’s distinguished herself more than once with ADSIQ Gala nominations, and as the creator of the Dix piano une voix album released independently in 2018. She sings “Le jazz est revenu,” a title that could not be more apropos, considering the recent success of a jazz-tinged project like Les Louanges, or the recent rise of a musician like Dominique Fils-Aimé. “I just hope that Aznavour’s vision at that time was prescient,” she says, “and that jazz will really come back in a big way in the next few years!”

“La Mamma” is revived by the voice of the Italian-Quebecer Dominica Merola. The lyrics resonate in a whole new way for her, now. “With the year we’ve just lived through, deprived of our mother’s kisses and embraces, I felt this song was gut-wrenching,” she says.

The world is ever-changing, but thanks to the creative publishing work of Jehan V. Valiquet, Charles Aznavour’s words remain current, and adaptable to all the trials we collectively go through – in short, absolutely timeless.