On Emma G’s Born in Crisis, the Power of Music is More than a Metaphor

Life as a working musician in a pandemic has meant something different for everyone. For some, it’s meant shifting to live performance by stream, and for others, it’s been an opportunity to share unreleased recordings or creative merch. For D.C. singer/songwriter Emma G, it’s meant both ramping up her musical output and rethinking her business altogether. It was never a question of whether she’d adapt–just a question of how. “We take the bullshit, we turn it into fertilizer, and we plant a garden”, she says in press for her new album, Born in Crisis. “After all, we can either go through life, or we can grow through it. When given the choice, I will always choose the latter.”

In 2020, Emma G recorded and released a single every six weeks, and she also took up podcasting, hosting two shows on her YouTube channelThe Songs That Changed My Life on Mondays and Thursdays, and The Difference Makers on Wednesdays. (This is all in addition to her work with the Capitol Groove Collective.) But she really shifted into high gear in 2021 with the launch of a new initiative called Empowerment through Music and Songwriting. The goal is to apply her background in youth work and education to help teenagers access music as a tool for building self-knowledge and resilience.

People often talk about “the power of music” in the abstract, but for Emma G, it means something very specific and even literal. She stresses the connection between mental, physical, and artistic health–a balance that, for parts of her life, was difficult to control. Born with hydrocephalus, she’s had dozens of surgeries and dealt with terrible pain. Along the way, songwriting was more than metaphorically therapeutic, helping to stimulate and rebuild her brain cognition.

Her experience inspired the documentary Born in Crisis: Turning Struggle into Song, which delves into her history of illness as well as her more recent struggles as a self-employed musician in the midst of a global pandemic. To set an example for her young mentees, Emma G spent February 2021 writing a song every day, each one turning a daily struggle–with her scars, social upheaval, or self-love–into something constructive.

As she explained in a preview for the film: “I decided I would write a song a day to show other young people, ‘Hey, it’s possible. It may seem like a far-fetching goal, to write your troubles, write your struggles into song, but here I am doing it, 30 days in a row–let’s go. Let’s see what I come up with. Some of it will be shit, some of it will be okay, you know, we’ll see how I go,’ and I’m really happy.” 

In her email newsletter, she’s also written candidly about the mental health impact of the pandemic and the importance of therapy: “If you’re also struggling with your mental health, and need something more than empowerment through music coaching, meditation or self-defense classes; there’s a brilliant number of affordable online options that I had no idea about […] remember: asking for help is never a sign of weakness–it’s about recognizing how strong you already are, and have the potential to become.”

The best cuts from that month-long songwriting experiment became the basis of Born in Crisis the album, an acoustic collection that plays like a heartfelt handbook on the simple power of a guitar and voice–and how easily you can join Emma G in wielding them. Along with the film, it’ll officially premiere Friday, April 23 at 7:00 p.m. EST with a livestream from D.C.’s Pearl Street Warehouse. The event will also feature a Q&A with Emma G, percussionist Joey J Drums, and the film’s director, Gene Sizemore.

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