Emma G brings her Superhero tour to Asheville

FREE YOUR MIND: Of her start as a busker in buttoned-down Washington, D.C., singer-songwriter Emma G says, “It was my job to draw out that love and that individuality from corporate America — to say … ‘It’s OK to be yourself, it’s Ok to be vulnerable, it’s OK to feel, it’s OK to smile at a stranger.’” Photo by Anthony Williams

“I’ve always been one of those people waving my freak flag,” says singer-songwriter and musician Emma Ghaemmaghamy, aka Emma G. The Washington, D.C.-based artist (by way of New Zealand) was born with health issues that led to numerous surgeries, “so I’ve always been a little bit weird anyway. … I’ve always been the person who sees the beauty in being truly, authentically yourself and celebrating your weirdness.”

That spirit of authenticity is on display in Emma G’s new single, “Superhero,” from her most recent album, Taking Flight. On the companion video, a young, aspiring busker is heckled by an angry adult who doesn’t appreciate raw talent. Emma G, striding through a city in a sparkling dress, sings, “If I could free you from this burden, I would / If I could make you feel deserving of everything good,” while clips of rebel flags, police brutality and civil unrest flash across the screen.

Emma G and her band (percussionist Joey J and DJ Reality Check) are currently on tour in support of this single and another, “Smile,” set to drop in May. They play The Crow & Quill on Friday, April 12, and will swing back through Asheville, for a stop at ZaPow Gallery, on Friday, April 26. “I love Asheville. I [have family] in Asheville, and every time I go there I just love the place more and more,” she says. Plus, Emma used to work at an outdoor program in Connecticut with the husband of ZaPow! owner Lauren DeWorde.

But, six degrees of Kevin Bacon aside, Emma aims for more universal connections through her music. “The reason why this single in particular,” she says of “Superhero,” is “when I started working on the album, the election hadn’t happened yet. … I kind of feel like we’re living in a reality TV show and the world is waiting to wake the f**k up.”

Emma moved to the U.S. four years ago. Her mother is from Pennsylvania, and her father is from Fiji. “Moving here and learning more about the country my mother is from was really important to me,” she explains. “But, as a political activist, it only made sense for me to move to D.C. … As I’ve navigated through living in America as a brown-skinned human, it’s like a bizarre social studies experiment.”

She continues, “When the election happened, my friends and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, what the f**k do we do? Should we move somewhere else?’” Then Emma discovered the term “artivist” (artist + activist), which she describes as “using our art to build the rebellion. … Music is one of the few languages we have to overcome differences.”

Before making the move from New Zealand, Emma was already a rising star — though her Kiwi band, Static Era, was very different from her current aesthetic. The guitarist in that project, she says, was influenced by Iron Maiden and Metallica, while “I grew up listening to everything from The Spice Girls to The [Mighty Mighty] Bosstones.”

Emma’s current songs are more pop-leaning, underscored by the singer-songwriter’s blues-flavored growl. And, on her videos and publicity photos, Emma flaunts body positivity and free-spirited flair. “Washington, D.C., is very uniform,” she explains. As a street performer, “It was my job to draw out that love and that individuality from corporate America — to say … ‘It’s OK to be yourself, it’s Ok to be vulnerable, it’s OK to feel, it’s OK to smile at a stranger.’ … It’s something that’s really important to me.”

The musician does have big ambitions for her career. “I like to have large, improbable goals,” she says with a laugh. Performing on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” makes that list. And — not a pipe dream — Emma and her band will perform in Palm Springs, Calif., at the screening for a documentary film about the Author Incubator organization, for which Emma wrote the theme song. “It’s something I put out to the universe,” she says. Apparently, the universe was listening.

But she also intends to remain true to her roots. “I love busking,” Emma says — it’s how she got her start in the U.S., and it’s what her group plans to do between shows while on tour. “It’s one of the ways you can really connect with and see a city.”

WHO: Emma G
WHERE: The Crow & Quill, 106 N. Lexington Ave., thecrowandquill.com
WHEN: Friday, April 12, 9 p.m. $10

WHO: Emma G with Stephen Evans, Tommy Yon and YellowTie Guy
WHERE: ZaPow Gallery, 150 Coxe Ave., Suite 101, avl.mx/5u0
WHEN: Friday, April 26, 6 p.m. $10/$15 VIP

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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