Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Musician Emma G Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan


…The songs I ended up writing varied in topic but they all came back to making a positive impact. Using music to empower people, inspire people to own their awkwardness, and fall in love with themselves again. Because when we love ourselves, we can love each other better… and when we love each other, we can overcome the fear-mongering and hatred perpetuated throughout society. Then, we can hopefully reach equality in this country and beyond!

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Emma G.

Artistic activist, youth empowerment coach, author, and award-winning musician Emma G is saving the world one song at a time by writing music of healing, strength, love, and truth. A hydrocephalus survivor (10 brain surgeries and 24 surgeries in total), Emma G’s lifelong health issues, battles with depression and suicide, drug addiction, and sexual assault has helped her realize that singing her truth is a powerful and effective tool for not only understanding and processing her condition but also for connecting and empowering audiences that may be experiencing their own or similar struggles.

No stranger to turning hardship, trauma, and fears into songs of compassion and strength, the D.C. Wammies-nominated artist, mentor, and edutainer has also channeled the power of music to create The Capitol Groove Collective — an inclusive, creator-driven organization producing versatile musicpreneurs and serving the D.C. Metropolitan area through entertainment, education, and advocacy. She is also responsible for the one and only Hug Mafia.

New Zealand-born and based in Washington, D.C. for over a decade, Emma G is rewriting the definition of what it means to be a musician. Pivoting throughout the COVID pandemic, the singer-songwriter established herself as an author, podcaster, and youth empowerment coach, using the power of melodies, lyrics and media presence to hammer home messages of radical compassion strength, healing, truth and love.

With an eclectic sound akin to P!nk, Alanis Morrisette and Natalie Merchant, Emma G has released three live albums: A Taste of Emma G, Live and Acoustic, and Unplugged, and three studio albums: Taking Flight, Living Proof and Born in Crisis. Emma G is also writing her second book: Songwriting for Teenagers — A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Stressed or Anxious Kid.

Emma G’s unique resilience is presented in the artist’s short documentary film, BORN IN CRISIS, directed by Gene Sizemore and due for release via YouTube on June 11, 2021. Watch below.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Where do I even begin? I was born in New Zealand to an American mother and Fijian father three weeks premature. With a condition called hydrocephalus. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was four months old, when doctors recognized my head was growing disproportionately faster than the rest of my body.

Hydrocephalus is a condition that roughly translates to “water on the brain” because I was born with a cyst smack bang in the middle of my skull — wedged between the two sides of my brain. As everyone’s brain floats in water [cerebral spinal fluid or CSF] and that water changes by between 400–600mls every day, the cyst meant that CSF could enter into my skull but couldn’t exit. As a result, by the age of 10years, I had already had 24 surgeries — 10 of which were on my brain.

So, how did I grow up? With an incredibly strong mother who fought against all odds to ensure my brain function and cognition would be as high as possible. With two parents from two completely different worlds — giving me the rare opportunity to experience two completely different cultures and ways of life. With a great deal of adversity thrown my way — between being a young woman growing up in a world where I had to fight almost to be recognized as “normal” and fight to be respected. Thankfully, music has always been an incredibly powerful and important tool for me to utilize to not only help my brain development and cognition but also to channel my voice in an impactful way and — hopefully — makes a difference. It has certainly served in helping me.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born singing. Between trying to understand my health struggles with hydrocephalus and trying to make sense of why my father lived in another country, songwriting became my way of trying to express myself and communicate with my mum in a way that wasn’t too confrontational. I’ve always been very strong-willed, but when it comes to conflict, songwriting became my love language.

[#TriggerWarning//sexual assault]]: Songwriting has always been an especially powerful tool for me — especially when I was first diagnosed with depression after getting raped at 12 years old. I was an early developer, so with my hormones raging and society not always respecting my autonomy, I found that music was one of the only methods of communication where I felt in control — and I felt heard.

To this day, I’ve written over 500 songs to communicate my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, but I also use it as a channel to help empower those around me through my music. My struggle might look slightly different, [everyone’s does], but I realized at a young age that the reason I’m still alive and have survived through every trauma that I’ve experienced is because my music might be able to help others. So when I say that my mission is to save the world one song at a time, I’m hopeful that one of my songs will help inspire or empower — or perhaps I can inspire or help someone else write their stories of struggle into songs that help others as well.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?

I don’t know if it’s funny, interesting, or just plain weird, but I used to be in a hard rock band back in New Zealand called Static Era. I loved playing in that band — the guys I played with became my small family of support and strength. We were on tour one weekend with a metal band called Vanishing Point from Australia, and we had shows in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Keeping in mind; Vanishing Point was a metal band, we were a hard rock band, and I’m a brown woman.

Three skinheads turned up to the show to see Vanishing Point, and they made it very clear that they were unhappy about the opening band having a woman of color in it. They openly said to me that “the only reason they would put up with being in my presence was because I was friends with the headline act.”

I was conflicted, to say the least. So, up in my feelings, I went outside to a nearby park in Wellington and meditated for about 10 minutes before returning to the venue and putting on the best performance of my career to date. This is how powerful music is. This is how powerful music can be: by the end of our set, the skinheads had bought our album, wanted photos with me, and asked for my autograph.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Always, always listen to your gut. Never question it. When it comes to any decision making: if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

I have so many life quotes that have been relevant throughout my life. The above quote [if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no”] is always going to be one of my favorites, but others include:

  • The awesome things happen outside of your comfort zone
  • The same water that softens a potato hardens an egg. It’s not about what’s happening around you; it’s about what you’re made of.
  • We all have two wolves battling inside of us: one of fear, anger, jealousy, bitterness, and resentment — the other of love, compassion, strength, hope, and empathy. The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.

I could go on. In fact, many of my favorite life lesson quotes have turned into songs on my latest album [and film], Born in Crisis.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Oh my goodness, I wouldn’t be where I am today without so many people. Obviously, my mum, who fought tooth and nail to ensure my health and, after realizing how powerful music was for me and how helpful it is for brain health, encouraged me to take every music lesson and dance class that I wanted. Over the years, I’ve taken violin, piano, vocal, guitar, and drum lessons, as well as ballet, Latin American and ballroom dancing, and songwriting.

As an adult, however, people I want to pay particular tribute to are:

  • My producer Flightboy Music, who has been incredible in helping me bring my songs to life for the last five years.
  • My drummer Joey Jenkins, who has been hugely helpful in helping me develop my sound — both on and off stage.
  • Chris Yong, who played guitar in Static Era and is still to this day one of my musical and personal confidants.
  • Dr. Angela Lauria, [CEO of The Author Incubator] who has been a mentor and friend for a few years now but has helped me stay in alignment, recognize my zone of genius, and lean into my magic.
  • My fans — especially those who have been following me since I moved to Washington D.C. and first established myself as a street performer here. I’ve been able to make a solid income for the last almost six years as a direct result of their support, whether that’s financially, booking/recommending me for shows, or simply recognizing and supporting me emotionally — especially my Hug Mafia and Emma G Nation inner circle communities. One fan, in particular, has gone even further and reached out to me about helping me more actively on my journey, which is how the film “Born in Crisis” came to be. Gene Sizemore is the creative vision and magic behind the film, as he filmed and directed the entire thing!
  • My partner: DJ Stephens, who has supported my dreams for years. He’s constantly pushing my dreams and encouraging me to think bigger, strategize, and make a plan: especially as my music is quite often political and discusses issues around equality, self-love, and justice. He owns a Krav Maga self-defense school, and — believe it or not — many life lessons in self-defense apply to life, entrepreneurship, and music!

… Sorry, that was definitely more than one person! But there’s a lot of people that I’m grateful for.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I’m not just a musician. I consider myself an artivist [artistic activist] — and I have been for a long time. I wrote and recorded my first song when I was just ten years old: a song called “Look Around,” about poverty, climate change, and environmental awareness. I even had the opportunity to perform the song for New Zealand’s prime minister during that time, Helen Clark.

Now, I’m using my music to speak out about systemic racism, sexism, radical compassion, and self-love. My song “Together We Rise” is about celebrating diversity, and I was blessed to perform it outside of the Whitehouse during Washington DC’s Fourth of July parade. My songs: “Superhero” and “You Can’t Control the Night” were both written about systemic racism and challenging America [and the world] to be our best versions of ourselves. My songs: “Living Proof” and “Be Brave,” are all about reminding people how strong, resilient, and powerful we all are. “SOLD [Take a Shot]” is a clapback against rape culture and misogyny — especially within the music industry. Every song I write is with the bigger picture in mind. How is my art going to make an impact and make the world a better place?

That’s exactly why I did my write-a-song-a-day challenge, which turned into my Born in Crisis album and documentary. I wanted to challenge myself to dig deeper into my vulnerability and lead by example for the teenagers that I guide with my “empowerment through music and songwriting” coaching work. Of course, the songs I ended up writing varied in topic but they all came back to making a positive impact. Using music to empower people, inspire people to own their awkwardness, and fall in love with themselves again. Because when we love ourselves, we can love each other better… and when we love each other, we can overcome the fear-mongering and hatred perpetuated throughout society. Then, we can hopefully reach equality in this country and beyond!

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I’m passionate about self-love because I’ve struggled with depression from a very young age. When you’ve had ten brain surgeries by the age of ten, when you’ve been sexually assaulted from an even younger age, it’s really easy to forget your self-worth — because it’s essentially been taken from you. And unfortunately, there are way too many people in the world who have been assaulted at some point in their lives.

My passion for saving the world comes from having had the opportunity to grow up in two completely different cultures and from also having lost so many people in my life. My surrogate brother died when he was 20 to a diabetes complication. That same year, my ex-boyfriend committed suicide, my surrogate father died due to alcohol abuse, and in 2018, my biological father passed away. If I could have done anything to help prevent those situations, or future traumas like these, then I will do it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I have had so many a-ha moments throughout my career. I think the most poignant realizations have been:

  • Recognizing that champions don’t make excuses — they make adjustments. This one is from my partner, who runs a Krav Maga self-defense school, and is always encouraging me — and everyone around him — to step into their power, even when it feels out of control.
  • You are your five closest friends — and they need to be adding to your goals and dreams. Encouraging and supporting your mission at all times. Feeding you positive energy, as opposed to draining your energy.
  • Listening to your gut

I think the most important aha moment, though, was when I was 15 years old. I was kicked out of my home, I was addicted to drugs, I was an alcoholic, and I was super suicidal. One night, however, God or the angels or some kind of energy spoke to me, and I realized that I’m here for a purpose, and that purpose is music. I didn’t realize where that would take me at the time, but I’m so blessed to be living in alignment with that purpose now.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I actually have a tattoo dedicated to this woman on my arm.

There is a particular metro stop in Washington D.C. that I used to sing at every morning: Foggy Bottom. One Christmas, I went out of town for the holidays to spend with my family in Iowa. I was gone for two weeks, but when I came back and went to play at Foggy Bottom, someone had beaten me to the punch, so I decided to go elsewhere. I arrived at this different stop [Courthouse in Virginia], and a woman saw me and rushed up to me: putting an envelope into my hand, and said: “I have been looking for you everywhere. This is for you.” Then she rushed off.

I opened it, and there was a fully-typed letter addressed to Songbird. The letter stated that she was a paralegal and had been working at Foggy Bottom for the last few months and she wanted to say “thank you for being one of her three bright spots in [her] life.” She described a very difficult time in her life, but whenever she got down or overwhelmed during the week, “[she] tried to think about what made her happy,” and that was my music. It’s events like that that help me keep doing what I’m doing.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

  1. Support the arts. Do all you can to support arts education for our young people — keep it in schools, and encourage youth to channel their creativity, voices, and ideas.
  2. Be kind. To each other, to strangers, and yourself.
  3. Push your comfort zone. Negativity, anger, resentment, and bigotry all stem from fear. If you can push your comfort zone to realize how strong you are and recognize that fear is generally speaking all in your mind, powerful things can happen. It’s fear that fuels racism. It’s fear of losing power that fuels sexism and financial inequity. It’s fear that drives the need to control. The only way we can challenge this fear is by pushing our limiting beliefs.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. I wish someone had taught me to value my time better. We live in a world that almost idealizes the “starving artist” mindset, which feeds into the starving artist's reality. Instead of putting the expectation on myself that I needed to lower my self-worth to get the gig, for example, I wish someone could have shown me how to recognize and promote why my music [and everyone’s music and time] is worth abundance.
  2. I wish someone had taught me how to turn my handicaps into strengths — I mean, besides my mother. ;) For example, it was through Krav Maga that I learned how my “fun-size” height could be used to my advantage when taking on a taller attacker. Similarly, my story and truth can be used to my advantage when it comes to empowering the world through my music.
  3. I wish someone had told me earlier about the power of delegation and why it’s okay to let go of your control. I’m skilled at many tasks; however, there are certain tasks that I have attempted to do that are simply not worth my time doing that I could be paying someone else to do to free up my time. Time is the most precious commodity, so why would I waste it doing something that doesn’t bring my bliss, simply because I’m either a control freak or I’m trying to save money?
  4. I wish someone had taught me the power of silence more. We learn a lot when we’re quiet, but I’ve spent so much time being silenced in my life that I always saw it as a weakness. In actuality, we learn a lot when we’re silent, and from learning comes knowledge. And from knowledge comes power.
  5. I wish someone had told me earlier that I’m enough. I wasted a lot of time trying to prove myself and do all of the things, simply to try and prove that I was big and bad enough. I studied to be a mechanic. I worked in construction. I worked in radio, corporate, and even as a travel agent. People would continually tell me that I could do everything, which always made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t impressive enough, or didn’t measure up. I’m realizing now that as I’m in alignment, me simply existing is enough — and from this place of acknowledging my worth: magic grows.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My movement at the moment is the Hug Mafia — a community of people who recognize that love is our weapon, radical compassion is our warpaint, and positivity is our shield.

If I were to start a second movement [which I’m doing with my Empowerment through Music and Songwriting Youth Coaching], it would be to write a song and change your life — maybe even change the world!

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I’m going to be a bit cheeky here, and name a few people [ha!], but I would love to have brunch [because brunch is life] with Michelle and Barack Obama, P!nk, Trevor Noah, and Oprah Winfrey. Each of these humans uses their influence to make positive changes, and I’m so inspired by each of their journeys. I would love to learn from each of them and collaborate on projects around improving mental and physical health, using creativity as a superpower, and elevating communities through authenticity, anti-racism, vulnerability, and — of course — music.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!



Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.