Raphael reaches out

Montreal singer-songwriter navigates continents and mental health issues

“My parents don’t even know I sing,” admitted Edwin Raphael to the crowd at Petit Campus on Thursday night. He moved to Montreal from his parents’ home in Dubai five years ago, where the most he did was play guitar. He just released Will You Think Of Me Later, his first full-length album.

After moving to Montreal to study economics at John Molson School of Business, Raphael became disenchanted with his studies and immersed in his craft. “I was procrastinating, trying to write music. I was like ‘anything’s better than studying economics,’” he said. His biggest song, “Queen of Coasts,” from his 2015 EP Ocean Walk, has over 2 million plays on Spotify.

Dubai, said Raphael, has a more mainstream, corporate-feeling music scene that he found uninspiring. Montreal was a breath of fresh air. “There’s a live show every fuckin’ night; there’s music everywhere,” he said.

Raphael had the crowd swaying on every note. The show, which marked the launch of Will You Think Of Me Later, felt like a hometown gathering at a house party, attended by friends, fans and other local musicians. Raphael’s sound is innately intimate, his smooth voice gliding across gentle instrumentation from his band. He gave the band a break to do a few songs solo with his guitar, backlit by a spotlight. Raphael cites Ben Howard as someone he emulated when he was writing in his dorm room.

There were powerful moments in Raphael’s set, when he brought up singer and rapper junï, for their collaboration “Bloom.” The track is a downtempo, nostalgic elegy of a relationship with a lover, studded with a blaring organ sample that brings the hook to a boil: “You say flowers don’t bloom / Like they’re supposed to / When we’re hanging out / Shit’s just different now,” sings Raphael. Golden-voiced Montreal pop singer-songwriter Claire Ridgely joined him for “Tangerine Skies,” a top-down, summer romance ballad that was as sweet as it was sad.

When Raphael was writing Will You Think Of Me Later, his guitarist Jacob Liutkus would offer his opinion as a co-writer, as well as writing all of his own guitar parts. The two aimed to speak frankly of mental illness, from the outside. “For me, the story was how to deal with someone dealing with addiction,” said Raphael. Liutkus added that the project is meant to reach out. “This album was about [how] you’re never alone in terms of what you’re feeling, if you ever think ‘I’m the only one feeling this way,’” he said.

On “Sober,” Raphael is losing his lover to addiction. “You’re crying out for these words I know / With you moving out cause you’re losing hope / Won’t you come around / Just be sober now, just be sober,” he sings. Raphael acknowledges the limit of this perspective as a second-person narrative. “Me looking at it from the outside, like I can’t tell you what to feel, because I don’t know what addiction feels like, and there’s only so much I can do,” he said. “That was me understanding that I don’t understand. People try to think they understand addiction because they’re addicted to something, but there’s so many levels to that.” Will You Think Of Me Later is Raphael doing what he can to help others understand these struggles—it is an invitation to join in learning, without forgetting to be a remarkably smooth listen.

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