Friday, May 22, 2015

This is ESKA

From what I've read, most reviews of ESKA's self-titled first album can be summed up thusly:
Did you know that ESKA has been a well-regarded session musician for quite a few years? It's true! But now she's stepping into the limelight and finding her own voice - and what a voice it is!
Many debut albums have been named after the artist responsible (Franz Ferdinand, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and The Magic Numbers, to name just three), but while it usually seems like a slightly lazy decision - made in lieu of any ideas for a proper title - it does make a lot of sense in the case of ESKA. The album is an announcement to the world that the musician is ready to be seen as an artist, to sing her own life instead of assisting with someone else's ideas.

Indeed, the title also tells us that ESKA is a very personal album - perhaps even that it is ESKA herself, if she were a collection of songs instead of a human being.

So what can we learn about ESKA (why the capital letters? I've no idea) from ESKA? Well, in a nutshell: she's extremely eclectic. This album has a little bit of everything, including folk, funk, pop, big-time soul, and - on lead single Gatekeeper - a strange sort of heave-ho indie:

I can totally imagine rowing a big boat in time with this song.

The exhaustive 1,200-word biography on ESKA's Bandcamp page suggests that the maker of this record has had a licquorice allsort kinda life, soundtracked by many different types of music along the way: Eska Mtungwazi was born in Britain to Zimbabwean parents (a teacher and a midwife); she took violin lessons at school and attended a prestigious conservatoire; she set up a choir in her local church; she did a degree in maths; she spent countless hours listening to Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell and Captain Beefheart and Tony Allen.

This kind of variety was clearly instrumental in determining the type of artist that ESKA would eventually turn out to be, which - apologies for restating - is a very eclectic one. ESKA is the sound of somebody trying to pack all of the music she loves into just ten tracks, and the results are unique and bizarre and utterly intriguing.

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