It's Eska's Time To Shine With Stunning Debut Album
'Eska' is a singer that most will have heard of without even being aware of her as a hidden gem within someone else's woodwork. Just some of the eclectic bunch of artists with whom she has collaborated include Zero 7, The Cinematic Orchestra, Nitin Sawhney, Grace Jones and Tony Allen. This album allows her to show off her song writing skills as well as her just astonishing vocal talent.
Eska Mtungwazi is Zimbabwe born but has been a Londoner from a young age. Her self named album 'Eska' is due for release on the 27th of April on Naim Edge Records and hosts production credits from cult British electronic artist Matthew Herbert (known for remixing Björk, R.E.M. and Yoko Ono), Louis ‘slipperz’ Hackett and Dave Okumu of The Invisible (former winner of iTunes ‘Album of the Year’ in the UK.)
Within the opening seconds of the opening song 'This Is This How A Garden Grows', we hear industrial noises, twangs and sporadic rhythms followed by an echoey vocal line from Eska. In no way is this a negative analysis. Instead, because of the lack of set timing there is that element of surprise, the listener being unable to predict where the musical pathway is heading. As we listen the song transforms, ebbing into the steady and relaxed atmosphere backed with vocals and there is that feel of being taken into a beautiful and natural warm garden.
The main focus throughout the entirety of the album is Eska's jaw dropping and stunning voice. Her vocal range is astonishing, from deep soulful tones to her top notes which sail angelically on top of a puddle of sound. The genre is undefined as she touches on folk, soul, psychedelia and electronic sounds all rolled up into a musical cake topped with a glaze of moving lyrics.
Moving on to the second track 'Gatekeeper', the first thing that we hear is an ingenious layering up of vocals to create a solely acapella opening to the song. Only as we are gradually immersed in this soothing yet strong track that elements of instrumentation are introduced. By the final section of the song there is a complex arrangement of sound which is so very powerful in it's delivery accentuated vocally with Eska almost shouting her lyrics.This brings us back to not being able to predict the music and the unexpected chronology which Eska has cleverly rooted within her music. A distinct quirkiness is beautifully captured in 'Gatekeeper' through the use of whistles, whoops, claps and electronic samples.
Throughout the collection there are tiny little hints of her African roots as it is ingrained in her, which can be heard through the instrumentation and little stylistic motifs within the vocal lines. Eska once said “Zimbabwe is there [in the record] because it's in my parents, and it’s in my blood. London is there because it’s in the air I’ve breathed, and I adopted its culture at such a young age”.
The rich instrumentation in the album varies greatly from violin, cello, clarinet, harmonium, cuatro, skank organ, a glockenspiel (which Eska plays herself) to some more unusual and imaginative instruments such as prepared piano, tubular bells, a broomstick and bottles filled with water. The use of raw live samples play a vital role throughout this album. For example at the beginning of 'Rock Of Ages' there is a recording of what sounds like someone either walking over stones or dropping stones.
When hearing something so raw instantly a song is not just a song but instead it becomes more real, more sensory and alive. It is these sounds which form the basis of this song and which almost act as foundations with the rhythm forming the heartbeat to this powerful song.
Once again the vocals leave us speechless and as Eska hits the top notes hairs on the neck stand on end. This is certainly not an easy song with a complex fabric of rhythm and a melody which is constantly jumping up and down the scale. The lyrics sing 'With a melody groaning couldn't keep my rest' this 'Groaning' sounds out in the melody line and instrumentation which plays along with it unifying each element making up the song and on 'loose her breath' a sharp sound of breathing is added. It cleverly brings a real human quality and added texture to the song.
Another excellent track is 'Shades Of Blue' mainly because of it's sheer 'catchyness'. This could be due to the fact the whole song is one big complex weave of rhythms by using an eclectic mix of backing vocals, claps, clicks, chords, pizzicato strings and more resulting in an upbeat and almost carnival like atmosphere. There is a risk of Eska's lead vocals being swamped by the chaotic structure of the song. This just doesn't happen however as the balance in the production is precise and the use of call and response with the backing vocals gives Eska space to move.
The marvellous 'Constantly asking you if you are leaving me, are you listening' section is so well written it is like candy for the ears. It is understandable why this is getting the acclaim from the likes of Gilles Peterson and Lauren Laverne on BBC 6music.
It is obvious that Eska approached making this album holding no boundaries genre wise. 'Heroes & villains' is a reggae tune with a dub base line complete with dub sirens and her own backing singing version of Marley's 'Wailers'. It comes across as almost a homage to Bob Marley's music with her own style and range added to make it her own.
In comparison there are a number of beautiful and refreshing folk based tunes in the album such as 'She's in the Flowers' which is based around The goddess of spring growth, The Underworld Queen Persephone and 'To Be remembered' which reminds one of Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush with a piano line which underpins this short song, quite jazzy in it's structure. This is the essence of summer in a song, heart-felt, full of nature with a clear message of hope 'showed me those trees you had planted for every love you had..' It is a short song but full of vocal range and deeply rooted with emotion.
It is difficult to see faults in this truly complex work as there has been nothing but praise here. Each element however fits perfectly together and just makes one want to go back and have another listen as another little gem will reveal itself to your ears.