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ESKA

by ESKA

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about

Once upon a time, there was a first-generation British girl from Zimbabwe. Her family had moved over to an ordinary part of South London when she was a toddler. She went through life feeling different, out-of-place, someone other. When she grew up, she thought she couldn't have kids; last year, she became mother to a daughter that arrived three months early, and was small enough to fit into the palm of her hand. Baby Wonder is six months old now, and her mother, Eska, is back at work. It's going to be a big year for both of them.

But Eska's story is much bigger than that. Once upon a time, she was also a girl whose parents became a primary school teacher and a midwife. She took violin lessons in school, and was so good she got a scholarship to a local conservatoire. Her talents for singing, arranging and writing got well-known in the industry; she left it to work on her own rich, warm, ambitious, genre-hopping music. Close your eyes and it sounds like it was beamed down from the more lavish days of the '70s; it's not retro, but adventurous, experimenting with structures and lyrics, big ideas and sounds, like many popular female musicians did then, like her heroes Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. And then comes a voice to stop time...characterful, keening, intimate, extraordinary. This is all Eska too.

There are debut albums that shudder, jump, crackle, and flame from the speakers, that are the products of a mind, heart, and talent that has something – that has everything – to say. Eska's ESKA, her first shot into the world, is one of them.

Eska Mtungwazi grew up in Lewisham, her tiny ears opening to music very early. Music was at home in the songs her parents would sing, and on Sunday afternoons, when Eska's father brought out his vinyl. Bob James, The Crusaders, Madonna, Ahmal Jamad, Wet Wet Wet...his tastes were eclectic, but not precious, an approach that rubbed off onto his daughter; her early loves were the soundtracks from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Star Wars, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and a cassette recording of Duke Ellington's memorial service off the TV. Songs of all stripes and shades jumped and swirled around her childhood, each one as exciting as the last, all of them from the same world. It was OK to love them all equally, too; she knew that. She especially loved records with lots of players on them, like Quincy Jones' Sounds and Stuff Like That, with Herbie Hancock on piano and Chaka Khan at the microphone.

As she got older, Eska threw herself into music. There was the madrigal group in school, the choir she started running at her church, and that school violin...although she knows she was an oddity up the road in fancy Blackheath. That scholarship allowed her to be different though, she knows now, allowed her to be something other than everyone else.

After a sensible maths degree, music became Eska's life. She never had to look for a gig; people always heard about her, and came to her. She sang with Grace Jones, The Cinematic Orchestra, Ty, Tony Allen, people who knew she could turn her hand to jazz, folk, soul, world music, to anything. Eska was proud to be diverse, but she always did what she was asked; as a consequence, she never knew truly what she wanted to do.

When someone called her the Queen Of Soul in print – a name didn't mean anything to her – a touchpaper was lit. She stepped back, asked herself what she sounded like, and she couldn't hear a note. She went back to her roots, started studying the records she loved...and slowly, Eska started to emerge.

The list of artists she pored over shudder, jump, crackle and flame from her now. We've already mentioned Kate and Joni, and their templates for complex, but memorable, organic, glowing songwriting. Then comes Captain Beefheart. Ella Fitzgerald. Joanna Newsom's Ys. British prog groups like Gentle Giant and early Genesis. Vocal groups like The Free Design and Singers Unlimited. Choral music. Appalachian folk. Eska started talking about her ideas with electronic musician and composer Matthew Herbert, whose Big Band she sang with, and who encouraged her to record. They put together a huge band of talented instrumentalists – one that Quincy Jones would have been proud of, she laughs – and took over Dollis Hill's Fishmarket Studios for ten days. She hadn't sent the band her songs, though, not even sketches – a decision that may have made lesser musicians get up and walk, she knows now, but these people of calibre stayed. They responded to her intricate, hook-filled compositions with the sensitivity, beauty and dynamism she was hoping for. They're also qualities these songs demand.

Finished in later sessions with producer Louis “Slipperz” Hackett and all-round renaissance man Dave Okumu (singer/guitarist in Mercury nominees The Invisible, and producer for Jessie Ware), Eska presents an extraordinary soundworld, alive with inventive, beguiling instrumentation. There's the water-filled glass bottles, broomstick and wire on a tea-chest on the languorous This Is How A Garden Grows. There's the prepared piano and percussive radiator on the glorious Gatekeeper. There's tubular bells, Speak and Spell machines, vibraphones, handclaps rushing through the air.... and Eska herself playing violin, cello, clarinet, harmonium, cuatro, skank organ, a glockenspiel. On the wordless, a cappella Dear Evelyn, she multi-tracks her voice to make all the harmonies. Add reggae, folk and classical rhythms, and you have her influences all together. On this record, you could say, Eska found herself.

After she crafted her mesmerising musical landscape – the kind of place where complicated time signatures couch radio-friendly songs, like the stunning Shades Of Blue – Eska then added her bold, dauntless lyrics. Ideas from nature and mythology surge through them: from Joseph Campbell's bible about narratives in literature, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (Gatekeeper); the queen of the underworld Persephone (She's In The Flowers); a heroine on a crusade to tear down walls around her heart like Joshua in the Battle of Jericho (Boundaries). Personal stories simmer too: a farewell from a friend to his ex-girlfriend (So Long, Eddy), a thank you to Eska's sister (Dear Evelyn), the death of another friend's mother. Here were individual worlds within bigger worlds, small moments made universal, and a record reminding you of the connections, the miracles, of if all.
Last summer, as the album was getting ready to be born, someone else came along, too. Wonder's arrival last July was after her mother's very short, very difficult pregnancy; Eska had to make decisions in Wonder's care that could have ended her life. She then spent months looking after her baby in hospital, at which point something clicked. This mother now knew how precious life really was – Wonder made her see that with clarity. That meant her record, her life-force, had to breathe by itself too. Wonder is now six months and well, and going on tour with her mother this summer, Eska's sister by their side. It's going to be a big year for all of them.

Eska's ESKA is a record full of wonder in itself. It is a record to pore over for hours, days, weeks, a lifetime. It is a place where you can lose yourself in the details, and Eska's rich, warm ambition. It is a record made by an ordinary woman with an extraordinary talent, spreading her wings at last, letting go, taking flight.

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released April 27, 2015

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ESKA UK

ESKA is the most talked about, revered, internationally known singer you've never heard of! Releasing her first EP in 2013, her critically acclaimed debut solo album is OUT NOW!

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Track Name: This Is How A Garden Grows
THIS IS HOW A GARDEN GROWS
Nations build their citadels, world spins like a carousel
Merry goes around again, history repeats itself
Lovers speak in poetry, prophets use allegory
Where one reaps another sows
Singing, this is how a garden grows

Throw caution to the wind, throw it all away
And leave your past behind you
When it only seeks to remind you where you failed
We’ll reap what we’ve sown
And we’ll be singing, this is how a garden grows
This is how a garden grows

Blessing and anathema - everything we’re handed down
The truth is here, for what it’s worth, deep beneath the undergrowth
Lovers speak in poetry, this one’s painting melodies
Where one reaps another sows
Singing, this is how a garden grows
This is how a garden grows

Throw caution to the wind, throw it all away
And leave your past behind you
When it only seeks to remind you that you didn’t do well at all
We’ll reap when we’ve grown
And we’ll be singing, this is how a garden grows
Singing with the angels

Situations, folks and things
All of it, we’ll leave behind
Singing...

When it’s over, said and done
Got to lay it all down
Track Name: Gatekeeper
GATEKEEPER
Gatekeeper, where there’s no wise leader
There be no brighter lighter
But you keep letting it in
Gatekeeper, here is your read minder
There is a kinder teacher
But will you let them in?

Gatekeeper, there’ll be no rhyme reason
Hopeful the right season comes so we can begin again
We begin again; to begin we begin again and then
Gatekeeper, surely a strange kinder helper to come later
But that’s not the journey’s end
Just an ending but not the journey’s end yet

Like a city without a wall you are open to anything
Lose the government of your soul
‘Cos you’re so open to everything
Well, don’t go listening to the voice of a stranger
Don’t you go listening to that voice

Like a city without a wall you are open to everything
See you flirting in the danger zone
Trying to be all things to all men
Won’t you take your stand when you get hurt?
Haven’t learnt your lesson when you feel it burn?
Fired up? It should get you fired up
Still it’s aching? Fire up!
Got to get to you - get fired on all cylinders, yeah!

You should be a kinder teacher to me
But will you let me in? No
Will you let me in? No

Don’t fade away
Why you have to fade away?
Why you gonna have to fade away?
You don’t have to fade away
That’s not how the story was supposed to end
Let’s begin again, let’s start again
You don’t have to fade away, away
Track Name: Rock Of Ages
My Rock of Ages too many nights I’ve tried
Fighting sleep with a crowded mind
Several days, all through the night
I’m sure I’ve heard the dark angels hum
With the melody groaning I couldn’t keep my rest
With the melody strong, nearly made me lose my breath

Early in the morning, meeting You in the Garden
The look of love and lust was in her eyes, yes
Hid away when she knew her shame
But I too was naked in that rising sun
And You still hear me now?
I wish I feared You more than this fear inside of me
Then I’ll be a witness; can I be a witness to someone?
There’s no darkness dark enough to hide
From You, my Rock of Ages

And would You be all I need?
Yes I believe it, despite this constant flight in me
I’m asking, would You be all I need?
Though the melody is growing strong
Thieves coming out in the night
And they’ve been trying, trying to take me out before my time

They call You Rock of Ages
All Consuming Fire, all consuming fire
A thousand times that I am falling
Will be a thousand times that I will rise
And You hear me now?
I wish I feared You more than this fear inside I see
Then I’d take a good look
I’d take a good look in Your eyes as You see through mine

Ooh, You’re my Rock of Ages
Ooh, my rock, my right, my anchor holding
Track Name: Boundaries
BOUNDARIES
You can count, days will come without a doubt
Still working it out that everyone has their boundaries
So it goes, some grow scares while some grow cold
‘Cos it shows on everyone there are boundaries
Days are fading out, leaving it in doubt
How bold this love is when we meet drought
Somewhere in the middle

Good to go, the faster lane now seems so slow
Put on hold while all of it’s moving sideways
Very strange, you hardly give yourself away
But when it leaves me feeling like the outsider, courage vanishes
It taught us many things when we began
So hard to start again

I’ll meet you at your border
It hurts to think I’d even have to tell you that
Yet you hold my secrets safe and guarded
And that is precious in its own way
Yeah, we share a kind of common language
That’s helped us swallow all that’s tasted bitter
No, we won’t get parked in old illusions, turn away revelation
That’s a part of our design

Maybe like Joshua playing battle drums
And singing those walls down, I’m up for a fight, yeah!
I’m going to tear down all the walls
The battle will keep me at your border
The margin’s never wide between wrong and right
And that is why we’ll have to compromise
Not all things are black and white
Track Name: She's In The Flowers
SHE’S IN THE FLOWERS
Slipped underground
Hers was a battle that laid her to rest
And when her body returned to the land
Seeds of her memory grew up from the earth

She’s been gone a long, long time
It’s all right now, she’s in the flowers

Queen of the shades
Seasons return though his memory fades
She is the bloom that he grips in his hands
Who knew the boy but did not know the man
She knew the boy but did not see the man

She’s been gone a long, long time
It’s all right now, she’s in the flowers
She’s been gone a long, long time
It’s all right now, she’s in the flowers

And he says,
‘I wonder, wonder if you’d be proud
Of the man, the man that I’ve become
I wonder, if you were with me now’

She’s in the flowers
She’s in the flowers
It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right
She’s in the flowers
It’s all right, it’s all right
Track Name: Shades Of Blue
SHADES OF BLUE
Pretty darling
Make me wait, then you call, you’re still home, you forget - will you admit that
This is only
The beginning of ending a sad situation that we’ve been in?
Keep trying to tell me something
Well, your actions have spoken
This heart can be broken but you’ll never know
Think it over
What this love will endure – you’re all I know I want

What am I supposed to do?
Baby, baby, baby, baby
I’m just another shade of blue
Baby, baby, baby, baby
No matter how we try to
Shake it baby, break it baby
I’m just another shade of blue
Baby, baby, baby, baby

Pretty darling
If it’s over then we’ve got to leave it and learn to let it go
This is only
‘Cos it’s wrong to deceive, never knowing will only give me hope
Keep trying to tell me something
Well, it’s so to believe when the point that you’re making isn’t serious
Think it over
So I’ll have to tell the truth, this is too much

What am I supposed to do?
Baby, baby, baby, baby
I’m just another shade of blue
Baby, baby, baby, baby
No matter how we try to
Shake it baby, break it baby
I’m just another shade of blue
Baby, baby, baby, baby

Can’t shake this feeling, shake this feeling down
Can’t shake this feeling, can’t shake this feeling
You’re all I know I want

Take stock of what we have got
Constantly asking you if you’re leaving me
Are you listening? Cos if you’re listening
You will know that I don’t want to be blue
Unconditional - it’s supposed to be
We’ll regret it if we don’t stop to think
And take stock of what we have got
Constantly asking you if you’re leaving me
Are you listening? …
You’re all I know I want

How can you leave me lonely, low?
Still be so lonely, lonely, solo?
How can I be so lonely, low?
Still be so lonely, lonely in your arms?
Track Name: Heroes & Villains
HEROES & VILLAINS
Tongues on fire, speak up ‘cos the prophets seem to have gone to sleep
Make a war on terror? Well, terror is taking its war out on me
Oh, why you gonna go and put the fuel in to the middle of the fire?
It’s ablaze and the temperature is slowly getting higher

We can talk about the heroes and the villains
Here until the day is almost over
We can hear about the heroes and the villains
Here until the day is almost over

Pins and needles shooting up and down all over me
Feels like true conviction, still it’s so hard to know what to believe
It’s a game of smoke and mirrors all around me
There’s a mountain here by me
Do you know the heroes and the villains in this town? Do you, do you?
There’s a mountain here by me

We can talk about the heroes and the villains
Talk until the day is nearly over
We can hear about the heroes and the villains
Talk until the day is almost over
We can talk about, talk about, talk
But the day is almost over

We can talk about the heroes and the villains
Talk until the day is nearly over
We can hear about the heroes and the villains
Here until the day is almost over
We can hear them, we can talk about them
Track Name: To Be Remembered
TO BE REMEMBERED
One afternoon in London you walked me through your garden
And showed those trees you planted for every love you had

All would love to be remembered
How we all would love to be remembered

I texted you on my journey, what tree would you plant for me?
You wrote back, I’d be a weeping willow
A melancholy tree but the roots grow deep underneath
Because boy, she’s a heavy feeder

All would love to be remembered
How we all would love to be remembered

Well, I’m rooted by a river to gaze at my reflection
Find it hard to let things go but I’ve finally turned the page

Be glad you’re not alone
And although you’re not with me, so glad that we have grown
And I’m not ashamed to say, it is you in these words and these melodies
Well, I hope that it meets your approval

All would love to be remembered
All would love to be remembered
How we all would love to be remembered
Track Name: So Long Eddy
SO LONG EDDY
Like passing clouds drifting over
Are the many faces we meet along the way?
Start to feel like you are young
And the colours are in bloom
How they fade too soon
In a breath and then it’s gone
So long strangers, lovers and friends
Like clouds passing over
Heaven knows sky’s going to change
And only burns deep and rich as the sun
When you have loved, yes you have loved

Keep that feeling when you’re young
And the colours start to bloom
How they fade too soon
In a breath and then it’s gone
So long strangers, lovers and friends
Like clouds drifting over
Heaven knows skies always change
And only burns deep and rich as the sun
When you have loved, yes you have loved

Like passing clouds drifting over
Are the many faces we meet along the way?