ESINAM - 'Shapes in Twilights of Infinity' (Feature Interview)
Belgian-Ghanaian, Afro-Electro multi-instrumentalist Esinam Dogbatse, a.k.a ESINAM, released her debut album 'Shapes in Twilights of Infinity' last week on W.E.R.F. Records. With a focus on the flute as the leading instrument on the album, her compositions traverse an electronica spectrum of loops, samples and field recordings that funnel into Afro-rhythms and entrancing melodies.
This debut is an impressive piece of art with so much diversity in the tracks. After starting her solo career as a “one-woman band” sampling and looping all instruments herself to build her tracks, she released her critically acclaimed self-titled debut EP on Sdban Ultra back in 2018. Taking on producing an equally beautiful album to follow up in the midst of a pandemic is no mean feat.
Her depth of musical range though is clear in 'Birds Fly', which begins with a peaceful melody from the vibraphone and gorgeous flute improvisation before we enter a grand, post-rock sound to beef up the song. With a sound that finds a balance between the acoustic and electronic, between the future and ancestral, she captures traces of her travels that give her so much inspiration to record this encapsulating piece of music.
As a flautist and percussionist, ESINAM has played in Marock’in Brass, Kel Assouf, Témé Tan and Sysmo and collaborated with Baloji, Ibaaku and Jaguar Jaguar. She has supported Mélanie de Biasio, Alsarah & The Nubatones, Selah Sue, Moses Sumney and Mayra Andrade on global tours too.
Similar to the wide range of musical angles that have influenced her career, her process of recording and producing is also as eclectic. ESINAM produced many of the tracks herself in her home studio, while others were recorded with her full band, forming of three musicians – Axel Gilain on bass, Pablo Casella on guitars and Martin Méreau on drums and vibraphone – who she picked precisely for their musical identities.
'Prologue' has glitchy flutes that float into a cosmic daze to start off the record, but this turns into a more minimalist monologue backed up by African percussive rhythms in 'Morning Memories'. There's a furiousness to her playing though which can be heard in the afrobeat groove of 'Infinity' and the quick, slick beats of 'Run Run' that flow and sizzle.
She also blends her voice into these compositions like on the beautiful 'Let It Be' which has a soulful psychedelia touch. Her vocals contrast the hectic drum patterns at the end of 'Lost Dimensions', but they take centre stage on 'Deep In My Soul' which is an introspective message to the inner-self, like a haiku or short poem. They bounce over ambient sounds, soft bass synths and subtle flute loops which are warm, welcoming and constantly intriguing.
The vibrancy to her music is exemplified in 'New Dawn' which features the spoken word of Londoner and Steam Down collaborator Nadeem Din-Gabisi. The pulse of the beat is infectious and her collaboration with South-African guitarist & vocalist Sibusile Xaba offers an equally mesmerising gaze but on the more ethereal sound.
With such a strong selection of tracks to immerse yourself into, Ben chats to ESINAM about her approach to the album, how her travels have influenced her music and the importance of her Ghanian heritage.
'Shapes in Twilights of Infinity' - it's your debut album, how come you chose to release it now and what's the message behind the record?
So it's my first album that continues from my first EP. Really I wanted to put the music I had together even though there are different kinds of songs. It's based on loops and cycles of music repeating in the groove that just go over. So that's the main thing, but it clearly has a lot of different influences because I mix instruments. I have more acoustic sounds with the double bass and flute then other songs more produced with samples into electronic soundscapes and stuff. So I tried to find a balance and put it all together like that. And I think it's really me.
You're a multi-instrumentalist but you took up the flute a lot later than some of the other instruments you play - how come you became drawn to that instrument?
I think I heard a friend playing a wooden flute and I really liked the sound. Then at that time, I really wanted to go and travel for a very long time and back in those days, we didn't have a small controller that you can take with you with or a computer. So I was like, I need something that I can take with me and I fell in love with the instrument. The more I was learning, the more I was like, "I can do that". I was inspired by a lot of flamenco jazz and Latin jazz, and would hear a lot more flute in rock and electronic music too so the instrument is very free in how it can be played within different genres. If I had to choose one instrument as my favourite, it would be flute.
Are there any instruments you like to start on when you are writing a song?
Sometimes it comes from a melody on the flute. And then I develop and I search for a certain sound. Sometimes it's just the right rhythm or from a sound that I like and then I try to find a rhythm and melody to then build that up step by step.
Which flautists inspire you?
I like a lot of jazz flutes with Yusef Lateef and in flamenco jazz I love Jorge Pardo too. Bobby Humphrey is really good too, and I like a lot of Erykah Badu which has flutes in her music. It's D'Wayne Kerr on the Mam's Gun album which is cool.
How has the pandemic affected writing this album? Has it changed your approach to the music that you wanted to create, with having to prepare something to be recorded as opposed to something being played live?
Yeah, it was really hard. With all the recording of the album, it was planned to be out before but everything was delayed and we didn't know how to project what was going to happen. We had to find the label and then organise some shows and stuff. So now I'm praying that I can play my next shows! It was really hard to stand by and really hard to keep creating music. I was really not in a good mental place but music is my life so because I couldn't play I was really lost for a moment.
Step by step you find another way to work and I was focused on doing the visuals for the album cover and try to stay focused and positive even though I didn't know when everything will start again. I ended up listening to a lot of different music, more than playing actually as I didn't have the energy to really create new songs and stuff. It's been nice to play some gigs this summer and it makes everything different. The point of music is to play it live and share it.
When you play live on your own, you loop instruments and then play the flute yourself. Do you prefer that setup compared to playing with a band, or is it a different experience?
It's a very different experience. Playing solo is really fun. I am really used to all my machines and my setup now so it's like being in a spaceship controlling where you go and you play and you do whatever you want. But now I have the band and it's another energy. When I feel the other musicians with me and we are together in the group, I think there is a power that is really strong. And I really like that, I can just fly away in that moment and that's really good. So it's very different but I really like both actually.
You did the video for the track 'New Dawn' featuring Nadeem Din-Gabisi back in Ghana. How important is it for you to blend Ghanian rhythms and culture into your music?
It's one of my main influences. And making the video was really good because I could really relate to the imagery of the visuals. Some samples I use are from traditional Ghanian sounds, but then I chop and do something different with them which sound quite far away from the original sound. But yeah, I think it's a huge part of me for sure.
You like travelling around a lot. Are there any places that have inspired you the most musically and any places that you still want to visit?
There's music everywhere and some rhythms really touched me a lot. In Brazil and in South America, there is a lot of African communities so I can see some links with West Africa and the music from those countries. For example, when I went to Brazil I heard Afro Brazilian rhythms and Afro Carnival rhythms which link to the music in Ghana and they are very connected. So yeah, I would say South America is a really big inspiration to me.
What was it like collaborating with Nadeem and Sibusile, and why do you feel collaboration is important in music?
I think it's nice to have other people incorporate their influences in their world into my music. It was really nice to have Nadine as a slam poet in 'New Dawn' and then Sibusile, from South Africa, has a special voice. It's really magical when he plays guitar and I met him in Brussels when I saw him play. When we did the collaboration, it was really good to input that energy in my music and was really inspiring to me.
Have you ever thought about releasing music with Ghanian musicians that you've met when you've gone back to Ghana?
I have a really good friend who is a flautist called Dela Botri. We already did some collaboration but we haven't recorded anything yet. Maybe if I go back, I think at the end of the year, I will see if we can do something and I know some other percussionists too so that would be definitely one of the next steps to collaborate with people over there.
What do you like about the Belgian music scene and what inspires you in Brussels?
I think Brussels is very mixed like you have people from a lot of different places so that's cool because we have the same thing in the music scene. When you meet some bands, and they are not from Brussels but live here, I think that brings a lot of different input to the scene. It's a small city so it's kind of a village and if you go somewhere, you quickly know a lot of people because it's not so big which is nice. In the jazz scene, a lot of bands come from the north of the country like Ghent. So it's cool as even the musicians I play with in my band, they have other bands too so there is a very collaborative scene here.
You can see ESINAM play next in the UK at Rich Mix in London on 22nd Sept alongside fellow Belgian act Nikitch & Kuna Maze, who released their album Débuts on Tru Thoughts in 2020 - find more details here.
Buy Shapes in Twilights of Infinity here:
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