“The best musicians understand silence”

Nearly two years ago I witnessed Owiny Sigoma Band. Throughout the show, a black woman swayed in an entranced submission to the band in front of her. Later, she stepped on stage and sang in a boisterous but heavenly voice. Until tonight, I did not know that that was Eska. That in nearly two years I would be interviewing her after her first show of her UK tour and just days after the release of her extremely well-received debut album. Another thing, I did not know was that Eska was not far off having a child with Jesse Hackett from the Owiny Sigoma Band, but let’s come back to that later.

On that debut album front cover, Eska stands proud with a princess-like headdress flowing from her head and bristling against the bottom of her neck. However, to simply see her as an artist who has just released her debut album would be misleading, as Eska has been around for a long time, first appearing on the Ty album ‘Upwards’  in 2003 before lending her talents to a number of collaborations.

For her, those collaborations were all about exploring a rich musical world before going on to find herself. Tonight, she is extremely happy that fans and music critics seem to grasp that; “I was aware that some of my collaborations might overshadow this work, I’m proud of those collaborations but this is different. I’ve got 15 years of history in the music business and to read reviews which say they understand my intentions to explore everything before making the record has been brilliant. That makes me so happy.”

Despite her mercurial talents and the backing she has received from everyone from Giles Peterson to Laura Mvula, Eska was still extremely nervous before reading those first reviews, “I was incredibly nervous. You are trying to brace yourselves that people might not understand it. But with the support I have had from my contemporaries, this record seems to have stirred the musical world. But you know, it could still take 20 years for people to understand this record, it could be like Spiderland by Slint but that, that’s cool you know.”

Those nerves were also present in her performance tonight ( this interview is taking place after her gig at The Met in Bury 01/05/2015), which I would rate as one of the best vocal performances I have seen in a long long time, “It was nerve-racking. This is the first time in my life that people are coming to a performance on the back of a record. You know, I’m aware of the fact that people have a great affinity to a record. But in my jazz background, you don’t do something in the same way more than once, so I’m feeling this is the beginning of finding a balance with that.”

Making music in this way is also different for Eska. Usually she pops into a recording studio, stretches her unique vocal chords, packs up and leaves. But this album, this is hers “I have never been so interested in a record, the design of it everything. I loved the process of making this record.”

However, her history as a jazz performer, meant that Eska would have to make the transition from live performer to recording artist, “The exercise in singing this record is an exercise in being restrained. The best musicians understand silence, when to stop. Great musicianship is not about showing all of your talents and your skills, it’s about understanding what works.”



Not only did Eska have to achieve such a transition, she was faced with a much bigger struggle – having her first child. After being told that she could not conceive a child, Eska was declared pregnant and three months before she was due to deliver, she was told the baby is coming; “We got to 20 weeks and they said sorry but she is coming now. I think that we have to take her out now. After this, we heard some real horror stories, but we did not know how perfect she was going to come out, she didn’t even need ventilating.”

This miracle birth saw Wonder (Eska and Jesse Hackett’s child) enter the world. Becoming a new mother at the same time as recording your debut album, must be a tough thing and even the resilient Eska agrees on that front, “Sometimes I think Eska, ‘where do you get this determination from?’ Then I realised it’s my mum. My mum is first generation African British and she comes from a very resilient background. She is a retired midwife and has raised me with a very get on with it attitude. In the pregnancy I was diagnosed with diabetes and she told me to get on with it.

“They said there was potential that I could die, the baby could die, my mum did not shed a tear, she did not shed a tear. She held my hand throughout the delivery and we sang together, we sang worship songs. After the birth, my mum went away and it was only then that I realised the toll it had taken on her.

“I don’t think it is a coincidence that I brought a daughter into this world and will raise her to be a strong and proud woman. I will share in her experiences, and you know, she has very strong lungs, I wonder why that is?”

Eska’s debut album is out now via Earthling/Naim Edge

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.