My introduction to 'Desert Songs'
I first became interested in the literary heritage of the Middle East when I read that the European troubadours shared a tradition with Bedouin poet travellers. I'd always been intrigued by the Troubadours – the freedom and romanticism. Reading more about the era and examples of poetry – in English translations – I was struck by the resonance of their themes and timeless connection with contemporary thought and life experience. With two day passes to the British Museum, I pored through various almost forgotten translations of Ibn Sa'id, Jamil of Udhra, and the most famous of all today, Jalaluddin Rumi – the most widely read poet in America.. The earliest date from around the 9th Century, whilst Rumi, the mystic Sufi poet from Afghanistan who lived most of his life in Turkey was born in the C13th. The Rumi poems are taken from 'Words of Paradise', a book of new interpretations of Rumi by friend, Raficq Abdulla. This album is my homage to the region, its poets and our own literary past.
Unlike most of my other writing, the text very much arrived first, being existing poems. But as always the music itself is a Neo-Classical – Psych-Folk fusion. As many of the poems are written in a prose style, the approach is probably more classical and there are only a few standard verse-chorus structures, although the melodies repeat in a similar and familiar way. I've never overly analysed the harmonic progressions and scales, but have always been drawn to rich close harmonies and lyrical Middle Eastern/ East European music and love Russian and French composers. Vocally, I'm drawn to Early Music, in particular Dowland, and somehow feel a little part of the British song-writing tradition. We're lucky to be living at a time when we can hear so many styles of music, and on this album there are glimpses of those I've heard. A very special recent one was when a group of local musicians were hastily assembled for an impromptu courtyard gig when I was cycling in Macedonia.
I recently realised that whilst writing there's always an accompanying visual image, perhaps of the people, or scene – just like a sketchy memory of somewhere I've actually been. I've included a few illustrations of these as simple line drawings - the CD cover is 'I Just Retrace Your Wake' from the last line of 'Burning Lips'. Beneath two other lyrics, 'Rise Anew Like Green Shoots' portrays little sapling fingers reaching out to the sun and the forlorn girl in 'I Long for Night' sits, bereft, beside a pillar, lost in thought, solitary in her private courtyard. One of my favourite eras is the Art Nouveau and the wonderful illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley. Although I can't attain such detail, I love to explore simple flowing lines – in fact, all my art begins with the natural flow of a pencil.
Esbe is a composer, producer, and singer from London. Her music is an eclectic blend of many influences, from her pure classical roots, but uniquely drawing on contemporary, world music and film scoring. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, where she gained an LRAM and won the prestigious 'Julian Bream Prize for Guitar', Esbe performed as a guitarist and singer in concerts around the UK. She particularly enjoyed singing Dowland and other early composers and this soon developed into composition and setting poetry to music. As the first collection of songs, which were only performed live, were heavily influenced by North African and Middle Eastern music, she engaged a line-up of musicians to reflect this. The group was named 'Shai', meaning 'gift' in Hebrew, reflecting her part Jewish/Arabic origins. An ongoing interest in 'World Music' then took her to India, and on her return Esbe wrote songs in homage to Qawaali singers – the great Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan being a particular favourite - which she performed with British Indian musicians.
An association with several recording studios, brought a variety of work from string arrangements to session work as both vocalist and guitarist. And she has always taught classical guitar privately, coaching students to Grade Eight and Diploma level. Five years ago, she developed the rare and debilitating condition of Musicians' Focal Dystonia. This affects just 3% of musicians, and there is no cure. Although there is a great sadness at losing the ability to play, the time she would have spent practising was used to pursue an art career alongside her studio recording. She exhibits with galleries and at art fairs around the UK, mainly working with glass, with a style influenced by Pop Art and Art Deco, and these can be seen in the elegant line drawings she created for the album art work.
Esbe has composed and recorded a great variety of music, each project with its own inventive mix of styles, and she has just completed a similarly unusual set of songs for an animation film. Esbe's musical influences are drawn from the classical world where she began her creative life, and arrangements and orchestrations display this. But, intriguingly, she is equally happy to encompass flavours from around the world. As well as writing her own lyrics, Esbe has set an eclectic choice of poems, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to the nonsense poet Mervyn Peake. And for the album, Desert Songs, she chose a selection of 8th – 13th century Middle Eastern poets, in English translation.
Composer and singer, Esbe, has produced an album featuring lush cinematic strings, delicate Early Music arrangements and Arabic scales. These arrangements, combined with her clear and resonant vocal style, bring together this eclectic mix to celebrate the musical and historic influences of the poetry she has set to music of the renowned Sufi mystic poet, Jalaluddin Rumi (b1207). Esbe first became interested in the literary heritage of the Middle East when she read that the European troubadours took their tradition from Bedouin poet travellers. And so, she began reading English translations of these poems, some from as early as C9th Iraq, and she was struck by the resonance of their themes and their timeless connection with contemporary thought and life experience. The Rumi poems are taken from “Words of Paradise”, a book of reinterpretations by Raficq Abdulla. Born in South Africa of Muslim parents, Raficq Abdulla is an Oxford-educated barrister, as well as a writer, public speaker, and broadcaster. He was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his interfaith work between Muslims, Jews and Christians. The poems of Jalaluddin Rumi have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him allegedly the most popular poet in the US.
Desert Songs” is Esbe’s musical homage to the region, its poets and our own literary past.
This project is the first of four distinct new album projects that will be appearing throughout this year, bringing the work of this multifaceted composer, singer, musician, producer and artist to the outside world.