All tracks composed, arranged, performed (vocals, keyboards, programming), and produced by Esbe.
Trumpet on (5), (7) - Nick Thompson.
Recorded and engineered by Esbe except Someone, Somewhere, engineered by Gary Stout at MasterRock Studios, London. Mastered by Ian Jones at Abbey Road Studios.
Artwork and album cover design by Esbe.
Mystras, in the Peloponnese, is one of the most romantic places I've ever visited, with its ancient churches and monasteries nestling on a lush, steep, sleepy hillside. Once inside the monumental stone structures, your eyes become accustomed to the dark as the walls reveal their sumptuous frescoes and gilded icons. These are some of what's left of the magnificent Byzantine Empire which reigned for 1500 years.
I felt a sadness for Constantine, the last Emperor, when Constantinople fell in 1453 - he had presided over a region stretching from Bulgaria to Greece and Turkey. Byzantium was a continuation of the Roman Empire, which, having fragmented and fallen in the West in the C5th, continued in the East for another thousand years. The city of Constantinople, now Istanbul, is connected by a slither of land beside the shimmering Bosphorus.
This second album doesn't tell a story, but it does reflect some. I see Medieval knights peering through the slits in their walled citadels, olives being picked in the fields below, and pigments newly mixed in little bowls waiting to bring to life some of those gorgeous paintings. Thinking about how I write, I now realise that I have a visual image for almost every song. But, as well as enjoying the geography and history, it's the melodic writing and lyrics that drive my creativity.
Songwriting can begin in many ways, but for this album, a couple of interesting chords conjured up a mood, and from these, lyrics and a melody evolved. I always carefully notate at the time which gives me the freedom to think about the rhythmic flavour. And like most British people, I'm a musical mix from many places.
Having grown up listening mainly to classical music, I revelled in the choice of sounds I could access in this first foray into programming. I mixed the orchestral with more unusual instruments and sampled 'sounds', and also wrote the first a capella track,
having been very influenced by the 'Voix Bulgares'.
The cover art is one of my earliest. In fact the original was drawn on the back of a school book. During the history class, my best friend and I would alternate between taking the notes or doing something else. My something else was to draw. The notes were then copied in the evening. She was inspired by the ancient art that also influenced great artists like Picasso and Modigliani.
Esbe has followed the April release of 'Desert Songs, Memories of Rumi' with the lush and dramatic 'Mystra – Songs from Byzantium'. Again, her eclectic vocal weaves melodies drawing on scales from Eastern Europe and the Troubadours, set against a contemporary arrangement of sampled sounds, conventional orchestral arrangements and folk instrumentation.
Inspired by her tour of the Peloponnese and stay in the romantic medieval city of Mystras, she conjures up stories based on both the known and imagined characters who would have lived there in times past. Sometimes she explores a phonetic language, 'these 'words' just flowed as I wrote - there's a liberation in just singing syllables.', she says. But Esbe is also comfortable writing new text and lyrics, which she blends with a strong rhythmic sense and electronic grooves, all bound together by her forte of classical instrumentation.
'Run With Me' has already been picked up by the folk scene with radio play around the country and on the BBC, but several other tracks will surprise and enchant. Her multi-vocal-tracked, 'Someone, Somewhere', is a paean to love with simple words in Turkish, and harmonies reminiscent of the 'Voix Bulgares'. 'Dream of Constantine' is an emotional, wordless vocal conjuring up the glorious scenery reminiscent of 'Songs of the Auvergne'. And 'Will You Still be Waiting for Me?', which could easily be taken for a traditional English folk song with an orchestral arrangement inspired by Vaughan Williams, explores nuances of harmony and instrumentation, before seamlessly morphing into a North African groove taking the listener to a distant Berber wedding. Esbe's strong visual memory permeates all she produces, with tracks such as the cinematic title track, and 'Arcanum', bringing the distant past to life as if on screen.
This second album was recorded and produced in Esbe's studio in North London, separated in both time and distance from the historic city of Mystra, but each track draws the listener into a world of intrigue, and life, love, and death.