Wandering the world with open ears.
In the interview below, Esa Williams speaks abut finding a collaborator on the streets of Mexico City, selling gas. Esa's musical career is defined by the sort of meetings that can only happen when you wander the world with open ears. Born in Cape Flats, South Africa as the son of a house DJ, Williams now lives in London and has carved out a singular niche criss-crossing the globe on a sort of music goodwill tour. At home, he just completed a run as the Saturday night resident at Phonox and hosts a monthly show on Gilles Peterson's Worldwide FM. But he looks far beyond the European dance music scene for inspiration. Williams has held workshops and collaborated with musicians in Cuba, Africa, Mexico and Brazil. This global approach informs every aspect of his musical practice, from his recent compilation, Esa Presents Amandla: Music To The People, to his role as a bandleader for resurgent Ghanaian musician Ata Kak, to his solo records on labels like Dekmantel and Burek.
RA.704 is a wild journey, starting off in European clubland and venturing through India, Mali, Turkey and South Africa. It encapsulates Williams' lifelong quest to understand the world, bringing people together through music.
What have you been up to lately?
I've been spending more time at home and have had some time to reflect on the year which saw me finish my DJ residency at Phonox in London, release my first compilation on Soundway Records and many unforgettable experiences across the globe owing to the extraordinary individuals I've met.
It's also been such a delight to take some time and immerse myself with my work in my studio, completing some projects recorded in Mexico as part of a new platform, Onda Mundial, which features a compelling documentary in Oaxaca, original music with native musicians and gripping stories. Furthermore, spending time with my wife as we recently got married.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I have recorded the mix at home in London, I used 2 x Technics 1210s, Condesa Carmen mixer, I don't own CDJs yet but I recently discovered that I can use an old Traktor Audio 8 interface with Serato timecode vinyl and Pioneer's Rekordbox software that I use to organise my digitised music catalogue.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
The idea behind this mix was to share some recent club favourites, music from talented friends and new artists but still maintaining a global focus, so starting off in EU/UK moving across to Mexico, Australia, India and Turkey, Mali, France, South Africa and travelling back to Mexico ending off with something new from fellow South African producer Narch and I featuring Saul Gomez, someone I met on the streets of Mexico City selling gas. It's an insight into my ever-evolving musical journey with particular attention to the places I've recently visited and ones I'm yet to explore.
Throughout your career, you've focused on exposing European audiences to vital dance music from the global south. Who are some artists you're currently excited about that we might not be aware of?
This year I've formed my Afro-Synth Band. We've been working with DJ Okapi bringing back South African legacy artist Ntombi Ndaba. My good friend Nonku Phiri also joined us as part of my Amandla Music To The People showcases which we'll be touring more of in 2020.
Some other artists I'm also excited about at the moment I've included in this mix: Masalo a DJ/Producer from Amsterdam who regularly plays alongside his girlfriend Kamma are certainly ones to watch, Tjade and the Dar Dishu crew, whose focus on Middle Eastern sounds have also been catching my attention. This year I've been involved with Gilles Peterson's Future Bubblers project mentoring a young artist Forest Law who fuses Brazilian and Latin American influences with upbeat rhythms, another artist with a bright future.
Can you tell us more about your work with music education programmes in Cuba, Brazil, and East and South Africa?
The music education programmes are extremely important to me. Between 2013 and 2015 alongside the British Council and Santuri Safari was an opportunity for me to unfold a side of my creativity I wasn't aware of at the time, and to see it come into being was surreal. For most of these projects, they had an agenda when I started, but I didn't have a clear strategy of what it should be. The main objective was to make it original and modern, and that's exactly what it's became. I never had any expectations and have only allowed the imaginativeness to form through personal connections, mutual understanding and the sharing of knowledge based on our individual experiences. From Ableton workshops in Havana to the pop-up studios overlooking the beautiful Lake Naivasha in Kenya, these experiences have shaped me and many others I worked with into the artists we are today, continuing to learn and push new musical boundaries.
I was learning and so, I was sharing.
What are you up to next?
A few more gigs, my first time to India and then straight to Cape Town for Christmas, also my first time playing NYE there which I'm very excited about. Spending time with my family, the perfect way to see out 2019 and welcome 2020 to continue the journey.