By Angie Lemon.
Photograph of Esbe: Christina Jansen
SAQQARA is the new album from producer, composer, and singer, Esbe. A luscious mix of entrancing vocals and electronica carry the listener on a captivating journey through the heart of Egypt. Middle Eastern grooves created by drums, strings and pulsating bass lines create a rich soundscape for a desert land where old love stories are uncovered, and new ones born. On SAQQARA, Esbe recalls the ancient Biblical prophecy of the blood moon, as well as a continuing interest and interplay with Sufi mysticism.
Saqqara, the oldest extant Egyptian pyramid, was originally built as a tomb to secure everlasting life for Pharaoh Djoser around 4,700 years ago by his High Priest Chancellor, Imhotep. Today it forms part of the Egyptian necropolis – City of the Dead – that extends along the Nile Delta from Giza, Saqqara to Dahshu. The chilled morning haze that first greeted Esbe on arrival at the Step Pyramid inspired the song I’LL FLY, with lyrics opening at sunrise, as a slave woman sings of love and a yearning to escape from her enforced labour with the building of the pyramids.
As Esbe says, “Saqqara, the oldest necropolis pyramid in Egypt, is where my journey back to ancient Egypt began. I've always been drawn to North Africa and the Middle East and where modern life connects with our shared origins.”
On arrival at Saqqara, Esbe was reminded of the many processions that would have taken place as people marvelled as the sun rose from behind this great pyramid. Many of those who gathered at Saqqara slept under the stars as on MY LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDS which blends masterful melisma, perfect poetry, crickets, and exotic birds over an underlying hypnotic groove of sampled thunderclaps and jazz bass.
In Esbe’s own words, “I imagined a young woman dreaming of her lover whilst, with the rising sun, a procession gathers around the pyramid. The Arabian leopard, sadly now an endangered species, would have been both feared and revered, a powerful creature she would be in awe of but was prepared to trust her heart to.”
The sensual track CARRY ME AWAY is dedicated to the eternal love between Queen Cleopatra and her Roman General lover, Mark Anthony, with a repeating lyric, “Carry me away/With arms of steel so soft/I'd swear the wind was holding me.” The soundscape on CARRY ME AWAY includes unusually a helicopter, whose whirring blades conjure up images of our more recent history alongside more conventional zither, drums and eastern arranged strings.
In a geographical region where eyes and hair are naturally dark, the jazz inspired EYES OF BLUE celebrates the allure of blue eyes, considered the height of exoticism, “As I recorded each song in my north London studio, I was happily transported back to that glorious hot summer, with visions of Tutankhamun, and earlier still, King Khufu. Processions around the newly built pyramids, then clad in sun-gleaming limestone, became the location for my own personal film song sound-track.”
Esbe is also a poet and lover of poetry with both European and Middle Eastern roots, reflected in her previous albums: DESERT SONGS - Memories of Rumi (2018); MYSTRA - Songs from Byzantium (2018); TEN SONGS (2019) and FAR AWAY - And Not Crying But Singing (2019).
On the critically acclaimed album, DESERT SONGS, Esbe produced songs and musical arrangements for a selection of Middle Eastern poems from the 8th-13th centuries, including the celebrated Sufi mystic poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. On SAQQARA, Esbe travels further east of Egypt for two uplifting vocalised compositions inspired by Sufi devotional songs: QAWAALI DANCE and QAWAALI SIESTA, acting as musical bookends of SAQQARA.
PAINT THE MOON is set against the night skies of the blood moon, associated in the Bible with the end of time itself. The lyrics recall a broken love but also speak of how the planet’s environment is being damaged, as Esbe explains, “I wrote this as both a paean for a departed lover or something bigger, a plea by a moon saddened at the natural world's depletion by humankind as in the lyrics “Paint the moon red/With tears of pain/You're calling my name...”
Of the sixteen or so Pharoahs who commissioned the pyramids built in and around Saaqara in the hope of securing everlasting life, the Step Pyramid is the only one still standing. Esbe’s musical homage to both the kings and those who built the pyramids will no doubt also be appreciated and aired for many years to come. SAQQARA is Esbe’s 5th studio album and releases digitally and physically through New Cat on 25th September 2020.