Ten years ago, Esa Williams moved to Glasgow from his native Cape Town and immersed himself in the local music culture. His impressive technical knowledge was passed onto others through local workshops for Abelton, RBMA and Apple and he was crucially taken under the wing of label Huntleys & Palmers. This led to a residency at their famous Highlife party and started working with Brian d’Souza on the Auntie Flo live and recorded output. His own music touches on similar areas of afrobeat, house and groove, working under his own name and with Prophets of the South (with Ali OOFT) and Burnt Island Sound (with The Revenge and Harri). While his recent move to London remains a loss to his adopted home up north, it marks a new chapter in Esa’s life and his most creatively prolific so far. We’re delighted to present an interview and exclusive mix from Esa, which starts off down tempo and makes its way to the dancefloor, taking plenty of detours around the world along the way.
First, for those who aren’t well acquainted with you and your music, could you give a brief introduction, unravelling the various monikers you are working under at the moment?
I’m Esa Mervin Granger Williams originally from Cape Town, South Africa via Glasgow, Scotland. I’m one half of the Auntie Flo Live show with Brian d’Souza and I also collaborate with Ali OOFT as Prophets of the South.
This year marks ten years since you moved to the UK from South Africa. What are the most important landmarks in that time that has helped you get to where you are now?
I really can’t believe it’s TEN YEARS already. It’s really difficult to answer this question as this has just been an overwhelming ten years of my life and every year it just seems to get better and more exciting. If I really think about it I would say the time I spent in Glasgow would probably be the most important landmark, all the things I experienced , the amazing people I met and, if it wasn’t for Scotland taking me in as there own, I don’t think I’d be in this space I’m in right now.
After becoming part of such a strong community in Glasgow, why did you move to London? Is there anything you miss about Glasgow (apart from the weather) that London doesn’t offer?
I miss the Scottish accent but I’m lucky to tour regularly with Auntie Flo so he usually gives me my weekly/monthly dose – and deep fried mars bars of course. After spending almost ten years in Scotland I felt last year that the time had now come for me to move on as I was getting far too comfortable in Glasgow. I like a little challenge but moving to London I felt it was going to be a big challenge. Since arriving here nine months ago I can honestly say it’s probably been the most productive nine month of my life. I’ve made and released more music than ever before.
As you’ve lived in the UK for longer and longer, have you found it harder to retain a musical connection to your home? Have you noticed your musical styles change as time’s gone on?
Funnily enough, my music has connected more with my roots and I find myself playing and experimenting more with music from my homeland. I also want to discover music from further a field instead of just focussing on what’s hot and not right now. I’ve also seen my musical style develop more instead of change as I love rediscovering music I bought and played a few years ago.
Speaking of affinity to other music cultures, do you have any views on the cultural appropriation of music of African origin? With the recent release of Under African Skies and the trouble Awesome Tapes From Africa had at a gig in Canada, there’s certainly no shortage of opinion on the topic!
I think I’ll leave this topic for those who have time to share there opinion. All I would like to add is that I have the most respect for Brian Shimkovitz (AKA Awesome Tapes From Africa) and have had the pleasure of meeting him. I appreciate what he does and pleased with what he has achieved thus far. Whatever went on with this troubles he experienced is just embarrassing and sad to who ever initiated it.
You’re due to appear at Fabric next week, as part of the 3rd Huntelys & Palmers Room 3 takeover. Do you approach a night of such musical variety like this any differently to something like Highlife, where you’re more in control of setting the tone for the club as a whole.
As this is my 3rd year as part of the Huntley’s and Palmers Room 3 takeover, I’m very excited. This is usually a party for close friends and family coming together to celebrate life. The music policy is the same and thats usually going on a musical journey around the world.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us?
So this mix was recorded in my kitchen on 1210s, done while doing a 100 other things. I just returned from an amazing trip in Uganda and had to prepare for an NTS radio show while recording this mix, which took 5 hours to decide on the music. I ended up doing 30 mins of my favourite down tempo tracks, which I rarely get to play out. The second half is a mix of clubby tracks I’ve not played in ages – apologies for the ropey mixing! Standout tracks must be Mr. Wolf Muller and I’ve included three of his tracks. Check him out and the label Theme for Great Cities.
After Fabric, what’s on the horizon for you, in terms of live dates and releases?
I’ve got a few collaborations this month with Scottish family Burnt Island Casual (Harri Sub Club and The Revenge) and remix for Jasper James on Optimo Trax with Harri as Hillhead Young Team. Then I’ve got another EP on Burek which I’m really excited about. Another with More Music and then an Esa & Mervin Granger track on a very special label which I won’t mention yet. Auntie Flo and I have also just finished a new album, which will release towards the end of the hear and features some amazing vocalist. Then gigs in London and Paris next month, a few Scottish dates and the festival Calvi On The Rocks in Corsica in July.