Esinam Dogbatse is an Afro-Electro multi-instrumentalist based in Brussels whose self-titled debut EP emerged on Sdban Ultra Records in 2018. She has an impressive track record, having played in Marock’in Brass, Kel Assouf and Témé Tan, as well as collaborating with Baloji, Ibaaku and Jaguar Jaguar, and supporting such diverse artists as Mélanie de Biasio, Alsarah & The Nubatones, Moses Sumney and Mayra Andrade on tour.
Shapes is her full-length debut, recorded partly with her band at Beersel’s Studio Pyramide and partly solo at her own studio in the Belgian capital, and features guest vocals by London poet Nadeem Din-Gabisi and South African singer-songwriter Sibusile Xaba.
Prologue’s spoken introduction ushers in an ethereal melding of flute, keyboards and studded percussion, offering sounds ranging from psychedelic to jazz. The flute leads on Morning Memories, whose recordings from Ghana’s Sukura neighbourhood include distant chanting and resonant drum sounds, while New Dawn, a musical rendering of a poem by Din-Gabisi, retains the flute against an intricate rhythm before deferring to the writer’s spoken passages.
Let It Be, the first track from the Pyramide sessions, changes the mood, the flute being accompanied by conventional backing vocals, slow, repeating double-bass lines from Axel Gilain and Pablo Casella’s playful guitar chords, while Lost Dimensions switches to a highlife groove, Casella’s cascading guitar moving to back Esinam’s busy flute and dreamy vocals against a rhythmic storm from Gilain and drummer Martin Méreau.
Other highlights include Deep In My Soul, which again shows off the artist’s singing voice, the sparkling Moog and vibes sounds of Birds Fly, and Flowing River, which sees Xaba’s African-language vocals and delicately plucked guitar providing a great foil for more mellow flute music. Finally, Epilogue again showcases the artist’s spoken poetry, as discordant-yet-sweet flute passages soar over a rumbling rhythm before gentle guitar power chords plunge the piece into a rock sensibility via frantic guitar picking, the drums and bass taking off with a vengeance before the flute calls time.
To conclude, this is a well-written, tightly produced and superbly performed collection of self-penned songs whose solo and studio aspects juxtapose to provide the perfect contrast. The oft-used expression pot pourri is spot-on when applied to this album, which mixes traditional/ancestral with future sounds and acoustic with electronic, while adding jazz, blues, rock and hip-hop inflections, yet retaining the omnipresent cool vibe of the flute. Extraordinary and highly recommended.
Prologue; Morning Memories; New Dawn; Let It Be; Lost Dimensions; Deep In My Soul; Birds Fly; Infinity; Run Run; Flowing River; Epilogue (49.36)
Esinam (v, f, kyb, pc); Nadeem Din-Gabisi (v, 3); Sibusile Xaba (v, g, 9); Pablo Casella (g); Axel Gilain (syn, b); Martin Méreau (vib, d). Beersel and Brussels, Belgium, 2021.
W.E.R.F. Records 185CD