Wistful and joyful storytelling folk-jazz from Mercury-nominated singer
This article is from 2016.
As one of the current title-holders of the 'British music's best kept secret' award (an accolade bestowed in private by a cabal of critics dressed in traditional garb), Eska Mtungwazi's genre-bending, octave-flexing act is an ideal way to kick off this weekend's series of festival closing parties.
Her support act this evening, Glasgow's Rick Redbeard, seemed to be dressed like a melancholy train driver. An odd choice given the disparity in tempo between the two performers, but the contrast served to highlight ESKA's own strange take on folk, and Redbeard's honeyed voice – he should really consider a career in audiobook narration – is always a delight.
Despite enjoying critical notice on each of her releases so far, ESKA's live shows have been the real reason behind her growing acclaim, and her songwriting is certainly the kind that benefits from getting a proper airing. With a smaller pool of instruments and players, the gulfs that she bridges between soul, jazz, blues and folk, don't seem quite so large.
ESKA has a special love for Scotland, having made her first tours as a soloist here before she released her eponymous Mercury-nominated debut album last year. It showed tonight, in a joyful performance that shifted effortlessly between the languid pace of 'To Be Remembered' through to the vocal heroics of 'Gatekeeper''s spine-tingling climax. Barefoot and totally mesmerising on stage, Mtungwazi sings like a storyteller spinning a tale, and everyone from the audience to her bandmates was held rapt. It's so good that, watching her close the set on a gorgeous encore rendition of 'This is How a Garden Grows', it is hard to believe that there has ever been a song written that sounds quite as wistful, or quite as warm, as when ESKA sings it.
Seen at Summerhall as part of Nothing Ever Happens Here, Edinburgh, Fri 26 Aug, run ended.