It’s been 13 years since Esa Williams last lived in South Africa. In that time, the dynamic producer, musician and DJ has racked up a career that any electronic artist would be proud of. We’re talking more mixes than a young Tom Cruise, a residency on Worldwide FM, his Boiler Room set at Amsterdam’s Dekmantel Festival is real journey that highlights his passion for blending rhythmic bands from across the globe together, and he’s played all the festivals and clubs your friends who are clued up on the European scene want to go to. Oh, and he’s playing at the boutique electronic music festival Churn this weekend. Which you should definitely go to if you’re in Joburg or can afford to road trip to the Tweefontein Melkery.
Esa has been around the block a good few times but still gets mistaken for a new artist. I jokingly asked him if he’d done a lot of interviews since his answers in our email exchange had that polish of a seasoned vet, “Yes, indeed, many many interviews because every year I’m the new artist. Which is very funny, but I think works in my favour and hope it’ll continue, where I can also present something new and interesting every year.”
“I’m from Cape Town, the Cape Flats and grew up in between Athlone and Bonteheuwel. It came with it’s challenges at times but I was lucky and had parents who always pushed forward to give my sisters and I the best,” Esa tells me when I ask about his early life. Esa credits his father with setting him on his musical journey. “My late father was a policeman and also a DJ and I guess all my initial music education was through him. This is also how I had my first experiences with people dancing to somebody playing records and tapes. Another person who also played a massive role with my music was my cousin Kamrudien who was also sadly killed on the Cape Flat earlier this year. Alongside my father, the two of them played at private gatherings, family weddings and some of the clubs on the Cape Flats.”
It seems music runs in Esa’s veins, so I asked if he was gifted with an ear for music or if was it something that developed over time. He told me, “I think it must have been a gift from the gods since I don’t see myself doing anything else. But, it’s been a proper journey. Exploring and developing new ideas and thinking it’s something that’ll continue because it’ll mos be boring to listen to one style of music for the rest of your life.”
If you’ve heard Esa’s sets and mixes, you know he’s definitely not boring because of the myriad of styles that he blends together. Esa has picked up a lot from moving around over the years. The move overseas has done him good, even though it’s been a long journey from the Cape Flats to London, which he now calls home.
“I’ve been living away from South Africa for 13 years now. When I arrived here back in 2004, it was in the middle of winter. In Aberdeen, Scotland, of all places. Which, at the time, I didn’t even know existed. I then spent the next 2 years there, working along the east coast of Scotland, visiting many small villages day to day selling energy.”
Even though he was far from home, he was able to connect with the Scots thanks to a few similarities to home. “What was funny is that I felt a connection through the Scottish attitude and language dialect. It was weird as there was certain words they would say, and I’d think “Yoh, did the bra just say something in Afrikaans?” It was kak funny, but it was the best way to slowly ease myself into the UK, looking back now. From Aberdeen, Esa then moved to Glasgow where he got most of his UK club culture experience. “I was really lucky. In the 7 years I spent there, I managed to be involved with most of the Glasgow ‘underground’ music scene. From Sub Club, to Soma Records, Jackmaster, Rubadub and finally the last Scottish project which was Auntie Flo, which was when I also moved to London, about 4 years ago. London has been really good for me since I felt Glasgow was a bit too small after 7 years. I was looking for a change in scenery too.”
“It’s an amazing city but equally scary. There’s no time to waste. You got’s to be on top of your game and most importantly be open minded,” he tells me when asked what it’s like living in one of the modern cultural hubs of Europe. I asked if it was possible to juxtapose Cape Town and London but he said, “I can’t really juxtapose London and Cape Town since most of the time spent before arriving in London was in Glasgow and for me I felt it was a natural progression to where I wanted to go as a person and artist.”
That being said, things are obviously different when he comes back to his hometown. “Whenever I visit Cape Town I always have this positive expectations but it seems like things are moving backwards, especially in the communities I grew up in. It saddens me but this in some way has also been an inspiration for me to push on harder with my goals and aspirations, with a hope that it can have some positive effect back home.”
Esa has been using his influence overseas to promote South African artists. “I’m proud to be part of the movement pushing South African music internationally and have always looked back to my roots for inspiration since I first left the homeland. It’s also been a pleasure to have met and befriended so many talented people who are all pushing the boundaries and sharing the sounds of SA worldwide, with the likes of Nonku Phiri, Portable, DJ Lag, Floyd Lavine, DJ Okapi, Cards on Spoke, Nozinja to name a few.”
Looking forward to the weekend and his set at Churn, Esa is hyped to share what he’s learnt over the years with fellow South Africans, “I’m really excited to finally have the platform to showcase what I’ve learnt and my experiences, how better opportunity to do it at Churn Festival on the 2nd December, I’ve prepared a special set with something unique but also sounds that are familiar to remind us of our heritage as South Africans and our beautiful country.”