This summer, Soundway Records will release Esa Presents Amandla: Music To The People, a double vinyl electronic music compilation by DJ and producer Esa Williams.
Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, during the last days of Apartheid, Esa recalls the immense power that music had in resisting oppression and division. “Amandla, Awethu”, which literally means “the power is ours”, was an ubiquitous chant echoing throughout the politically charged atmosphere of the time – a call to unite, and a call from which this release derives not only its title, but its intention as well.
“Music was a crucial way of bringing people and communities together”, reflects Esa, “and it’s what I hope to achieve with this compilation, too”.
For Esa Williams is not only a musical polymath but also passionate about connecting people through music. A skilled DJ, producer and educator, Esa has found ways of bringing people together and enhancing the talent present -- from being a band leader, reigniting the legendary Ata Kak band from Ghana, or a collaborator with the likes of Tanzanian artist Mim Suleiman, to focusing his energy on electronic music-focused educational programmes in Cuba, Brazil, and East & South Africa. He has held a monthly residency at Phonox London for over 6 months -- bringing guests such as Nu Guinea to Brixton audiences -- while maintaining an international musical footprint, delivering memorable sets at Dekmantel, Atlas Festival, Boiler Room and more.
The last few years have seen a recent surge in interest in South African music from the 80s and 90s, including bubblegum, which was recently showcased on Soundway’s critically acclaimed 2018 compilation Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth Boogie in 1980s South Africa, put together by DJ Okapi. It was only natural that the label looked to delve deeper into the country’s rich musical legacy and tap another of its esteemed ambassadors for the role of compiler.
The result is a rainbow of complementary electronic styles hailing from not only South Africa but further afield, including zouk from Brazil and the French Antilles like our premiere from Os Panteras , as well as Afro-futurism and Tanzanian fusion. Together, they form a comprehensive picture that connects the dots of Esa’s musical journey – from growing up in South Africa, to artists he has encountered in his worldwide travels who have helped develop his identity as a musician.
One such artist is South African icon Penny Penny, whose kwaito house anthem “Shilungu” has been made available for the first time on vinyl since its original 2001 release – both on Amandla, as well as on the compilation’s 12” teaser released by Soundway in May 2019. Penny Penny’s first album “Shaka Bundu”, while a hit in South Africa on its initial cassette release in 1994, it was reissued by Awesome Tapes From Africa in 2013, propelling him and the sound of Tsongan disco into the global spotlight. Fortunately he was already accustomed to commanding the attention of crowds – Penny Penny is also a politician, a reality television star and one of 68 children from the same father -- and his larger than life character is encapsulated in the call-and-response Tsongan chanting and stomping percussion of “Shilungu”.
Also featured on Amandla is singer Nonku Phiri, daughter of the late Ray Phiri – best known for founding the hit band Stimela (whose track “Mind Games” was reissued by Soundway) and his work with Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Graceland album. While pursuing a career in music however, Nonku has never traded on her famous father’s name, instead allowing her mesmerising voice and lyrical skills to speak for themselves. A long list of collaborators, including Eric Lau, Branko, PHFAT and Crazy White Boy, further cements her status as a rising star of the South African music scene. Her song “Sîfó” (featuring Dion Monti) is “an ode to grief”, she explains, encouraging others to embrace “our vulnerability in a time of great loss”.
Loss is also something Esa has experienced personally, through Marvin Ramalepe aka DJ Spoko who tragically passed away in 2018 after battling long-term illness. Having formed a close friendship when Esa relocated to the UK, DJ Spoko’s identifiable “Bacardi House” sound lives on in the compilation with the track “#Justsnares” available for the first time on vinyl. Reflecting on their time together, Esa realised “many things about my own life, the power of being human, and connecting with each other despite our differences in race, colour or religion. After all, no matter our individual circumstances, we are all citizens of this world, coming together to better understand and express ourselves.”
By the compilation on Soundway‘s bamcamp, out on 6th septembre.