HUMAN is the latest song from the London-based artist…
ECKOES and is, as she states, “… a celebration & a warning & a promise. The world is in a mental place at the moment; Nina Simone said “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times” – I didn’t consciously set out to write something so incredibly relevant right now, but your creative brain is a crafty beast, a step ahead of you sometimes.” I talk to her about its inception and whether we will see any new material later this year. The Nigerian-born songwriter discusses her heritage and how her African roots influence her music. I am interested in comparisons (others have made) to Chaka Khan and FKA Twigs – whether those two names inspired any part of Human. ECKOES samples, in Human, Maya Angelou’s poem (and reading), I Am Human. Getting the rights was not plain-sailing so she talks about the process behind that. ECKOES looks back at her debut single, Valentine, and what it was like getting a nod from the MOBO Awards. In a fearful and odd time for humanity; I was curious to know what role artists play and what her impressions are; whether her genre-splice approach is why her music is so fresh – and the artists we should be keeping our ears on.
Hi ECKOES. How are you? How has your week been?
Great, thanks! I’m still buzzing from the Human launch (and party) last week
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a vocalist and musician from North London making new music, really.
Human is quite a common title for a song but you manage to write something new – reflecting on the time we live in. Can you tell me more about the song and inspiration behind it?
The song started with just me: how I’m feeling as a young black woman and the really exciting #blackgirlrocks movement coming across from the U.S.
I grew up trying to hide my differences so I wouldn’t be weird. I’m so joyful that little girls growing up now have the role models and pride in their skin that I didn’t necessarily have.
Then, it grew into the wider message that we need to treat each other better; we’re all of equal worth. Every statistic is made out of individuals – real people, humans. Across the board, people have fought and are fighting very hard for things that should be their due. I’m saying that we all refuse to go back to a time of accepting anything and saying nothing.
The track has melodic/soulful sensibilities of Chaka Khan and the inventive threadwork of FKA Twigs. Were you channelling these artists during the song? Did you have any artists in mind when creating the song?
I had absolutely no one in mind when I was writing it but artists I love will invariably influence my style. Both Chaka and FKA are strong and fearless women which is something I really respect – so if I’m channelling them, that’s awesome.
At its centre, Human samples Maya Angelou’s reading of I Am Human. Are you a big fan of Angelou’s work? Was it hard getting permission to include the poem in the song?
I’m a huge fan of everything she did and stood for but the Maya Angelou excerpt was almost random – a magical cosmic alignment. The song was already titled Human when Dee and I were listening to some Maya Angelou spoken poems – and were stopped by something she said. We looked up at the title of the poem we were listening to and it was called I Am Human. Now if that is not a sign, I don’t know what it is! So, we threaded her narrative through mine.
Getting permission and rights was not easy! I had no idea where to start. I did some research and contacted her family estate in the U.S. who have to approve every use of her work and voice – and was ecstatic to get their blessing; then went to their lawyers. Now, that’s for permission to use the words.
I then found out that the audio recording itself was owned by Oprah Winfrey! I thought there was not a snowflake’s-chance-in-Hell that I’d even get a reply but wrote off to the network anyway – because I’d come this far. They were so lovely! It blew me away that they really liked the song.
Their main concern was permission from Maya Angelou’s estate. Once I proved that, there were obviously a tonne of legal documents and contracts to sign (with the West Coast working day being the middle of our night!) but they were really on my side. It’s one of those things that looks impossible at the start, especially as I’m a team of one, but I was determined to make this little piece of art – and I think people sensed the positivity behind that.
Is it strangely inspiring being an artist given what is happening in the world or quite frightening? What are your impressions of what is going on around the globe?
It’s both. I’d prefer inspiration from more positive environments, I’m not going to lie, but there is a lot to question at the moment, which is a good thing. There have always been bad things going on in the world, but our interconnectivity means we see more of them and less can be hidden from us – although there are more sands than ever in which to bury your head. Distraction tactics. If as an artist you are not expressing your truth, which is a reflection of what you’re living, what’s the point?
Change will always scare people: the problem is that people in or with power will manipulate people’s fears to elevate themselves. For example, who campaigns so violently for Brexit yet doesn’t have a plan for their own success? That’s someone doing it to further themselves, not the cause, or they would not only have thought that far ahead. But the end plan would have been central to their motivation. It’s not all bad, though: there’s so much to be proud of and huge leaps forward in some areas. It’s a time for growth if we grab it.
I have interviewed a few musicians who have Nigerian roots and they all say the same thing: how influential their culture and lineage is to their beliefs and music. Is that true of you? How vital are your African roots?
I’m a funny mix – I apologise too much but I over-season my food. I’m a hybrid: blood Nigerian and culturally British.
The thing is, all I learnt of my culture through the education system was slavery; so I kicked against it. This was a fault of theirs and a fault of mine – for not exploring further – so now I’m so excited to bring my heritage into my music (and show it off as something I’m so proud of).
Your debut single, Valentine, gained huge praise – used by Kevin Spacey for 24-Hour Party People. It gained backing from the MOBO Awards. What was that like to get that sort of recognition from your first single?
You literally never know if anyone will like your music! It’s incredible when people you respect take notice of you and give you a nod. I’ve watched the MOBO‘s since I can remember.
I was in the pub when Afropunk published the premiere of Valentine and it flashed up on my phone. I remember thinking ‘this is mad’.
I look around music and find the most impressive and inventive artists are those unsigned or away from the mainstream. What is your impression of the current music scene?
There’s a freedom that comes from being unsigned that I think shows in the music. It’s the whole dancing-like-no one’s-watching thing.
But, music is amazing right now. There is little to no excuse for you to not find your tribe today. People are down on ‘Pop’ music but it’s doing what Pop music needs to do! Yes, the mainstream favours a particular type of music but we’re lucky now that we can reach people who are looking for something different. If you go to a Greek restaurant every day, but you hate Greek food, you’re going to start thinking you hate all food. You don’t: you’re just in the wrong place.
Can we expect any new material later this year from you?
Yep! I’m so proud of the singles I have coming out in the next months. Little bursts of who I am in each song.
I know you have a couple of dates coming up in May – The Finsbury on 12th; Bristol’s Vegfest on 20th. Any more touring plans to follow?
A tour will be further down the line, but for now, I’m mainly playing in London then festivals over summer.
I know you restlessly splice genres and test the water. Do you think that is the key your success? Should more artists take this approach to music?
Part of the reason I go by ECKOES is because I believe we are an echo of everything we absorb through our lives – filtered through our individual system. I intersect genres because I picked up a little Missy Elliot here, a little James Blake there; mashed it all together and this is my fingerprint. Every artist has to find their own way but exciting things happen when you’re not tied down to any one label.
If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?
Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morrisette. I had never heard pain sung so beautifully and honestly before. It stilled me. The hidden a cappella track at the very very end? That is raw emotion.
Michael Jackson’s HIStory. How many incredible songs can come out of one human being? It’s almost ridiculous what he created and achieved.
Paul Simon (and Ladysmith Black Mambazo) – Graceland. My dad would play the video of their concert in Zimbabwe every weekend.
Their harmonies and lyrics are just so powerful and beautiful; from a time of so much pain. It taught me that music is a force of nature.
Who are the new artists you recommend we investigate?
I saw White Kite play at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney and they blew me away.
I was going to say Lyves, who I adore, but I saw that she’s supporting Coldplay this year so maybe I’m just late to that party!
Have you any advice for songwriters coming through at the moment?
Go easy on yourself. If you feel you have nothing to say right now put down your instrument and go do something – live things – then see what’s stuck with you.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Party Next Door’s Not Nice is the song at the moment that can get me out of any funk and make me dance. I just love it!