"Many Worlds, One Tribe" is Alain Eskinasi's first solo album for Higher Octave Music. It's a late entry from one of Higher Octave's most active artists, a summing up and exposition of ideas the Dutch multi-instrumentalist has been developing for years, and one of the most absorbingly original entries in the field of new instrumental music.
In addition to serving as associate producer for Higher Octave (he spends half the year at the label's Ojai studios, the other half in Amsterdam, Holland), Eskinasi is also a founding member of two of the label's popular recording acts-3rd Force and The Soto Koto Band-and has added percussion, keyboards and guitars to other musicians' recordings, including those by Craig Chaquico, EKO, Shahin & Sepehr.
Where his previous Higher Octave assignments have been collaborations or group projects. "Many Worlds, One Tribe" is Eskinasi's own music, his colorful portrayal of a musical planet teeming with exotic and absorbing sounds of life and possibilities for a better future.
"This is my most personal statement. This is material I have been working on for eight years," Eskinasi says. "As I learned from other projects I did, I applied that knowledge to my music. It is my life's diary in musical form."
More than that, "My style, and the title of his album, comes because I move through many worlds, and from my experience I have found that in the end we are all coming from the same place, and make music to express that universal human quality. The working title for this album was 'The Traveler,' "Eskinasi says." "It only stops in the middle for one song, then it's on the move again."
"Many Worlds, One Tribe" treats the listener to a musical voyage around the world, starting in Eskinasi's home town, Amsterdam, then moving south through Europe to Africa, on to the United States, South America and the Arab countries. His instrumental soundscapes are built by taking dance rhythms from Africas and the Caribbean and combining them with keyboard synthesizer orchestrations, then adding live musicians on various solo instruments.
His musical guests include members of The Soto Koto Band and 3rd Force, and top-flight jazz horn players. Their playing is enhanced with sound samplings of water, birds, chanting African pygmies, even trains rumbling through stations in Paris and Amsterdam.
Eskinasi has such a passion for sound that he travels with a portable DAT recorder at all times, his ears on the lookout for intriguing sounds. "My sampling library is the core of what I do," Eskinasi explains. "I carry 600 megabytes of samples when I travel. Some people are rock hounds. I'm a sound hound.
"It often leads to a cultural exchange. For example, if I learn about harps and marimbas from my West African friends, in exchange I show them about sampling and sequencing. I come back to Amsterdam and go into the studio using what I learned and sampled from their traditional instruments at the same time that they're in Africa sampling and doing electronic music."
As complex as Eskinasi's approach sounds, the result is refreshingly down-to-earth. For example, 'The Calling' is created with the chirping of blue jays and sparrows, accompanied by Eskinasi's conga drumming. "As a kid I'd wake up and hear birds in the garden outside my window. Their songs made rhythmic patterns I've never gotten out of my head,"
Fellow 3rd Force members William Aura added distinctive zither to 'Broken Silence,' and Craig Dobbin played piano on '7 Gates.' That song is also the first one Eskinasi offered to Higher Octave when he came to the label in 1989. "It's what got me signed, and it was also my first attempt to combine meditative keyboard instrumentals with hip-hop groove."
'Serengeti Girl' features jazz saxophonist Gary Herbig on the lilting melody. The title refers to a friend of Eskinasi's, a Zulu dancer from South African production of "Sarafina!" whose legs were beaten by police in the 1976 Soweto riots, and has since then been unable to dance, but teaches dance in Amsterdam.
'River Spirit' was written in Amsterdam, inspired by a conversation he had with another African musician while sitting by a canal. "My friend explained how water connects the whole planet, that the water flowing in front of us that day could have been in Africa two years before, and might rain on America in the future. Water has no borders. I look at my music in the same way."
Although Eskinasi's life is immersed in music, it is not the career he planned. While majoring in biology in college in his native Amsterdam, he began playing electric guitar in a reggae band that toured as the opening act for such reggae-oriented groups as UB40 and Creation Rebel.
He was recording electronic soundscape albums ("I was known as Holland's only New Age artist") and playing in reggae and African bands when he was spotted by Gambian musician Oko Drammeh at Drammeh's African festival, the largest music event of its kind in Europe. "Oko hired me to play in the studio, taking bands he recorded and putting the into final shape."
When Drammeh and Eskinasi flew to the United States to record an album by their African-rooted band Soto Koto for Higher Octave, Eskinasi found like-minded people at the company who understood his world vision of music. He was soon immersed in a series of Higher Octave recording projects, as well as making two Soto Koto albums. He and Higher Octave's William Aura launched a more smooth, jazzy group, 3rd Force.
"No wonder it has taken so long to get to my solo project," Eskinasi says of Many Worlds, One Tribe "Some of these songs I've had since 1989, but they've changed as my own musical view has developed working with other Higher Octave artists."
While he uses musicians from 3rd Force and Soto Koto, "the difference is that in those bands we share ideas and arrangements, it's a group approach. On Many Worlds, One Tribe they help me realize my music as I envision it, without compromise."
And that exacting vision is the heart of "Many Worlds, One Tribe," a recording that draws the listener into Alain Eskinasi's inviting musical statement about the oneness of humanity, nature and the planet.