This young multi-instrumentalist is only just getting started

Around this time last month self-taught musician ESSO also known as Sona dropped his EP 23:23. A project which according to him, really began to come together following the single release of Start Again (the second track on the EP) in July this year. It wasn’t until “late August” that all the elements started to come together for him. For ESSO, the process was a “gradual” one. “It’s almost all DIY” he explained.

Something that’s really visible in this project is the raw quality of ESSO’s sound, especially in more heartfelt songs like Start Again that almost sounds like a poem or a letter about a love that’s fading away. The rawness of some of the slower songs on his EP is something I find quite beautiful and serves as a reminder to young creatives, to express their feelings freely without constraints. There is no rule, no handbook – just pure emotions.

Aside from romance, the EP also touches on being held back and imprisoned by your own mind, as well as consistency and work ethic as an upcoming musician. “Everybody’s done time inside a personal prison…I can’t afford to get lazy, so I nurture that pen and that pad like it’s my baby” ESSO says in the first track Tambourine.

ESSO’s EP cover for 23:23 

This seven-track project sees him alternate between singing and rapping on upbeat tracks and slow jams – one including an unexpected saxophone solo by WayV Walks. ESSO who is based in West London takes inspiration from musicians both here and abroad. In a conversation with me shortly after the EPs release, he shared that his UK playlists consist of “Sam Wise, Col3trane and Headie One”, while his overseas playlist varies from “Brent Faiyaz to VanJess and Gunna”. Like I’m sure many agree, he spoke about having what he calls a “faux patriotism complex” when he hears a “British musician trying to sound ‘American’”.

“I activate UKIP mode…this is Britain speak British, but then again I know how much the ‘American’ music scene influences ours.”

This is obviously part of a much bigger conversation about originality and acceptance that the music industry is due to have. For now, we both just laughed about it. When asked how he would define his sound he responded saying, “I wouldn’t go as far as saying I have a distinctive sound yet”. Rightly so, as 23:23 is quite visibly a collage of varying sounds that he describes have “influenced” him over the years. “There’s no one uniform vibe”, ESSO added showing just how fluid his creative process is. No artist should be a stranger to criticism and growth through redevelopment should play an integral part to their creative process. This is something that he’s accepted.

“I’m now experimenting with new stuff, with the aim of refining my skills and crafting a unique sound.”

So, how far back does his passion for music go? The conversation soon took a turn to the past, as he shared that he’s “been involved with music from a young age, learning the drums around eight-years-old” and teaching himself how to play the guitar. Teaching yourself how to play an instrument is no easy task, but this project is an example of how hard work plays off, when the passion for music and dedication to the art form continues to grow. Being a multi-instrumentalist allows him to take full control of his music and certainly gives him more room to play around with sounds he creates. He’s got work on SoundCloud that date back eight years from now. He recalled what it was like releasing music for the first time a couple years back.

“It’s mad. I first got put onto Fruity Loops in year seven and started learning to make beats. I released my first track with vocals in the summer of 2016 and it shocked everyone. People knew I was musical, but I didn’t talk it up too much.”

At first glance 23:23 seems like an ambiguous title. “What’s the meaning behind it?” I asked. “I’ll let the title track of the EP do the talking for that one” he said. Adding that “it’s been a recurring theme” in his life for some years now. One that he “reflects on”. We then talked personal favourites. Tambourine, Whip Appeal and Outhouse Freestyle are mine. I expressed that I’ve grown pretty fond of Tambourine and Outhouse Freestyle. Tambourine more so, as I personally think it was the right track to start the EP with. It’s a catchy-upbeat-bop. For ESSO Tambourine is also his personal favourite.

“I love neo soul and this was my take on it. The song makes people bop. Lyrically, I just tried to have fun with it and I enjoyed making the beat a lot.”

Altogether, the EP has quite a mellow sound, but taps into a range of emotions. It has a mixture of very bravado, very macho lyrics and then songs which are visibly softer, such as melodies like Start Again. Even track three, World Goes On captures the reality of having to let go of someone you once cared for and the thoughts which run through your head, during that period of having to adjust to a new life without them. When asked what he wants listeners to take away from the project, ESSO was very open about his hopes and expectations going forward.

“Hopefully, anyone whose listened has heard my potential. I hope that’s enough to keep them around on my journey, because I’m only going to get better.”