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The Mysterious Layers and Mounds in the Mind and Sound of Esoterica

The Mysterious Layers and Mounds in the Mind and Sound of Esoterica

Esoterica
Esoterica

THE MYSTERIOUS LAYERS AND MOUNDS IN THE MIND AND SOUND OF ESOTERICA

Created from a conversation between Kasope “Kash” Owoaje and Abigail “Esoterica” Oghene

Esoterica

Esoterica’s music, like her name, is a testament to the exploration of the mystery within. Raised between London and Lagos, she draws her influences from the environments and the stories that raised her. Combining elements of soul, folk, hip hop, indie-rock, blues and Afrobeat, she has created something that resides in a world entirely of its own. 

In ‘Goldmine’, her debut single, stacks of ethereal female voices are propped up on the shoulders dark, dancing drums, as Esoterica sings of the goldmine of potential that can be found when one finally discovers the courage to embrace the shadows within themselves, in equal measure with the light. 

This is only just the beginning of what’s to come from Esoterica’s mystical new sound. 

Recently, Kasope Owoaje, known summarily as “Kash” met with Esoterica for a conversation in an attempt to get more familiar with the artist and all the intricacies that surround the mechanics of her creative mind. This article is based on that exchange between Kash and Esoterica, and a large part of their conversation has been left unedited in order for the sake of originality.

How would you describe yourself? Who are you?  Who is Esoterica?

I don’t know. I think I’ve been through a bunch of different phases obviously. But like, I got to a phase where I was like “Cool, I know who I am. I know what my message and my direction is.”

And then, this is related, I listened to this podcast today and it was talking about if you have a view, that your view is based on the information you have of the world. And so unless you decide ‘this is how I’m going to be for the rest of my life, with my views, and I’m never going to change, despite the fact that everything is changing around me’, then you’ll always stay the same. The bottom line was this; when you receive information that contradicts your view, you should be able to alter it where necessary. 

But most of the time we just get defensive when something like that happens to us. I think that yes it’s good to know who you are, what you represent and all of that, but at the same time, we are also allowed to change. 

So yeah, I’m in a transition period. I’m really trying to summarise what I understand of myself right now. 

For example with Goldmine, the message I’ve learnt over the years is that there is obviously infinite potential in terms of the fact that anything you want to be – if you want to be an astronaut, if you wanna be a chef whatever it is – it’s there for you. But you actually have to unlock it somehow from your brain. 

So I think that the human mind is a goldmine, it can give you everything that you hope for in life, but you have to figure out how to access it. 

Who I am as an artist is trying to transmit that message to everybody else who doesn’t know. Like, Yo! You should do whatever you want. 

How would you say your upbringing has influenced how you create music or how you express yourself?

Well I remember my parents playing blues, Jazz and Disco music a little bit when I was much younger. And R&B, old-school R&B. 

But yeah, they’re not very musical. Actually, my Dad has loads of CDs, like a wall of CDs. But erm… there wasn’t really a lot of encouragement towards music when I was growing up. But to be honest, I never really expressed my interest to my parents, because I just didn’t think it was an option for me. I didn’t even know that I could sing most of my life. I mean, I would sing by myself in the shower, but I’d never sing in front of people for me to know. I was like, I think this sounds okay but there was no feedback. So I always thought “well, maybe I’m just delusional that my singing sounds good, but who knows?”

I grew up in the UK so I grew up listening to a lot of acoustic Indie sounds. And then a lot of hip-hop and trap and afro swing. My Nigerian roots also influenced my scope of music, with my parents playing Fela and William Onyeabor in the house. As well as Bill Wither and Ben E. King. Oh, also there’s house music from when I got a little bit older. 

Esoterica
“… I think that the human mind is a goldmine, it can give you everything that you hope for in life, but you have to figure out how to access it. Who I am as an artist is trying to transmit that message to everybody else who doesn’t know.”
[image of Esoterica by Wami Aluko]

When did it hit you that becoming an artist was something that you wanted to do?

So, I realised what I wanted to do when I first recorded music in 2019. I had a friend and she was a producer and she was going to school to learn [music] production. 

Me and my other friend, we used to go to her studio after class and like just mess around with no agenda basically. And then one day she was like “Abi you should go sing in the booth.” 

And I was like “Sing what? What do you mean?”

She was like, “just sing anything.”

Back then I used to have this chronic stage fright… and so naturally I immediately started seizing up. She was like, ‘just make a melody, any melody, to the music’, which I did. 

After that experience, I started writing songs but it wasn’t until the end of 2020 that I fully committed, and dedicated my life to doing music. Before that I was like, “Oh that stuff is not really for me, it’s for other people”. Until it just dawned on me, “Yo, you decide what is meant for you and what is not meant for you”.  And right there and then I made the decision that I was going to try. 

Who would you say are your artistic influences? 

Definitely some of my biggest influences have been Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Whitney Houston. Bon Iver is another one, and also Kings of Leon. My faves. I have listened to Kings of Leon since I was like fourteen. Oh, and definitely Etta James and Bill Withers, I listened to them when I was growing up. Asa as well, from when I was younger. Amy Whinehouse. SZA is one. Lorde is one…

Where did the name Esoterica come from?

I have this Spiritual teacher I really like called Ram Dass. And his story is really interesting because he was a psychology professor at Harvard University in the 60s. And he was like the youngest ever Psychology Professor there so it was a big deal. 

He said while sharing his story that “I knew everything there was to know about the theory of psychology but when I encountered an actual person with real world problems, there was a disconnect between textbook and reality.”

He said later on he came to realise that while he was talking to people, giving them advice and stuff, he felt like a fraud because there was a massive piece missing from the middle. And then he eventually realised that that missing piece was the soul. 

Then one of his friends, I think it was Tim Leary, introduced him to Mushrooms. He started doing a bunch of psychedelics for a while, until eventually he got fired from Harvard because they accused him of being a junkie. 

But yeah, he speaks about the experience of psychedelics, about how while using them, you feel connected to all things, you understand the story, and you recognise the patterns of life. Everything just makes sense. You have this higher experience. He was like “I go up, I see God, but then I always have to come back down.” 

And then he started reading about these holy men in India, who had these same expansive experiences, but they didn’t take any drugs to achieve these states, they just did meditation and different practices, like pushing their bodies to extreme limits. 

So then Ram Dass was like, “God Dammit we’re going to India.” At this point, he’s seen a glimpse, but he’s adamant that there must be more to life. 

So he gets to India and he’s basically going round trying to meet all the gurus he can find, and he also gives them acid. Anyway so yeah, he talks about the mind and he talks about how when you reach an enlightened state, you shouldn’t technically be able to be moved by earthly things. For example, if you give Jesus acid, he’s not going to change his character. 

And so he gives these gurus acid, and acid affects your sense of self. That’s why the experience is different for every person, because it’s based on your worldview. But an enlightened being is supposed to be an egoless being, and therefore they should not be swayed. But they are.

So, he was just getting really depressed and dejected about the whole situation and he’s like all these guys are phoney, and these are the people that are supposed to tell me the key to finding the meaning of life. He did this for a couple of years and then he was like, “Okay, I’m gonna leave.”

Interestingly he met some random guy one time after he was about to give up. And then the guy was like “Oh! You should come to the mountains with me and meet my Guru,” and reluctantly he was like,“Okay… let’s give it one last shot”. 

This experience was interesting to Ram Dass because while he was on the mountain, he went outside and looked at the stars, and by his description there was an uncanny amount of stars that night. He said, “in that moment I felt so connected to my mother who had died recently before that.” 

And he said, “I don’t know what it was, or how to explain the feeling, but I felt like she was with me at that moment.” 

The next day they go to meet the guru they had travelled all the way to see, and at some point they get to the top and they see this old guy sitting under a blanket on this rock. And then everybody else is just sitting around his feet. And Ram Dass is just looking at him suspiciously because he already has his reservations. 

At some point the guru looks at him and says “Oh you, you were thinking about your mother and she died of spleen”.

Ram Dass said his mother died of complications that had to do with her spleen, but he didn’t even remember exactly how his mother had died when he thought of her the previous day while looking at the stars. He described his feeling in this moment as something similar to what would happen if one were to put an impossible calculation into a computer and it just spontaneously combusts… 

He begins to wonder about every single logical explanation as to how the guru could possibly know this. He couldn’t figure it out, but he knew he had found Truth. 

Ultimately, through his experiences he came to the conclusion that we are all one thing, one consciousness. But obviously we are also individuals, and so this can be a difficult concept to grasp if one is not willing to accept the fact that multiple things can exist simultaneously and in paradox. Usually though, the rational mind is determined to pick between one thing or the other.

There are, however, some things that the logical brain cannot accept, but that the spirit can confirm to be true. So when he met this guru he was like “oh this is true”. He then burst into tears because he realised that he found what he was looking for. “I’d found my way home” was how he recounted it. 

He described the ‘esoteric’ element of this encounter, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I later found out that the word ‘esoteric’ deals with concepts that are likely to only be understood by a small number of people with a specific knowledge or skill set. It has to do with abstract, enigmatic concepts and mystery. 

The name Esoterica then came about when I started to become more interested in exploring myself and my mind. And the more I looked, the more huge and mysterious my inner world became. Like, there’s no end to the searching you can do within, and so over time I realised that this was something I was willing to dedicate my life to trying my best to understand. In whichever way I can. Be it through music, art, writing, travel, practice, prayer, even exercise and play. All the things that lead me back to myself, and lead me back to my understanding of God. 

Esoterica
“The name Esoterica then came about when I started to become more interested in exploring myself and my mind. And the more I looked, the more huge and mysterious my inner world became.”
[image of Esoterica by Fae]

You talked about growing up in the UK. What made you decide to come to Nigeria?

I kind of moved here by accident to be honest. My mum lives here. She’s lived here since I was a child, like 8 years old. And I had always come back here with my siblings for Christmas, summer, and Easter every year. In 2019 when I was travelling a lot, I didn’t come back. But pretty much every year before that. 

I came with a friend in December 2020, and in January the lockdown was extended in the UK while we were still here getting lit in Lagos. So we thought there was no point travelling back at that time, so we extended our flight. 

It was in January then, so the plan was to book a flight for February. I don’t know why but it was like my spirit was telling me I shouldn’t go, you know. There was an uneasy feeling in my chest. But I was like, “Whatever”, and ignored it.

Then the next day, I went out with some of my friends. We went to Bature, and there I met Yosa. And it was really fucking weird because the first thought that popped into my head as soon as we spoke was like “Yeah, you shouldn’t have booked that flight”.

It was weird cos’ when we met, it was like we entered into the middle of a conversation that had already been happening, when in fact we had just met each other. We were immediately just bantering back and forth like old, old friends. 

At that point, in my mind I was still thinking “Cool, whatever, I still have to go home.”

Coincidentally my flight got cancelled. I was just looking at the universe like hmmmm. 

So back to meeting Yosa, that day he mentioned to me that he works at a record label. He said he eventually would like to “find and develop a sick alternative artist.”

By this point, I was just suspicious of the whole situation, like how everything just fell in line. Perfectly. And then I had a dream which was like at least the first lucid dream that I remember having. 

I was on a cliff – on the edge of the cliff but there was not really much space for me to place my feet. I was kind of on the rock face. And it was really really really high up. At the bottom there was a beach and then there was the ocean. I saw on the ocean that there were like boats anchored at the bottom doing this weird synchronised dance, and then there was this deep horn noise that sounded like the devil and I was like, “oh my God!”

Basically I was on the edge of this cliff and I could not go back. I just appeared there. The only place I could go was forward, but I was only partly conscious that I was in a dream. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you are in a dream but maybe you’re not. Maybe it’s actually real life, and you might be hallucinating and accidentally jump to your death. Anyway, in the end, I had to sum up the courage to jump, because there was nowhere else to go. 

So, I’m there on the edge of this cliff being like, ‘oh my God! How do I trust myself? How do I know if it’s real?’

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I had to do what I had to do. I had to take the leap. So I jumped off the cliff. 

Now I’m falling and I start moving my legs like I’m running, and then suddenly the ground comes up to meet my feet. And then I’m running on the beach. And then I woke up the next day and I was like, “Oh my God!”

I think I’ve had dreams in the past that were maybe revelatory, but I’ve not really had such a clear message that was like “

I kind of moved here by accident to be honest. My mum lives here. She’s lived here since I was a child, like 8 years old. And I had always come back here with my siblings for Christmas, summer, and Easter every year. In 2019 when I was travelling a lot, I didn’t come back. But pretty much every year before that. 

I came with a friend in December 2020, and in January the lockdown was extended in the UK while we were still here getting lit in Lagos. So we thought there was no point travelling back at that time, so we extended our flight. 

It was in January then, so the plan was to book a flight for February. I don’t know why but it was like my spirit was telling me I shouldn’t go, you know. There was an uneasy feeling in my chest. But I was like, “Whatever”, and ignored it.

Then the next day, I went out with some of my friends. We went to Bature, and there I met Yosa. And it was really fucking weird because the first thought that popped into my head as soon as we spoke was like “Yeah, you shouldn’t have booked that flight”.

It was weird cos’ when we met, it was like we entered into the middle of a conversation that had already been happening, when in fact we had just met each other. We were immediately just bantering back and forth like old, old friends. 

At that point, in my mind I was still thinking “Cool, whatever, I still have to go home.”

Coincidentally my flight got cancelled. I was just looking at the universe like hmmmm. 

So back to meeting Yosa, that day he mentioned to me that he works at a record label. He said he eventually would like to “find and develop a sick alternative artist.”

By this point, I was just suspicious of the whole situation, like how everything just fell in line. Perfectly. And then I had a dream which was like at least the first lucid dream that I remember having. 

I was on a cliff – on the edge of the cliff but there was not really much space for me to place my feet. I was kind of on the rock face. And it was really really really high up. At the bottom there was a beach and then there was the ocean. I saw on the ocean that there were like boats anchored at the bottom doing this weird synchronised dance, and then there was this deep horn noise that sounded like the devil and I was like, “oh my God!”

Basically I was on the edge of this cliff and I could not go back. I just appeared there. The only place I could go was forward, but I was only partly conscious that I was in a dream. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you are in a dream but maybe you’re not. Maybe it’s actually real life, and you might be hallucinating and accidentally jump to your death. Anyway, in the end, I had to sum up the courage to jump, because there was nowhere else to go. 

So, I’m there on the edge of this cliff being like, ‘oh my God! How do I trust myself? How do I know if it’s real?’

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Eventually I came to the conclusion that I had to do what I had to do. I had to take the leap. So I jumped off the cliff. 

Now I’m falling and I start moving my legs like I’m running, and then suddenly the ground comes up to meet my feet. And then I’m running on the beach. And then I woke up the next day and I was like, “Oh my God!”

I think I’ve had dreams in the past that were maybe revelatory, but I’ve not really had such a clear message that was like “If you jump, if you have the courage to jump, you will hit the ground running. But if you don’t take the leap of faith, you’re going to remain where you are.”

Esoterica
“If you jump, If you have the courage to jump, you will hit the ground running. But if you don’t take the leap of faith, you’re going to remain where you are”
[image of Esoterica by Wami Aluko]

I know that you also do visual arts obviously. How do you think that these expressions come together for you in making everything?

Something that is really cool is, it’s kind of like linking the mediums. So, Goldmine’ actually came originally from a short story that I wrote which is titled ‘Vegetables. And it’s kind of like SciFi. My first attempt at SciFi. 

So, a character from the story, Atlas, is basically a depiction of how everybody is running away from themselves and everybody is trying to get this goldmine in the outside world, but everything you need is already here within you. You don’t need to escape your reality. The things that are going to help you grow and help your spirit to develop are here.

So, basically Goldmine started off when I started writing about paradoxes and, I don’t know, the song was weird. It was about how sometimes you wanna express something, but then it’s completely misunderstood, because you don’t really know how to communicate. 

To be honest, I don’t really want to get into it because it wasn’t well formed, the thought. But then, afterwards it’s more about the mind stuff. The story, and the way Atlas is trying to escape from her own mind. Not knowing that it’s the only place she ever really needs to be. 

And then I linked both of these ideas, the song and the story, with a painting. Because the painting is basically supposed to be like my Shadow. It’s not a pretty painting. It’s supposed to be more honest. It’s kind of the version of yourself that you’re not… it could be way uglier to be fair, but the version of yourself that you don’t really want people to see. 

And it’s interesting because Micheal sent the photos and I didn’t like them so I painted it. Not that I didn’t like his photos. I didn’t like how I looked in the photos. And then he said he wanted to post them. 

When he said he wanted to post them, I was like feel free to post them but there is one in which I look like a potato. I told him not to post that one.

And he was like, “No! This is the best one.” 

And I said “No, I don’t feel comfortable about it.”

He said “Okay”. 

At the last stage before we were about to post, He asked me one more time. Then I just had this download because I had to address myself truthfully like, “Look at the whole thing you’re doing, talking about “embrace your dark side. Embrace your shadow, blah blah…” You know, the message I’m trying to pass across through my music. And this picture was a literal physical representation of my shadow, my ugliness. There couldn’t have been a clearer parallel. And I didn’t want people to see it because I don’t look pretty enough?

“You have to own this shit!” I said to myself. “You have to also, own the things that you say. So, you want to explore the shadow and embrace all the parts of yourself that you have rejected, then do it. And let Micheal post his fucking photos.”

Esoterica
“So, basically Goldmine started off when I started writing about paradoxes and, I don’t know, the song was weird. It was about how sometimes you wanna express something, but then it’s completely misunderstood, because you don’t really know how to communicate.”
[image of Esoterica by Yosa Nosa]
Esoterica
“You have to also, own the things that you say. So, you want to explore the shadow and embrace all the parts of yourself that you have rejected, then do it. And let Micheal post his fucking photos.”
[the photos referred to in the above paragraph, taken by Michael]
Self Portrait by Esoterica
Art referred to in the above paragraph, painted by Esoterica. Also is the cover art for Goldmine.

What do you want your audience to feel when they listen to goldmine?

I want them to feel shadowy and empowered. 

I want them to feel like they have access to whatever it is that they are desiring. I don’t want my message to be broad. I want my message to be specific. But I want the impact to be broad, reaching unrelated people in unrelated ways. So, you’re listening to this song and it’s affecting you differently to how it’s affecting her or him. But it’s affecting you nonetheless. 

I also want people to be confused. I want people to be like, what am I listening to? I’ve never heard anything like this before. And yeah. I want people to be curious. Like, what else is there? What other sounds can come out of this mind? Cos’ I don’t think that it was what people were expecting after listening to all my acoustic songs on my IG. 

But not to worry, there’s definitely more acoustic stuff. I feel like also, it’s interesting cos I’m on a journey. 

In my life for example. When I was travelling, when I was a teenager, I used to kind of run away from home. I was always out. I never wanted to hangout with my family. I was just beefing with my family. And was just looking for somewhere else to be. 

Then I started travelling the world. I wanted to follow my own path. And it’s interesting cos’ like, you go away. You go so far away from home, only to move in a circle, and find yourself right back where you started. At home. Exactly where you’re supposed to be, with the people who have always had the love and the patience to wait for you to realise the value of their love and their patience. I feel bad for not recognising that earlier. But in many ways, all of it was necessary. The good parts and the bad. Kind of like, actually exactly like the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. But with less gambling and prostitutes.

So, I think it’s the same thing with my music. I’m attracted to quite simple acoustic music and I feel like my strength is my voice. Like with Goldmine, one of my issues is the fact that there’s so much going on, I kind of feel my voice is a little bit swallowed up. And also my lyrics. 

I  feel like that with my music. At the start you feel like you have to show everyone everything you can do. You can add this sound, and this sound, and this riff in the first five seconds of the song, so everyone knows how talented and innovative you are. And then next thing you know you’ve gone really far away from where you started. 

In the end though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the simpler it is, the better. So, that’s what I’m focusing on now. Simplicity. A refined sound. 

I don’t want anything to be in my music that is not essential and contributing to the message I am trying to send. So, yeah. I want to get back to my roots. 

“I want them to feel like they have access to whatever it is that they are desiring. I don’t want my message to be broad. I want my message to be specific. But I want the impact to be broad, reaching unrelated people in unrelated ways.”
[image of Esoterica by Fae]

What have you learnt recently that you thought was interesting or has shaped the way you approach your life or whatever?

Recently, I feel like I’ve been humbled. And I feel like I’ve learned that I don’t know everything. 

And that I actually need to… I feel like I talk a lot. 

There are a lot of things that I have internalised and I feel like are valuable. For example, the lessons I learnt from Ram Dass, and various other spiritual teachers. I’ve read books, watched films, listened to music, whatever. And I used to feel like I’d found the solutions, you know. And I had to regurgitate these messages at any chance I got so that I can spread the word you know, and contribute my little bit to helping make the world a better place. 

But in the end, I don’t think that talking is really the one if I’m being honest with you. I feel like acting is. If you want to share something, like an experience that you have found out about life, or a method, you should internalise the method and become an example of the method. And you don’t need to say a single word. 

So I just want to be more silent. Listen more. And I just want to develop my skills. I’ve realised that what’s most important, and that I should do way more, fall in love with the process. 

I’m coming now to the point of letting things go. Cos’ I just want to let go of everything else. All the by-products. Like “Hey, I wanna release a single. I wanna do this photoshoot or whatever.” Nigga! Go to your room and practise your guitar! Just forget about all the other stuff. It’ll come by itself when you’re ready for it. 

But I feel like I’ve been a little bit distracted, cutting myself up into a million different pieces, and trying to juggle things. But I need to give a hundred percent of myself to developing my craft. Because I’m realising that if I don’t, then I simply will not grow, and I’ll stay exactly where I am for literally ever. 

I mean, I knew that before, don’t get me wrong. But now I like KNOW it, you know?

Esoterica’s voyage and innocent adventure has led her to settle in Nigeria, bringing along with her a style of art that though strikes as new, is already finding its place in the hearts of young Lagosians. Her recently released record, Goldmine settles sweetly in ears of listeners and is already helping her navigate the art of performances as well. Listen to Goldmine..

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