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Album Review

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Hermas Zopoula is the youngest of 36 children from Yoro, in Burkina Faso, West Africa. His father is the Sissali griot Gouaka Djoua. Espoir is his debut album, the result of a chance meeting, between Canadian visual artist (and Asthmatic Kitty "friend") Jonathan Dueck and his wife Heather while the couple were visiting Burkina Faso from late 2005 through mid-2006. Zopoula was introduced to them through friends and became an indispensable navigator and a dependable aid in times of trouble. A mutual friendship developed between them. While visiting his home one afternoon, Zopoula pulled out his guitar and played them a song he'd been writing. He had hopes of recording, but no plans. Dueck and his connections at Athsmatic Kitty made it happen, and Espoir is the end result. The album was recorded in Burkina Faso, with a five-piece band made up of guitars, basses, a balaphon player, rudimentary rhythm tracks, and synth effects; it was released on CD and cassette in Africa in 2008 and makes its first appearance here in 2009. The budget sound lends some charm to these sides, but the real wealth here is in the songs themselves and in Zopoula's beautiful delivery of them. These are spiritual songs that weave together seamlessly the ageless griot and folk traditions of Burkina Faso with modern touches in rhythms and electric guitars. The backing vocalists act as a responsorial choir to the warmth and tenderness in Zopoula's voice. There is tremendous joy, affirmation, and truth in these songs, sung in French (and translated in the lyric sheet). Zopoula's music, brought out brilliantly in Dueck's simple recording and mastering of it, possesses the sort of enthusiastic optimism that is missing from many of the recordings we get access to here in North America from big distributors and labels. Those productions may have the music, but are cleaned to the point of lifelessness, or added to spatially and dimensionally for North Americans audiences' palates. Not so here. Whether it be the Espoir itself, or the bonus disc of demos (of different songs), the tunes carry within them an infectious, positive energy, a beauty of composition and rhythmic complexity that feels organic, not primitive. It's natural, unaffected, and therefore accessible to anyone willing just to encounter it. In fact, we'd dare you not to be moved by this. Standouts here include "Courons Courez" "Attention," and "Pourquoi Tant De Soucis." The demos are excellent as well. They were recorded in 2008 and are included here to round out the portrait of an artist we are quite fortunate to encounter at all. Espoir is one of the great surprises of 2009.

Biography

Genre: World

Years Active: '00s

Multi-talented Afro-pop musician Hermas Zopoula was born the youngest of 36 siblings in the tiny village of Yoro in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Growing up, Zopoula listened to Malian singer Salif Keita, Afro-pop legend Thomas Mapfumo, and reggae icons Bob Marley and Lucky Dube, all of whom cast a long shadow on his two-disc Asthmatic Kitty debut, Espoir. Recorded in a government studio as well as in his own backyard, Espoir spans four different languages and just as many genres, blending traditional...
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Espoir, Hermas Zopoula
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