Hermas Zopoula has quite a gift. He’s one of 36 siblings born in the somewhat politically unstable African nation of Burkina Faso, which has some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the world, and he’s witnessed bloodshed and revolution in his homeland. Yet, despite these things, he has managed to record one of the more joyous, hopeful-sounding records I’ve heard in a long time.
Espoir, French for “hope,” is an aptly named collection of classically African pop music fused with an almost disarmingly playful vibe. Zopoula’s soft vocals flow effortlessly across the plucky strings, the light-as-air rhythm and the delightful sound of what I want to say must be an old ’80s Casio keyboard. But don’t worry—there’s nothing ironically hip about its use here. It’s entirely within bounds. While Zopoula’s sound can be a bit flat at times, perhaps not fully fleshed out, it’s forgivable. Unlike the wonderful and similarly styled Amadou and Mariam, from neighboring Mali, Zopoula doesn’t have a Manu Chao at the helm, which makes this record’s serenity and infectious likeability all the more amazing.
With all songs sung in his native French, it’s hard to know what he’s singing about—the desperation experienced by his country and those surrounding it, or the joy he still finds in everyday life. I’m betting it’s the latter. And if someone from such a difficult background can find the up side to this world, so can we.
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