Hermas Zopoula, Espoir
Christian-themed soukous with depths of weirdness from Sufjan's label
I can think of at least three distinct ways to approach the Christian- themed, soukous-inspired music of multilingual Burkina Faso singer- songwriter Hermas Zopoula. You could start with "Wend Nana Dounia," the first track on this double album consisting of discs of electric and acoustic music, respectively. Like most of these songs recorded in a government studio, "Wend Nana Dounia" combines sober Christian rhetoric ("Called to praise God, young people would rather adore ephemeral and useless passions!" goes one inspirational lyric) with bubbling guitars, '80s synthesizer voicings and a drum machine. For better or worse, Zopoula's song-oriented soukous style never quite takes off into the ethereal realms of the great Congolese dance music from whence it derives.
That being the case, you might also make Mr. Zopoula's acquaintance by downloading "Companion de Route," the first of eight homemade acoustic demos and the better to appreciate this Air Burkina translator's truly sweet voice and unadorned acoustic guitar. Birds, wind, bicycles, motorbikes and other ambient sounds both challenge his performances and lend them the sort of undeniable DIY authenticity that helped him land on Sufjan Stevens's Asthmatic Kitty label.
Anyone who finds Zopoula's music a tad too safe, however, is strongly urged to jump directly to the album's title track, "Espoir" (Hope). Hermas made the odd yet tantalizing decision to electronically transform his vocal into what is apparently supposed to be the voice of a child for his dour account of life as an orphan. The track suggests that weird depths to Zopoula's earnest esthetic remain to be explored.