Utne Reader Music Reviews: July-August 2009

| July-August 2009

Feeling Burkina Faso
by Hermas Zopoula (Asthmatic Kitty)

The tiny, landlocked country of Burkina Faso isn’t known for its music, or for anything, really, even though its most famous leader, Thomas Sankara (“the Che Guevara of Africa”), was a keen guitar player.

That may be changing as Burkinabé artists struggle to move out of the shadows of Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. A few years ago, the ministry of culture started mandating that local music be shown on TV, and now the scene in the capital, Ouagadougou, is booming. Suddenly, artists like former moped mechanic and Internet café owner Hermas Zopoula are finding themselves on the international stage. Zopoula’s new album, Espoir (Hope), is being put out by Asthmatic Kitty, which normally traffics in indie acts like Cryptacize, My Brightest Diamond, and Sufjan Stevens.

Zopoula brings a whole new musical world to the label with this two-CD set, featuring studio versions on one disc and live demos on the other. The studio songs are luminous and lively, showing the influence of soukous legends Pepe Kalle and Sam Mangwana, with uptempo beats that would find a good home in any African discotheque.

Perhaps more interesting are the live demos, which have a lighter, airier feel. These tracks are a little ragged, with laughing and talking and even rain falling in the background, but the melodies are sunny and warm, with occasional touches of melancholy: sounds you might hear in an African country­side church. Overall, Espoir is a great addition to any Afropop fan’s library, and it’s evidence that where there is hope, there’s music. —Frank Bures

Muddy No More
The Bright Mississippi
by Allen Toussaint (Nonesuch)

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