National Arts Festival Review

hot off the press

Written by Andrea Buchanan

The sun streams through the tall windows of the Cuervo Music Room, warming up the fourty-odd festival-goers scattered through the venue. A half-empty afternoon show doesn’t exactly scream ‘intimate atmosphere’, but Shannon Hope manages to command the audience’s attention from the moment she sits behind her piano.

The Durban singer-songwriter has been touring the country extensively over the past year, and is putting on no fewer than 12 shows at the National Arts Festival. The touring experience has clearly paid off: she’s a confident and appealing performer.

Hope sports an emo black-and-red hairstyle, and sips intermittently from a hip flask during the show – but don’t let her edgy image fool you. She’s a self-confessed romantic, and her songs are tender and sensitive. She sings about falling in love, loneliness, depression and dreaming, in lyrics that are almost achingly honest.

Her powerful voice conveys unabashed emotion through skilful dynamics and changes in tone: she roars out a line and then pulls back into a gentle whisper. It makes complete sense when Hope reveals that her main childhood influences were the ‘golden oldie’ musicals which her parents enjoyed: her songs have the same sparkling, storytelling feel as hit stage soundtracks.

“Seduction” is in this vein: it’s a typical ‘love-at-first-sight’ song but Hope cleverly balances between full-on romantic desire and a touch of irony. “You make me feel like the prettiest girl in the whole damn room,” she sings in a purposefully cutesy tone, almost mocking her own soppiness.

The songs vary enough in mood to keep us attentive for a good 50 minutes. There are heartfelt numbers that “require a Kleenex sponsorship” (as Hope jokes), but the mood is lifted by upbeat tracks like “Believe”, and the irresistibly charming “Oh boy”. Shannon Hope definitely won me, and the rest of the audience, over.

This isn’t exactly a criticism, but I would love to hear her perform with a band. On her debut album, background harmonies, drums and guitars complement her beautifully written songs. Hope is not a bad pianist, but she does tend to use similar chords continuously, so accompanying musicians would really push the performance up a notch. I understand why she perhaps performs alone though: in the under-funded SA music scene, it makes economic sense to be a solo artist. One has to wonder whether a band of four or five members would be able to afford to play 12 performances at one festival.

Anyhow, when I walked out the venue into the bustling Village Green, I felt inspired and moved for having heard Shannon Hope sing; and that’s the highest endorsement of any artist, in my mind.

Visit for her gig dates at the Festival.


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© Shannon Hope 2017