Review & Interview with Ridge Magazine

hot off the press

Written by Garth Johnstone

The Catalina Theatre was an appropriately Durban setting for Umhlanga-based Shannon Hope to launch her second album Fight A New Day, the follow up to her debut S T I L L, which spawned the hit Oh Boy and announced her as a genuine talent on the South African music scene.

With twinkling harbour lights and a gathering of music aficionados to welcome her, the talented songstress held the audience spellbound with her tightly arranged and emotionally powerful pieces, as she premiered material from the new album as part of a national tour. On show were a mixture of new material from Fight A New Day and some of the old favourites that have helped raise Shannon’s profile over the past few years.

A Shannon Hope performance often starts and ends with the (electric) piano. This is a particularly strong point for the artist, and my eyes are invariably drawn to the measured, firm, yet delicate touches she displays with this instrument. A lot of styles are thrown in there, but musical excellence is the one constant (if I remember correctly, Shannon aced her music exams for voice and piano while at St Mary’s school) that drives her compositions along.

The voice is powerful, very powerful, and Shannon’s not afraid to show it off, constantly stretching her range and launching into powerful wails/roars/soulful pleas (I’m curiously reminded of the famous primal scream, trauma based psychotherapy in which repressed pain is resolved through dramatically reliving experiences. . . anyway, I’m sure that’s a huge stretch, but there are snaps, snarls and even wistful laughs thrown into the vocal performance).

The Umhlanga-based artist says she’s enjoying performing in theatres these days. This is often when the emotion and honesty really takes off in her music, and looking around the theatre on the night of the Durban launch there were a good few misty eyes hanging on every word, spoken or sang.

While Shannon Hope often performs as a solo artist (due to cost, logistical constraints or artistic preference), she does also perform with a band, on occasion, and has used a full band on her new album Fight A New Day.

For an artist who vigorously markets her own product and is extremely active on social networks and through her personal website, songwriting is always going to be of vital importance. Let’s face it, when you’re on tour and it’s you, a piano and an audience, you have to have the material required to keep the crowd interested . . . or it’s going to be a case of Led Zeppelin II (again).

While a second album has the habit of being rather tricky, from an artistic and marketing perspective, the material is strong, strong enough to grab the attention for a one-hour show, and I’m pleased to declare that the new album has some really powerful tracks on it. The title number Fight A New Day, Believe, which has been announced as the main single off the album, and I Want You stood out, as did the curious, Lily Allen-esque Happy Song. Just be prepared for an emotional journey. Shannon’s songs, while not necessarily sad, do tend to hit you where you feel it the most.

Talking about influences, I’m taking a wild guess here, but I’d guess Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, Carole King and said Allen could be influences, but as with many top artists, Shannon’s got that something special, which makes her a little unique in the world of music.

Check out the album, it’s available at all good record stores, or see the website:

Q&A with Shannon Hope

Q: What’s your response to people who suggest your material is really sad / emotional? Do you get that line from quite a few people?

A: “My songs deal so honestly with real life and emotions, and I think people often mistake honesty for sadness, but the message behind most of what I write is a positive one, or at the very least a cathartic one (sometimes it’s just hidden a little deeper). My songwriting and headspace has changed since my first album though, and on the new album, the message is more clearly positive, so the response on the whole has changed slightly. I think things are a little more balanced now between the two records.”

Q: Any notable influences for your music?

A: “When I was writing the new album, I was listening to a lot of Regina Spektor, The Fray, Fiona Apple, Angus & Julia Stone, Mumford & Sons… I don’t know if any of that actually reflects on the album though and I listen to so much music all the time (some very far removed from what I do), but I think the combination of that and my classical background, and the session musicians I work with (each with their own influences and backgrounds) shape the sound of the albums that I produce. I think Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette are probably in there somewhere because I grew up listening to them on repeat through high school, which is when my songwriting started taking shape.”

Q: Some of your favourite gigs or venues over the years?

A: “The most notable venue thus far would have to be The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, where I did the Fight A New Day Cape Town launch. That was a dream come true show for me and I’m really looking forward to playing there again in the new year. The Catalina Theatre in Durban was also a beautiful space to perform in. I’m really enjoying performing in a theatre setting as it serves the music beautifully and allows me to really concentrate on performance and delivery. There are a few festivals that I look forward to every year – National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Aardklop, Oppikoppi, White Mountain and Splashy Fen.”

Q: Plans for the first half of 2012?

A: “I’m writing some new material in January before touring kicks off again in February to promote the album, and it looks like I’ll be on the road for the majority of the year again, with the potential for some overseas touring a bit later in the year. I’m hoping to get back into studio to record an acoustic album, and I’m planning some exciting collaborations with a few artists – possibly an orchestra – so loads of cool things to keep me out of trouble.”


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