As I sit in the darkness of the Fugard Theatre experiencing her art to its full extent, all the ends of the strings of information I collected yesterday melt together. Her voice raises goose bumps on my flesh. The drama, the crescendo of emotional turmoil and her ever-present faith is disarming. The only truth Hope chose to share with me about her lyrical content and inspiration is that her music is based solely on her life experiences. She shares anecdotes with her audience that act as interludes between songs, dropping hints without full disclosure. Whatever those experiences may have been, her medium of expression is majestic – and often under-appreciated.
The haunting display of her performance has taken up residence under my skin, and negates the obvious cliché of a statement that Hope made the day before. Because now I know that when she says, “I was singing before I could talk,” there is no room to refute it. Raised in a home that embraced and nurtured her talent, Hope began playing piano and the age of 6. Several musical incarnations found her wanting to be a concert pianist in one moment and had her starting a rock band in the next. When Hope founds her voice, she knew there was no time to waste. What I hear when she sings, is the emotional power of Tori Amos combined with the eccentric whimsy of Regina Spektor, all firmly bound together by Hope’s impassioned soul.
In 2004 she ventured abroad to Chicago and was afforded the opportunity to record a 5 track EP with Smashing Pumpkins’ producer Bjorn Thorsrud. Returning Home, it was not only time for South Africa to meet Shannon Hope, but additionally, to hear her. With the knowledge of her goals and desires, the only person suitable to tackle the job of realising these goals was Hope herself. She has become one of the most hard-working and successful self-represented musicians in the country. Traveling up and down the country, she books her own shows and very often sets up her own sound systems because that is the only way people will hear her talent. This nomadic lifestyle is taxing but Hope is driven by her passion, and a sense of adventure that would never have been discovered had she not taken the first step.
In 2009, Hope released her debut solo album “S T I L L” with her follow-up “Fight A New Day” being released to critical acclaim in October 2011. Aside from the obvious national progression of an artist from one album to the next, Hope feels a distinct difference between the two offerings. The constant touring has opened her eyes to the world around her and has helped her develop a strong self-assurance and maturity that was previously absent within her. In conversation, Hope has a natural instinct to read people. She is instantly engaging, humorous and refreshingly not jaded or threadbare from life on the road. I get the impression that the journey may have started as the path to her goal, but has now become her goal. The road, the travelling and the gigging is now the lifeblood for every note she sings.
Having graced the stages of Oppikoppi, Aardklop, KKNK and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Hope is worth her weight in adulation. In 2011 she was awarded the Standard Bank Ovation Award in Grahamstown, an honoured previously bestowed upon the likes of Chris Chameleon. Yet, as hard as she works and as much as her following expands, too few people know who she is and every time Hope sings she attempts to rectify that.
Of all the places she has performed, Cape Town holds a special place in Hope’s heart and she always finds a reason to end up in the city. Her pursuit of home keeps hinting towards settling here and for the first time in a very long time, she is throwing caution to the wind. With no clear end to her current sojourn in Cape Town, Hope needs a sign that if she stays she will be embraced and her music will have room to flourish. There is only one thing left to say: Shannon, welcome home.