Maija Sofia makes the most of island life during her time in Cobh 

The Galway singer-songwriter has tuned into the Co Cork town's links to huge historical events during her time as artist-in-residence at Sirius 
Maija Sofia makes the most of island life during her time in Cobh 

Maija Sofia.

The music of Galway singer-songwriter Maija Sofia is steeped in melancholia and history, drawing on the folk idiom and punk’s DIY ethic.

That same sense of melancholy seems to be aptly equipped, then, for a winter residency at Cobh’s Sirius Arts Centre, amid the current circumstances. Spending three months, including the current lockdown, within 5k of the former yacht club.

“It’s an incredible building,” she says of Sirius, “in a town that has a strange, quite tragic history, but also, a lot to work with. I had heard a few ghost stories about the centre - who knows what it means to be haunted? - but it is a 300-year-old building on a site with a vast history. Without going into too much detail, it is extremely, extremely haunted.”

Her residency was focused on writing and researching “digital intimacy, female experience and how the figure of the witch has found a renewed interest in online spaces”.  

Great Island, on which Cobh is located, ended up informing Maija’s work while she was there, referring to the area on social media as a “midpoint of land and water”.

“I guess the most inspiration I got was being so near to the sea. I’m writing a lot about the sea at the moment, so literally living on a pier, the water being a metre or two away from where I was sleeping, that filtered into my work in so many ways, both in terms of recording, and writing about being in an ‘in-between’ place.

“I was thinking about history, haunting, and the sea. I know that all sounds disparate, but they have made my way into work in various ways. Writing songs, but also some more ambient work.” 

Having seen a framed photo of the near Heartbreak Pier in the lobby of the WatersEdge Hotel, Maija set out to explore its place in local history, as the local departure point for the ill-fated Titanic.  

Heartbreak Pier in Cobh.
Heartbreak Pier in Cobh.

The result is ‘Not of Longing, but of Light’, a multidisciplinary audio and text piece that functions as a diary of her time at the centre. Its ambient feel comes from field recordings made near the pier over lockdown, at once capturing its stillness and atmosphere, while catching the sounds of the area as the Covid crisis was being felt by the local community.

“The idea came to me as I discovered the pier and learned more about it, and it was right beside me. There’s a little park between the pier and the Sirius building, so I was walking there every day, and I was looking around and listening.

“There were so many sounds there, and I was thinking about how so much of history is commodified - in Ireland at large - we have a weirdly dark history, but the same tragedy gets sanitised into a safe and friendly version. Things like the Titanic and the Lusitania. I wanted to acknowledge these histories without making them into a commodity.

“I thought of the tradition of the minute’s silence, recorded a minute’s silence, full of the birds, the sea, children playing one of the days. I wanted to hold space for the tragedy that occurred, while acknowledging life continuing on.” 

Like many Irish artists, Maija has found herself having to make the best of lockdown, including livestreaming with Other Voices’ Courage series, and a scintillating performance on Live at Guerrilla Studios, with some help from the silhouettes of Radie Peat and Katie Kim.  It’s been a strange time, but one that’s had many takeaways.

 “It’s made me realise I’ll never take big, sweaty rooms full of people for granted again. That’s why a lot of my work explores grief at the moment, all of us are experiencing this grief for a way of life, but it hasn’t been awful for me personally, though I do have awful days. 

 “I was heartbroken my tours were cancelled, and I miss people, and playing. Having the space and time to write, and having the free time has been great, because I was so busy before, I can’t imagine living how I was living before lockdown again. But I can’t wait to go back and gig. I’m literally longing for it now.”

  • Not of Longing, But of Light is available for streaming now on Sirius Arts Centre’s Soundcloud and other digital outlets. Find Maija Sofia’s music on streaming services, and on Bandcamp

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