The Covert Voices

Méabh McKenna and Maija Sofia at the Black Gate (Photo: Black Gate)

The Covert Voices

Rachel Deckard reviews Galway singer Maija Sofia at the Black Gate – our latest review in the Music Writer Mentoring Scheme for Galway City and County.

Hidden behind a heavy curtain at the Black Gate in Galway is a performance room so small and intimate it almost feels covert. The barrier between performer and audience is minimal here and the room is rich with artwork and literature. A harp and guitar wait within reaching distance of the front row, and one immediately gets the feeling that secrets will appear at this showcase of Bath Time, the debut album of Galway-born singer and guitarist Maija Sofia. The concert is part of the Eclectics sessions series.

Supporting the gig in a short set was singer-songwriter New Pope, whose storytelling and resonant guitar combined with somewhat disaffected vocals to create a musical experience that was both stark and warm. His introspective lyrics, particularly in the songs ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘We Were Young’ paint clean images of woodlands and cities experienced from the view of the outsider and his drawl gives his work an air of nostalgia, with childhood experiences being a common theme throughout.

A minimalistic canvas
Introspection, outsiders and vivid imagery are themes that continue into Maija Sofia’s set, albeit in a more cryptic fashion. Sofia’s lyrics are visceral, with subject matter focusing on marginalised female voices throughout history, often through a lens of oppressive religiosity, violence and misrepresentation. Her guitar folk melodies – accompanied by harpist Méabh McKenna – offer these stories a minimalistic canvas on which to materialise, and the sharing of these tales (particularly in tracks such as ‘The Glitter’ and ‘The Wife of Michael Cleary’) is what drives Sofia’s performance throughout the set, even through the setback of some minor tuning difficulties on the evening (‘I don’t really care about being in tune, it’s fine,’ she tells us conspiratorially). 

The influence of artists such as Regina Spektor and Joanna Newsom can be heard in Sofia’s vocals but her phrasing and tonal control are all her own. Vocally, she commands the room even at her softest and most beseeching moments such as in the song ‘Smile Please’ (‘Smile please, smile please, look down the lens and show your teeth’), becoming emphatic and accusatory when punctuating the most gut-punch of her lyrics – for example, in the track ‘Hail Mary’ (‘You can have me and when you get bored, you can drop me put me back on the floor.’) Her voice wavers with emotion during her most tragic song, ‘The Wife of Michael Cleary’, which tells the true story of self-sufficient seamstress Bridget Cleary who was burned alive in 1895 by a husband who believed her to be a fairy changeling.  The lyrics evoke violence and nature in the same breath (‘And the stars glint like cleavers’) and Sofia’s haunting performance was the highlight of the evening.

A timeless quality
Other standout moments include the complex ‘Hail Mary’, ‘Edie Sedgwick’ named for the muse of Andy Warhol and the fragile ‘St Sebastian’, inspired by trips to the National Gallery and accompanied by Sofia on piano.  

Sofia’s music has a timeless quality and her lyrics feel deeply personal while also reflecting the most marginalised voices of society. Her songs have an almost mythological quality, and her confessional performance created a rapport with the audience and a very memorable and emotionally charged experience.


This is the eighth review published as part of the Journal of Music/Galway City and County Music Writer Mentoring Scheme 2019 and is supported by Galway City Council and Galway County Council Arts Offices. Over the course of a year the editorial team of the Journal of Music work with six new writers – Rachel DeckardMassimo CattaneoJake Tiernan and Kerri Haberlin (Galway City), and  James Fleming and Tara Broderick (County Galway) – and publish their reviews of music in Galway.

Read more about our previous Music Writer Mentoring Schemes here.


Published on 21 November 2019

Rachel Deckard is a piano teacher and music student based in Galway. Having previously studied piano with the Royal Irish Academy of Music, she completed a QQI course in Music Theory & Composition from Galway Technical Institute in 2016 and has continued to study music theory and practice in her free time. She has also worked occasionally as a church pianist and vocalist. Rachel has had a keen interest in creative writing since childhood and is very excited at the opportunity to combine her love of writing and music within Galway’s vibrant music scene. She has a diverse range of musical interests ranging from classical and jazz to alternative and experimental.

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