My good friend Aida Shahghasemi is a backup vocalist and instrumentalist for musician Marketa Irglova as well as popular indie band Iron & Wine. She plays the daf, a large Persian frame drum, and each time that she strikes the instrument, audiences go nuts. She’s smart and hardworking, talented and humble, and it has been inspiring to watch her growth as a musician and a person. If I had the pipes that she does, I’d be jealous of her gig. But alas, I’m only a poet. Although I’m not a follower of Irglova’s work, I was sitting front row at Joe’s Pub a few days ago, watching Aida, proud (and yes, teary-eyed) as the band put on a killer show.
Marketa Irglova rose to fame with the 2006 indie flick Once, a film about two struggling musicians, portrayed by Irglova and Glen Hansard, who meet, begin making music together and subsequently fall in love. The most popular song from the film, Falling Slowly, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007. After the film, Hansard and Irglova formed the band The Swell Season, which toured to worldwide acclaim. These days, Marketa is doing solo work. Her first solo album, Anar, was released in October 2011 by Anti Records.
Irglova’s voice is silky and delicate. She seems to slip between notes and lyrics with ease. Everything was seamless and smooth. Much of the content of her work focused on nature and the earth, rich imagery present in each song. My favorite song of the evening was “Go Back.” A few weeks before the performance, I brushed up on my knowledge of Irglova’s work and found myself mesmerized by this song. Since then, I’ve added it to my iPod and it’s slowly crept into my pool of favorite songs.
I looked around the room to see people really feeling the work, really reacting to it—heads bobbing, fingers snapping, mouthing the lyrics. There was a particular woman seated a few feet away from me that I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of. It seemed as if the beat of the music was literally inside of her body, ricocheting from her chest to her back, bouncing around in her stomach. Her body was swaying and undulating in the most delicious way. Sometimes, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, concentrating on the rhythm. When she looked up at the stage, the light from the stage kissed her forehead and lit her cheekbones in the most perfect way. She was practically part of the performance. Throughout the concert, my eyes shifted between my friend Aida, to Marketa, to this woman who was enjoying herself and feeling so publicly and openly.
I grew up in a family that taught me that feeling was for the weak. If I was on the verge of tears, I was sent to my room. If I had a stomachache, I was told not to complain. If I was overly excited about something, I was told to relax. Now, years and years later, I’m still learning to navigate my emotions and the way that they operate within the world around me. It was really powerful for me to witness someone feeling so deeply and unapologetically in the public sphere.
I’m very interested in public displays of emotion as a way to resist the notion that feeling is something that we should only do when we’re alone. When people ask how we are, we’re supposed to tell them I’m fine or I’m well rather than, I just heard some really great music that swept me off my feet or I’ve had a rough week and I’m trying to cope with it. Our bodies are full of experiences: success, trauma, hope, fear, confusion, love and so on. Don’t we owe it to our bodies and our minds to really acknowledge these experiences and let the feelings bubble to the surface when they need to?
Irglova’s work reminded me that we are, after all, human. And if she can be a catalyst for an audience member to feel, and more importantly feel openly in a public space, then it’s obvious that she’s doing something pretty special.
Lauren Nicole Nixon is a Brooklyn-based artist representative, teaching artist and poet. Nixon holds an M.A. in Arts Politics from New York University. Recent work can be seen in Bone Bouquet, Clockhouse, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House, The Tulane Review, Aforementioned Productions, Spillway and No, Dear. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, There’s a Jukebox in the Back, will be published in summer 2012 by Dancing Girl Press. http://www.laurennicolenixon.com/