“I woke up this morning and cheered, ‘There’s miserable weather!’” Melancholica Festival organiser Pete Uhlenbruch said on Wednesday, August 21. If ever an event could improve with rain, it would be this warm-up for Reykjavík’s Melodica Festival celebrating sad songs and all things melancholy.
The damp audience nestled closely under the glowing filaments of vintage light bulbs inside Bravó among the somber daguerreotypes hanging on the walls. Bundled passersby peered in the windows at the cosy scene as eleven performers shared their saddest original song and a cover of their favourite melancholy tune.
While ‘sad’ and ‘melancholy’ are often cited as synonyms, ‘melancholia’ connotes a particular kind of pleasurable and indulgent sadness. Because who doesn’t love to wallow? The group of performers as a whole successfully conveyed sadness in all its complexity, though some attempts to move the audience proved more colicky than melancholy.
At the heart of any sad song are delicate but resonant tones. Lucy Hall’s tender vocals revealed an organic sorrow stemming from a recent heartbreak. Relationship trauma was clearly a blessing in disguise for many of the night’s musicians who cited it as their main inspiration/frustration.
Eyvindur Karlsson even joked that his newfound happiness has been bad for business. However, the musician’s back story is not as important as how the listener reads his or her own experience in the lyrics.
Which was evident in the unexpected covers presented by Joshua Teicher and PHIA of Mez Medallion. Their dejected interpretation of Destiny Child’s “Say My Name,” featured looped electric guitar and kalimba (an African thumb piano) paired with despondent vocals reflecting the agony of communication breakdowns.
Afterwards, PHIA masterfully transformed The Beatle’s upbeat “She Loves You” into a mournful ode by slowing it down and pairing it with simple chords on the electric guitar. The lyrics state, “with a love like that you know you should be glad,” but the echo of the affirmative “yeah, yeah, yeahs” revealed a deep insecurity, making this hollow happiness more tragic than any blatant sadness.
On the flip side, “sad songs can actually be very happy songs inside,” as HONIG from Germany said. And songs like Tryggvi Heiðar Gígjuson’s, written for his cousin who died young, offer the opportunity for healing. Eggert Einer Nielson shared a tender moment with the room when he sang a song for his mother who he had buried the day before, ending on the positive note, “You know I’ll be alright.”
Svavar Knútur represented Icelandic sadness with a rendition of “Nocturne from the Fjords,” written by one of Iceland’s first troubadours, Böðvar Guðmundsson. And although the lyrics were the only ones not sung in English, Svavar’s angelic voice conveyed the emotion clearly.
At the Melancholica Festival, Dutch, Australian, Slovakian, Austrian, German and Icelandic interpretations of sadness varied but the sentiments needed no translation. To see these melancholy musicians and 65 others explore a full range of emotions through music, stop by the Old Harbour and Café Rosenberg anytime after 15:00 this weekend for Reykjavík’s Melodica Festival.