A Night at the Cup and Chaucer with Joy Ike
At the University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library, in a little makeshift café known as the Cup and Chaucer, a woman approaches the microphone with the professionalism of a seasoned performer, yet the candour of someone just stepping into the limelight for the very first time. On keyboards and leading vocals, the illustrious Joy Ike. On Urdu drum and backing vocals, her sister, Peace Ike. Joy and Peace --a combination that connotes elation and calm. The perfect mixture of happiness and ease that only finds its crossroads between art and commerce.
This crisp evening in February was full of the harsh smells of burnt coffee, aggravated college students, and anticipation for a sound that would rival anything gracing any nondescript college radio. Joy Ike is a personality that reeks of both grandeur and subtlety; she's a breath of fresh air in the morning before you take your morning coffee. She's the air between the notes and the notes themselves; she is exactly the reason why musicians have been the muses of poets since the inception of the articulated word.
This is the most exciting moment in Joy's life. This moment between the expectation of success and the unknown prospect of stagnancy. This tumultuous time between fame and the annals of potential unfulfilled. This is the best part of fame: the moment right before popularity and obligation when everything is still green, raw, and unexpected. The sounds are louder, more rugged and still too new to realise their greatness and meaning. Right before fame sets in, there's a green second --as before dawn breaks-- that makes an artist more honest and naked --birth has just occurred and life is about take its first breath.
Joy Ike begins slowly, but with confidence. Quietly after her sound check she opens her mouth and lets out a sound like the cracking nuance of the morning --when you yawn, your entire life open wide (eyes still shut and full of sleep). She slips into a soothing melody, that once finished leads into a description of the song to come --"Warriors, Get Your Gear On". She rampages through the Cup and Chaucer like a lady on a mission. She spouts lyrics of strength in numbers that gives power to the powerless: "Two can make the bad guys run away / But one can just make them cry."
She then progresses into a song to be released on her new album. "Sweeter" is a song as innocent as a lollipop, yet as curious as a blushing bride, speaking of the moments that wait for us on the other side. Next is "Unconditional", followed by another new song, "Plans". The lyrics are as powerful as the message is innocent: the truth about schoolgirl love. Even with something as simple as understanding the fallacy in falling too young, she has the foresight and maturity to give the audience an anecdotal piece of her own life: "Know I exist / and opportunities missed make for regrets in life."
Then a song that always rings like summer rain to me, "City Lights". It is a song that has always given me the urge to do something with my hands, to mould something new and beautiful while still feeling that old feeling of falling in love again. "Oh, I Fight" is a charge of energy after the high flight of "City Lights". Joy's voice is as crystal as a lake birthed from melted ice. She's that pure in her aims --make music that is meant to touch. Simplistic without being simple, her vocals build up to something that elation is too superficial to describe. Her lyrics bring to mind the noblest poets with names no one knows, and possibly never will. It is this green second in the crack of her voice that brings an entire room to calm, makes the espresso machine in the library seem like the perfect backdrop to this rugged lullaby. She is a revelation who brings new meaning to her aptly Christened namesake.
"How She Floats" is another piece of vocal and lyrical magic. One should give praise to Joy for her enthusiastic embrace of pop-flavoured soul. Her understanding of love is both mature and brand new. She is able to inhabit the character of the music and bring to life ideas of survival, strength, and renewal. As she and Peace float above the notes, the song is placed in a completely different space and time. With lyrics coloured in dusky hue ("When the water is deep, you just float"), she supports her lyrics the way a great poet supports his words --with brilliantly fitting form and style that equally measures the tone word for word.
Yes, the green second! It's the difference between calculating every moment of a performance and being able to accidentally repeat the same verse twice and make a note of it while still playing (as in her performance of "Nomad"). That green second is more forgiving than the daylight that exaggerates every blemish. It gives Joy the right to address the audience like a close friend, making light of a mistake over which anybody else would surely stumble.
The evening ends with two songs as refreshing as Joy's voice. A purity akin to Jeff Buckley without the brooding (and at times vulgarly brazen) wit, Joy's performance style has a likeness to entropy --calculated spontaneity that invites the audience into the breadth and scope of her talent without pressuring it to have to reach in the depths of themselves for a way to tolerate something smartly avant garde. Joy is a testament to the power of music, a stylist of her own destiny who can breathe herself into existence for that green second before she surely breaks into the newest dawn of her spring-like career. I hope the sunrise keeps her fresh and new as the revelation of the new day.