05 November 2009

Kitka: Cradle Songs for All Ages


CD REVIEW
Kitka: Cradle Songs (Diaphonica)

I'm in the car, driving west into -- I kid you not -- the sunset. Above me a sky with breathtaking swooshes of scarlet and orange, on the stereo otherworldly vocal harmonies that seem to transport me to another time and place. I pull over to watch and listen. Perhaps somewhere in rural Russia a mother is humming this same song to a child, for while the tune opens the new album by Oakland based Kitka, it originated with Jews in the old country. Hauntingly beautiful women's polyphonies are the hallmark of Kitka, which has been together since 1979, and their voices are perfectly suited to the 18 Eastern European lullabies on Cradle Songs. Almost entirely a cappella, the songs range originate in various cultures including Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, Russia, and Armenia, and often sound deeper, sadder, or more nostalgic than one might expect from songs for children.

"The Armenian lullaby texts have stunningly beautiful poetry, with a lot of powerful, natural and cosmic imagery. But there are also lyrics that convey intense sadness and longing," Kitka singer Shira Cion explains. "The songs tell histories of children and parents lost, of cultural genocide. In many Eastern European lullabies, the mother pours out all the grief, fears, and hopes in her soul when she sings to her child. Our close friend and mentor in Ukrainian folk song, Mariana Sadovska, even jokingly refers to some of the cradle songs from her native tradition as "sadistic lullabies.' "

"At first, I found these lullabies really challenging," reflects Kitka singer Janet Kutulas, whose Greek family sang her one of the songs the group wove into "Nani, Nani, Kitka Mou." "They seemed almost inaccessibly dark. But the more you listen to them, the more and more beautiful they become. They aren’t your stereotypical tra-la-la lullaby."

This song is from the Russian republic of Komi, west of the Ural Mountains. Sung in the Komi-Zyrian language, the lyrics tell of the creaking of the birch pole that holds the cradle as grandmother sings her grandson to sleep.

[mp3] Kitka: Dzurk, Dzurk (Komi-Zyrian)
from Cradle Songs

While I'm generally suspicious of "children's music," this isn't the first album of international lullabies to enthrall me, and this one ranks right up with Lullabies from the Axis of Evil as an album that will entice and perhaps soothe adults and children alike.

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, you can catch them live in the next few days, including a show tomorrow night at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church. For details see their calendar.  

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