Founded in 1979 as an offshoot of a folk ensemble, this Bay Area-based a cappella women's choir presaged the wave of eastern European vocal music that came West in the mid-80s in the form of such luminous-sounding outfits as Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. In fact, one measure of the respect for Kitka's vocal athleticism and knowledge of Balkan folkways is the number of invitations it received to tour Macedonia and Bulgaria. Though almost all of its 11 members are Americans from different musical backgrounds, Kitka (which means bouquet in Bulgarian) comes across as the real McCoy, even in the languages and dialects of various eastern European regions. Its 1993 debut album, Voices on the Eastern Winds (Diaphonica), not only showcased the ethereal beauty of the voices but also illuminated similarities between peasant cultures: a flirtatious Bulgarian chorus, dotted with yelps and hoots, shares a coy giddiness with a Macedonian ditty about a young lad enticing a pretty wench to wash his shirt. A dirge about a fallen hero is just as sorrowful and piquant in rhythm as a lament from a village girl resisting her brother's advances. No wonder Kitka adapted nicely as the chorus in a recent production of Euripedes' Hecuba; also on its resume are contributions to the sound tracks of Jacob's Ladder and Braveheart. On a later recording, Sacred Voices, Sacred Sounds, the Kitka singers further widened their song selection and demonstrated the precision with which they could control and sustain the nasal drone and harsh dissonance that make some eastern European chants sound almost Tibetan. One caveat: sometimes the songs sound so much alike that, brilliant nuances and accents notwithstanding, a listener might become weary after awhile. Friday, 7:30 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mark Kane.