Now celebrating its 40th season (read full ensemble history here), Kitka is an American women’s vocal arts ensemble inspired by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe. Dedicated to developing new audiences for music rooted in Balkan, Slavic, and Caucasian women’s vocal traditions, Kitka also strives to expand the boundaries of folk song as a living and evolving expressive art form. Kitka’s activities include an Oakland-based home series of concerts and vocal workshops, regional, national, and international touring, programs in the schools, recording, publication, and broadcast projects, master artist residencies, commissioning, original works, community service, and adventuresome collaborations. A frequently occurring symbolic word in Balkan women's folk song lyrics, Kitka means "bouquet" in Bulgarian and Macedonian.
A women’s vocal ensemble unlike any other, these sophisticated singers blend a contemporary sensibility with specialized vocal techniques that have been distilled over centuries. Using only the pure unaccompanied voice, Kitka creates a constantly shifting landscape of sound, pulsing with angular rhythms, where dramatic dynamics leap from delicate stillness to shattering resonance, and seamless unisons explode into lush, incomprehensible chords.
Kitka's material ranges from ancient village duets to complex choral works, from early music to contemporary theater. The sound of their voices is exotic, both elegant and eerie. The melodies are hauntingly beautiful. The many languages in which they sing are largely unfamiliar to American ears: Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Georgian, Modern Greek, Hungarian, Ladino, Latvian, Macedonian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, with the occasional Latin, medieval Galician, or ancient Greek. It is exactly this unfamiliarity that is so riveting, as Kitka’s sensitive precision lifts their work out of the merely musical into a universe beyond words, an experience that is primal, elemental.
More than just a concert, an evening with Kitka unites vibrant music, enhanced by a subtly changing stage picture, compelling song introductions, and each singer’s warm rapport with the audience. Listeners are transported by a continuous unfolding of music that flows seamlessly from ethereal, contemplative pieces to rousing earthy rhythms.
This is powerful music by accomplished musicians who offer more than just exquisite execution—these women clearly share a passion for what they do. Kitka: joyful voices uniquely blended in exquisite dissonance and harmony.
Selected Critical Acclaim
“Simply amazing harmonies. . . truly this is the most wonderful singing I have ever heard.”
—David Crosby, CROSBY, STILLS, AND NASH
“A stunning group unlike any other. . . absolutely electrifying!”
—Garrison Keillor, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
"Kitka's music accompanies my life. . ."
— Meredith Monk, AWARD WINNING COMPOSER & MACARTHUR "GENIUS"
"Kitka moved easily from tradition to tradition, as comfortable with the shrieks and howls of joyful celebration as with the quietest meditation, offering a convincing shout-out for a repertoire many know too little about."
— Joan Reinthaler, WASHINGTON POST
“KITKA’s songs are hauntingly beautiful, simple, yet otherworldly. The rich sound these women produce resonates as if energized by the universe itself, as if it were calling all live beings and still matter into togetherness and unity.”
— Ching Chang, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"When least expected, yelps, bird calls, and wraith-like ululations punched holes through lush harmonic weaves that seemed to levitate like bright white clouds. Always, multiple voices resounded as one, like Gabriel's trumpet howling from the highest mountaintop, summoning the wayward home."
— Sam Prestianni, SF WEEKLY
“Even God stops to listen when KITKA—unamplified, without sets, props, instruments, or even lyrics most people can understand—opens its collective mouth. The sound is so chillingly beautiful, by anyone's standards, that the entire audience sits enraptured, most of them with eyes shut. My own eyes flooded with tears.”
— Summer Burke, THE GUARDIAN
“The singing of KITKA was tangy, excellently in tune and verbally communicative.”
— Andrew Porter, THE NEW YORKER
“Exquisitely harmonized and rhythmically charged songs. . .that translated into laments about the ravages of war as well as celebrations of community. KITKA executed the Balkan microtonal harmonies and dissonance and the diaphonic drone melody juxtapositions with breathtaking precision. . . an inspirational concert that served as a reminder that it is never too late to connect with tradition.”
— Derk Richardson, BILLBOARD
"At times, it is as beautiful as a single breath of wind that gently skitters across the surface of the water at dawn. At other moments it is as unsettling as the crackling whoosh of a wildfire as it spreads through a field of dry timber. . . The depth and range of the singers' skills are indisputable and the breadth of moods and emotions covered by the ensemble is awe-inspiring. . .immensely compelling."
— Douglas Heselgrave, THE MUSIC BOX
“When KITKA starts to sing, they transport you far away, to a place where wind sweeps through deep evergreen forests and stars spill out of the sky... They ran through 22 folk tunes with rapt, almost introspective attention to the demands of fast trills, fluid glissandos, perfect unisons and soft subtle shadings mesmerizing in their loveliness.”
— Rocky Leplin, HILLS PUBLICATIONS
“Quick screams alternating with bang-on harmony, pure bell tones and powerful perfect, perfect fifths. . . singing like the very fertility of the earth—the singing went on in quartertone shaking and deep, dark passion. . . a radiant ensemble. . . the evening was transcendent.”
— Mark Alburger, 20th CENTURY MUSIC
“Angelic voices in complete unison. . . like Mother Earth herself had opened up her vocal cords.”
— Larry Luther, LEDGER DISPATCH