Kitka is an American women’s vocal arts ensemble inspired by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Founded in 1979 as an offshoot of the Westwind International Folk Ensemble, Kitka began as a grassroots group of amateur singers from diverse ethnic and musical backgrounds who shared a passion for the stunning dissonances, asymmetric rhythms, intricate ornamentation, and resonant strength of traditional Eastern European women’s vocal music. Since its informal beginnings, the group has evolved into an award-winning professional touring ensemble known for its artistry, versatility, and mastery of the demanding techniques of regional vocal styling, as well as for its innovative explorations in new music for female voices.
With an overarching mission of cultivating local and global community through song. Kitka’s activities include an Oakland-based home series of concerts and vocal workshops, leadership of community choirs, regional, national, and international touring, programs in the schools, recording, publication, and broadcast projects, artist residencies, commissioning original works, community service, and adventuresome collaborations. Kitka’s wide-ranging performance, teaching, and recording activities have exposed millions to the haunting beauty of the ensemble’s exquisite and unusual repertoire. With deep ties to Balkan, Slavic and Caucasian lands, Kitka has performed, taught, and conducted cultural exchange activities in Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia, as well as in communities throughout the USA, Canada, and beyond.
The ensemble has produced 14 critically acclaimed recordings on the group’s independent Diaphonica label (most recently, Evening Star), songbooks, soundtracks for major motion pictures and independent films, and Kitka and Davka in Concert: Old and New World Jewish Music, a PBS television special.
An important aspect of Kitka’s work has also been the creation of multidisciplinary vocal theater works that tell stories of unconventional women in Eastern European folklore, myth, and history. Projects of note include ACT’s productions of Hecuba with Olympia Dukakis and Viola Davis, directed by Carey Perloff with original music by David Lang; Women in Black with AXIS Dance directed by Thais Mazur with original music by Katrina Wreade; Songs from Mama’s Table with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir; Cantigas de Amigo with Ensemble Alcatraz; The Rusalka Cycle: Songs between the Worlds and Singing Through Darkness, directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang and Andre Erlen with original music by Mariana Sadovska; Meredith Monk’s Vocal Alchemy; Eric Banks’ I will remember everything: a lyric biography of Sophia Parnok; and, most recently, a critically acclaimed, sold out run of Iron Shoes, a contemporary folk opera created by Janet Kutulas (composer), Michelle Carter (playwright), and Erika Chong Shuch (director and choreographer), co-produced by Shotgun Players.
Kitka was recently honored by a coveted Hewlett50 Arts Award, with which they will commission Slovenian composer and stage director Karmina Šilec to create BABA, a new dramatic work inspired by the lives of transgender “sworn virgins” of the Balkan highlands.
A frequently occurring symbolic word in Balkan folk songs, “Kitka” means bouquet in Bulgarian and Macedonian.
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