Bay Area vocal group Kitka began their journey in 1979 as a gathering of amateur singers fascinated with the exploration of traditional Eastern European women’s vocal music. Under the direction of Bon Singer from 1981 to 1996 and now led by executive director Shira Cion and music director Janet Kutulas, Kitka has developed into a professional touring company dedicated to performing, recording and presenting collaborative and educational opportunities related to Balkan, Slavic and Caucasian music for audiences across the globe. Celebrating their 30th year in 2009, Kitka continues to grow artistically with challenging new projects, tours and collaborations.
The process by which the company acquires new repertoire is rooted in careful study. The eight-member group works with renowned masters from all over Eastern Europe and travels to various countries to conduct fieldwork and make critical personal connections with women in small villages, many of whom are the last to sing the songs of their ancestors. Over the years, members of Kitka were inspired by the legends of the Rusalki, siren-like mythical creatures thought to be the spirits of women who suffered tragic or untimely deaths. Working with Ukrainian singer and composer Mariana Sadovska, they returned to Ukraine to learn songs and rituals surrounding the Rusalki directly from the women in rural communities, and they created a vocal-theater piece based on their research. The Rusalka Cycle opened to resounding success in 2005 and again in 2008, and it is being remounted to tour Eastern Europe in 2009.
Each year brings new projects and a new concert season, and to celebrate their 30th anniversary, Kitka released their recording Lullabies and Songs of Childhood. This collection of reinterpreted traditional lullabies has been passed on in the oral tradition by generations of Balkan, Slavic, Georgian and Armenian women. For their project Singing Through the Darkness: A Dramatic Song-Cycle Performance, they gathered songs and stories that express the multifaceted experience of wartime, with a special effort to invite contributions from the survivors of the Balkan conflict living in the Bay Area.
As part of their ongoing commitment to preserving endangered vocal traditions and collaborations with traditional artists, Kitka developed a program called Song Routes in a New Land: Folk Song Master Residencies, in which they work with several master folk singers and teachers dedicated to transmitting their vocal heritage both at home and within immigrant communities in the United States. Artists for 2009 include Birol Topaloglu (Laz vocalist from Turkey), Tzvetanka Varimezova (Bulgaria), Ensemble Kedry (Siberia) and Hasmik Harutyunyan (Armenia).