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Artist Spotlight: Kitka
It was 2010, and we were on tour, well into the 7th hour of an 11-hour drive through the USA. To break up the monotony we often made playlists or mix CDs for those rides, and on this one we were so hung over, deleriously tired and bored that I remember thinking a sort of crazy thought: I wonder if the guys will like my collection of Eastern Orthodox Choir Music. A large amount of the Dreadnoughts’ music is based, melodically, on this genre and neighbouring styles. So I thought I’d endure the inevitable teasing and ribbing and see what happened.
I put the playlist on, and there was neither teasing nor ribbing. Instead, the grumpy, cynical commentary in the van went quiet as the voices washed over us like cool, soothing waves. And when we got to one track in particular, Squid Vicious turned to me and said:
“You know, religious people are always trying to make you religious by preaching to you. They should just put this music on.”
That one track was Ochte Nash (The Lord’s Prayer) by the transcendently talented Kitka, who are (so far as I can tell) the champions of North-American-based all-female Eastern/Slavic harmony singing. To really hear a song like Kitka’s Ochte Nash, you have to encounter it at a time when your soul is a little bit weary, when you’re more than a bit broken down and feeling like there’s no point to anything. If you’re one of those unlucky souls at this moment, click this, close your eyes and just listen:
I’m hoping you feel that: the sense of extraordinary depth and power that this music has. You definitely don’t have to be religious to feel that. And if God does exist, he is definitely living in this music. I recently said on social media that I want this track to be played as they lower my coffin into the ground or scatter my ashes, and I wasn’t kidding. Seriously, if I die unexpectedly, someone make sure that this happens.
I am no expert on the genre, but of course a lot of choral music has this power, and the Eastern/Balkan stuff (i.e. from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania) often features singers that can pull this intense, focused, creatively dissonant and powerful sound out of their vocal chords. Kitka are amazing at this. Their whole Wintersongs album is worth a listen, just to get a sense of what can be done with this style. And they have a great rendition of perhaps the most popular song in this genre, Shto Mi E Milo, a song that actually enjoyed a period of popularity in the US folk scene because of the efforts of pioneering group The Pennywhistlers.
I know, it’s not aggro polka-punk about drinking too much, but come on. That’s amazing.
Kitka is constantly organizing community music sessions, online and IRL singing classes, and much more. They’ve engaged in countless collaborations with artists across many genres, And they’ve done all of this since 1979, featuring a rotating non-permanent cast of members based in, wait for it… Oakland, California. Seems like they’re looking for new singers these days, so if you’re in the area and are somehow good enough to join this world-beating ensemble, give them a shout.
Anyway, look: even you hard-nosed punks need spiritual nourishment. Maybe just when you’re alone and sad in the bathtub, staring down at your rapidly aging and inadequate body, thinking obsessively about missed opportunities and terrible mistakes, wondering why you can never seem to find lasting happiness.
Put Kitka on. Your life will still suck, but you will feel better about it.