The continuing woes in the music industry call for alternate career paths for versatile, intrepid musical types: witness the forays into children’s music by alt-rockers like Warren Zanes, They Might Be Giants, and the Bay’s own Sippy Cups. That turn toward home, hearth, and child-rearing takes a darker -- and reverently beautiful -- turn with the release of longtime Bay Area women’s vocal ensemble Kitka’s new Cradle Songs (Diaphonica).
Cradle Songs begins with the haunting Russian Jewish “Cradle Song,” sung in a round and embellished to eerie effect with a toy piano and Fischer-Price glockenspiel, and closes with the rhythmically complex “Nani Nani, Kitka Mou,” which originated with a Greek lullaby once sung to Kitka member Janet Kutulas, and on the whole, it marks just how far the local group has grown. Here, Kitka has found compelling and creative ways to present this traditional tunes -- at one point resorting to vocal drone to replicate the timbres of the duduk for “Three Armenian Lullabies.”
The material is deeper than it might initially seem: Armenian singer Hasmik Harutyunyan first introduced the ensemble to the idea of recording Eastern European lullabies by turning them onto a cycle of songs that delved into the power of nature and the cosmos and tales of loss, longing, and real tragedy like the Armenian genocide. And the resonant theme of motherhood finds its sonic corollary in tracks such as the Georgian “Megruli Nana,” which asks for help from the fertility goddess the Georgians call Nana for protection. Its converse, the Macedonian song “Oj Jano, Jano,” touches on childlessness and a mother’s curse. Such thoughtful curating and memorable music-making bode great things for Kitka -- while Cradle Songs promises to stand alongside such world music vocal classics like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (Nonesuch).
Kitka performs Sunday, Dec. 13, 4 p.m. as part of "Let Us Break Bread Together" with Kugelplex, Oakland East Bay Symphony, and Dan Cantrell at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland. See www.kitka.com for details.