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Kitka singing at the Brava Theater in 2012

Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble is an Oakland, California-based all-female vocal ensemble focused on "Eastern European women’s vocal traditions".[1]

Kitka is a professional vocal ensemble dedicated to producing concerts, recordings, and educational programs that develop new audiences for music rooted in Eastern European women’s vocal traditions. Kitka also strives to expand the boundaries of this music as an expressive art form. This mission is accomplished through an Oakland-based home series of concerts and vocal workshops; regional, national, and international touring programs; community service activities; in-school programs; broadcasts; recording and publication projects; master artist residencies; commissioning programs; and collaborations.


Kitka was founded in 1979 as an offshoot of the Westwind International Folk Ensemble. Kitka began as a grassroots group of amateur singers. Under the direction of Bon Singer from 1981 to 1996, Kitka has become professional ensemble that specializes in the techniques of traditional and contemporary Balkan, Slavic, and Caucasian vocal styling. Under the co-direction of Shira Cion, Janet Kutulas and Juliana Graffagna since 1997, Kitka has grown to earn recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chorus America, and the American Choral Directors’ Association.

In 2002, Kitka joined Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares as “international guests of honor” for this choir’s 50th Anniversary Gala at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria. In the summer of 2005, Kitka journeyed to Ukraine and participated in research expeditions to the rural villages in the northwest and east Ukraine under the guidance of Ukrainian singer, actress and composer Mariana Sadovska. This trip also included a series of performances, international artist-exchange meetings, workshops, and radio and television broadcasts. Kitka has been invited to return to Ukraine in Spring 2009 by the Les Kurbas Theatre in Lviv and the Kiev Mohylanka Theater Academy for performances of the Rusalka Cycle. The European premier of the piece will take place at the Giving Voice Festival produced by the Grotowski Institute in Wrocław, Poland.

In 2000, Kitka received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation to launch the New Folksongs Commissioning Project, which engages American composers to write new works for the group. New Folksongs commissions premiered to date include compositions by Pauline Oliveros, Chen Yi, David Lang, Linda Tillery, Janet Kutulas (Kitka's Music Director), Daniel Hoffman, Thilo Reinhardt and Roy Whelden.

In 2002, Kitka began work The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds, a new vocal-theater project directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, with original music by Mariana Sadovska. Weaving old Slavic mythology together with contemporary themes, The Rusalka Cycle’s premiere performances took place to at Oakland’s Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in November 2005. The premiere performances were followed by the release of the studio recording in the Fall of 2006. In January 2008, Kitka revised and remounted The Rusalka Cycle at the Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Performing Arts at the JCC in San Francisco and at Tricklock Company's 8th Annual Revolutions International Theatre Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Future performances will take place in Ukraine, Poland and Germany during in April 2009.

Kitka has participated in many collaborations, ranging from a reconstruction of the medieval Carmina Burana pageant for CalPerformances, (Thomas Binkley, director), to work with Hollywood composers on major motion picture soundtracks including Braveheart, Jacob's Ladder, and The Queen of the Damned. Other collaborations of note include creating the role of the Greek Chorus/Trojan Slave Women in the American Conservatory Theater’s performance runs of Hecuba (Carey Perloff, Director) for which Kitka received a Drama Critic’s Circle Award nomination; the creation of Women in Black, a multi-disciplinary work inspired by the international Women in Black Against War Movement (Thais Mazur, choreographer; Katrina Wreede composer) for which Kitka received an Izzie award nomination for "best musical contribution to a dance program"; and Songs from Mama’s Table, a celebration of the commonalties and contrasts between Balkan, Slavic and African American women’s singing traditions with Grammy nominees Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir.

A frequent guest on national radio shows, Kitka has recently been featured on NPR programs such as PRI’s The World (Jan. 3, 2008), A Prairie Home Companion (Jan. 20, 2001), All Things Considered (Dec. 18, 2004), On Point, West Coast Live and Performance Today. The Rusalka Cycle was also featured on The Story (Nov. 30, 2007), from American Public Radio, and on National Geographic’s podcast. In 2005, live Kitka concerts were broadcast widely on Vermont Public Radio, the CBC (Radio Canada), and Ukrainian national radio and television. In July 2006, Kitka filmed a public television special, Kitka and Davka in Concert: Old and New World Jewish Music, which continues to be broadcast nationally and was elected for screening at the Dallas Video Festival, Florida Media Market, Indie Fest U.S.A, Reel HeART International Film Festival in Toronto and the New Beijing International Movie Festival.

A frequently occurring symbolic word in Balkan women’s folksong lyrics, Kitka means “bouquet” in Bulgarian and Macedonian.


Album Name Year
Sanctuary: A Cathedral Concert 2008
The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds 2006
Wintersongs 2003
The Vine 2002
Nectar 1999
Sacred Voices, Sacred Sounds 1995
Voices on the Eastern Wind 1992
Kitka 1989


National Endowment for the Arts
The City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program
Alliance for California Traditional Arts
The Clorox Foundation Arts Mini-Grant Program
The Creative Work Fund
East Bay Community Foundation
The Walter and Elise Haas Fund
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation
New Connections Fund
The MAP Fund, A Project of Creative Capital
Meet the Composer Global Connections Fund
The San Francisco Foundation
The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation
Trust for Mutual Understanding
Zellerbach Family Fund
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati


Kitka's Official Site


  1. ^ "About Kitka". Retrieved 2008-08-11.