Vocal music of the Balkans comes your way when Mzekala (muh-ZEH-kuh-la) presents an evening concert at the Arizona Senior Academy at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (July 11).
Members of Mzekala first began singing together in Tucson over 25 years ago. They were drawn together by a love of world music and songs from the Balkans in particular. The name Mzekala is a woman’s name from Caucasian Georgia meaning “Sun Woman,” perfect for desert dwellers in Tucson.
Over the years, Mzekala has had the good fortune to work with native speakers and linguists who have helped transcribe, translate, and sing traditional music from many different countries while sharing the cultural context in which the songs would have been performed traditionally.
Their ASA concert will feature songs from Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Turkey, Macedonia and Croatia. Mzekala enjoys the unique close harmonies of Bulgaria and Macedonia as well as unusual meters such as 11/16 and 5/8. Some of the earliest known multi-part folk songs come from the Balkans, with a “drone” harmony against the melody. The ensemble’s repertoire includes many modern arrangements that fuse the traditional folk and western styles of choral part-singing.
The current group includes seven singers: Debra Beaumont, Susanna Eden, Diana Vidal, Barb Whittlesey (these four have been in the ensemble since its inception), Jeanne Hartmann, Susan Hitchens and Marilee Mansfeld, plus drummer Lynn Maners. None of the singers are professional musicians; Lynn Maners is a professor of anthropology with expertise in the Balkans. For Tuesday’s concert, they will be joined by friends Howard Joffe (drums and guitar), JoAnn Gentry (clarinet and accordion), and Theresa Butcher (strings).
Written by Leslie Nitzberg, Academy Village Volunteer