The choral group Mzekala features music of the Balkans.
The choral group Mzekala features music of the Balkans.

The Arizona Senior Academy’s Great Room will echo with the unique and very special sounds of Balkan women’s choral music at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (June 24), courtesy of Mzekala, a Tucson group of seven women and one man (who plays a Bosnian drum, the tupan, which he crafted himself).

They discovered this music through the urging of two of them, who had for some time been dancing to music from Bulgaria, Serbia and other Balkan countries, and wanted to share its melody and lyricism. After pulling together several other interested Tucson musicians, they began their journey. Celebrating its 22nd year together this year, Mzekala was heard most recently at the 29th Annual Folk Festival and the second annual Mediterranean Nights Gala Show.

Mzekala focuses primarily on women’s vocal music from the Balkans. The performers have learned songs in at least 15 languages but keep returning to the Balkans as they find that the unique rhythms and the unusual close harmonies speak to their hearts. None of them has direct Balkan heritage or performs as a soloist – other than Marilee Mansfield who is a solo player on the nyckelharpa, a bowed Swedish instrument.

They have made a point of working with native speakers and linguists who have helped them transcribe, translate, and sing traditional music from many different countries. They have learned songs in 15 different languages, and are currently learning both a Hungarian and a Swedish song.

Barbara Whittlesey, director of Mzekala, described their plans for the Arizona Senior Academy concert. “One of the highlights of the concert for us is a piece we recently added to our repertoire, ‘Izgryala E Mesechinka,’ or ‘The Moon Has Risen.’ It is a lyrical dance song from the region of Thrace in Bulgaria, and the dance is noted for its expressive arm movements. The arrangement is particularly enjoyable for us as a group of singers hold the single note, or drone, while the highly ornamented melody is anchored by the rhythm formed by the drone.”

Whittlesey added, “Since the steady note of the drone, creating striking close harmonies, is so characteristic of the music of the Balkans, we enjoy inviting the audience to participate in producing the drone.”

Submitted by Janet Kerans, Academy Village Volunteer

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Group Captures Rhythms, Melodies of the Balkans: June 2014
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