Rhythms Magazine Autumn 2013
WOMADelaide preview: Mara! and Martenitsa Choir
Mara!’s unique roots make them a perfect fit for the WOMAD franchise that English rock star Peter Gabriel jump-started back in the early '80s. Thus it is entirely appropriate that 21 years after performing at the inaugural Australian incarnation of that culturally enriching enterprise, the distinguished Sydney-based world music ensemble will return to WOMADelaide next month to present a significant new work.
A dozen years in the making Tra Parole E Silenzio, which follows such acclaimed albums as the ARIA-awarded Ruino Vino and Live in Europe, joins in glorious communion the unlikely elements of mid-20th century Italian poetry, a Sydney-based quasi-Bulgarian choir and original compositions from a band whose music embraces everything from folk, rock and modern jazz expressionism to Middle Eastern, Balkan, Mediterranean and Anglo-Celtic traditions.
Mara! and Martenitsa's magnum opus will occupy one show at WOMADelaide.
The other concert will comprise a broader program of favourites from the band's back catalogue. Both sets will feature the choir and its celebrated singer Silvia Entcheva, who was soloist with the internationally lauded Bulgarian group Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares before moving to Australia. Eponymous singer/drummer Mara Kiek, who founded the first Bulgarian choir in existence outside Bulgaria, secured Entcheva for Martenitsa within a few days of her arrival in 1994.
"I couldn't believe my luck. In the six years I had been directing Martenitsa, one nagging problem haunted me: as a mezzo/alto, I was unable to demonstrate the target vocal quality for the sopranos in their tessitura. When I first heard her voice, I realised she was truly an angel from heaven."
Tra Parole e Silenzio's conception was similarly provident. Mara! was casting around for ideas for a sequel to their first co-composed collaborative work, Sezoni, when the band's sound engineer, Daniele di Giovanni, mentioned that his late father, Eduardo, had two volumes of poetry published in Italy during the 50s and 60s. They decided to set to music the human rights lawyer's poignant and timeless verses about love, home, family and friends. For various reasons, the project took a lot longer than anticipated to complete. "The best word to describe the development process would be organic," offers Mara Kiek.
Audience reaction at the first performance of Tra Parole (then called "The Italian Suite"), at Canberra's National Folk Festival was mixed. "Some 'got it'... and loved it others thought it was laughable that a "Bulgarian" choir should dare to sing in Italian," reveals Mara. "I must admit that, at first, this response 'got my Irish up' but then I realised that very few punters would have any idea of the breadth of work Martenitsa had performed, including singing in Gaelic, Latin, Tibetan, African pygmy and even English, nor would they have understood our long term objective to create new Australian music that has a tangible connectionto its creators and performers."
When the album was finally released last year it received a raft of rave reviews.
Mara's partner in music and matrimony Llew Kiek - the band's stringed instrument whiz - says although the choral sections are fully scored for live performance there will be scope for some improvisation for the instrumentalists at WOMADelaide. With such renowned jazz players as Sandy Evans Paul Cutlan and Lloyd Swanton in the Mara! line-up at Botanic Park, that would seem wholly appropriate.
"Some years ago," says Llew "we commissioned Sandy Evans to write three Bulgarian works for the combined ensemble; Paul Cutlan has written a couple of pieces for the choir; and Laura Bishop, a chorister with Martenitsa and a great young composer, is writing a new Bulgarian piece for the combined ensemble. She's also written an a cappella piece for the choir "Maika i Sin" (Mother and Son) which we hope to perform at WOMADelaide. These original works will be the keystones in the next Mara! and Martenitsa album."