Chaika create a musical fusion


The Auditorium, Gleniffer Brae

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It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Sydney quintet Chaika falls in the musical spectrum. The five members all have such varied musical backgrounds that anything and everything from traditional Balkan and Hebrew music, jazz, folk and even a little classical are fused together in the songs they sing to make a sound that sets the group apart.

Piano and piano accordion player Emily-Rose Sarkova says this is partly due to the haphazard way the current line-up came together, with previous band members being found and replaced as people went overseas or pursued other projects, and because they aren't afraid to try something a little different.

"The style that we have is something of our own now. It's not just Balkan music, not klezmer music (a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews), not just traditional Hebrew and not just jazz, it's a big fusion of everything," she says.

All five members have different musical specialities and bring their talents in those areas to Chaika. Sarkova is a classically trained pianist but picked up the piano accordion on a whim and became interested in the unusual tempos of Balkan music. Clarinet player Laura Altman does experimental improv on her clarinet to come up with new sounds. Double bassist Johan Delin grew up in Sweden and has a degree in jazz, and sisters Susie and Laura Bishop grew up surrounded by folk music but both pursued the voice - Susie is a trained opera singer and Laura has been a member of the Martenitsa Choir (Bulgarian Women's, in Sydney).

Not a bad set of skills to have in one band.

Lately, the four female members have been exploring what they can do with their voices, mostly influenced by the sounds of the Martenista Choir, creating intricate and haunting four-part harmonies for several tracks on their self-titled debut album.

"What draws us to that music is the intense harmony and timbral effects they create. There's an intense emotion you can have from these crunchy harmonies that evolve into these beautiful, sparse ones," she says.

"All four girls like to sing and we all have very different voices and all those things just filter through."

To add even more variation to their repertoire, Chaika - which means seagull in several Eastern European languages - sing in several different languages. While they compose their own tunes in English, they perform traditional tunes from other cultures and set poems written in other languages by their friends or famous poets to music, learning the correct pronunciation for words from people fluent in the language.

So far they have sung in Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Italian, Czech and plan to look at some Turkish songs soon.

Sydney quintet Chaika have a varied repertoire.

Sydney quintet Chaika have a varied repertoire.

While Sarkova says they are not fluent in the languages they sing in (though the group members speak a little Italian, Japanese, Swedish and German), she believes it is important to perform traditional pieces in the way they were originally written.

"We feel like if we're going to sing traditional songs we should sing them in the languages the music has an affinity with. I don't see the point in singing something in English when it might not sit so well," she says.

"There's something special about singing in a host of different languages."


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