Karolina Cicha & Spółka Karaimska Mapa Muzyczna (Karaim Music Map)
Bitik. Oficyna Wydawnicza Związku Bitik Karaimów Polskich (mapamuzyczna.karaimi.org)
Review by Andrew Cronshaw
Polish singer Karolina Cicha has, over the last decade or so and several of her albums, been exploring the music of Poland’s minorities, making arrangements and singing in their languages. This double CD focuses on the songs of a very small minority, the Karaim people.
Their history is complicated and their exact origins are the subject of dispute, but they are historically of the Jewish faith, but with differences from mainstream Judaism, and they live mainly in Crimea, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland, plus some migrated more recently to Israel. In Poland now only about two hundred people identify themselves as Karaim. Their language, which is of the Turkic group with Hebrew influences, is spoken by only a few dozen today, mainly in the town of Trakai in Lithuania.
Disc 2 is twelve tracks from eight Karaim singers, unaccompanied solo or in duet. They’re fine singers, male and female, most of them from Trakai, who are involved in the encouragement of Karaim music and culture. Many of the songs come from the Crimean Karaim tradition.
On disc 1 Cicha sings, in the Karaim language, some of the same songs and more, in arrangements by her and the three musicians of her group Spółka (Company) using her accordion and keyboards and the band’s instrumentation that includes kemanche, fiddle, cymbały (hammered dulcimer), saz, oud, kantele and percussion.
She’s an appealing, spirited singer, her voice moving fluently between soft and intimate and strident, and a strong performer, arranger and bandleader. Her work with this and other minority cultures is empathic and trail-blazing, and bringing their songs and music to a wider audience is a great support to their communities (indeed this release and its web pages are via the Karaim cultural organisation). Even without knowledge of their background and origins, this, like her other projects, is a fine listen.
On three tracks she’s joined by the masculine voice of guest Michał Kuliczenko. The addition of instruments, and their arrangements by Cicha and her versatile group brings a more middle-eastern/klezmer feel to much of the material on disc 1, in terms of sound, rhythms and modes, than is apparent in the unaccompanied singing of the Karaims on disc 2, but those easterly connections are clearly there to be brought out.
The ‘Mapa’ aspect of the album title is a map of the land from the Baltic to the Black Sea showing the places with which the songs are associated. It comes as a fold-out with the CDs, and the online version is interactive, clicking on the places bringing up further information. On the other side of the CD’s map sheet is information about each song. That, and the rest of the CD pack text, is in Polish only, but the project website, where one can also download the album free or listen to individual tracks, has this and more info, including about all the singers and musicians, and the web pages can be converted to any language using the online translator which browsers usually offer. (It's not the easiest site to navigate, so it's perhaps not immediately obvious that clicking on 'listen' for a track brings up not only the audio on YouTube but also information about, and the lyrics of, the song).