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Stellamara
There's retro and then there's retro. These days, the trendy tag usually refers to old-school garage rock or that whole bushy-sideburns-quaint-bowl-haircut mod thing. But if retro means going back (in time), then shouldn't a band interested in older musical forms go way back?

Stellamara think so. Ongoing ethnomusicological investigations by vocalist Sonja Drakulich, multi-instrumentalist Jeffery Stott, and violin/violist Gary Haggerty have led the trio to centuries-old traditions far beyond the shores of 1960s Mother England. Drakulich mines the ancient, haunting melodies of India, Persia, Turkey, and the Balkans, and takes lyrics from songs dating back to 15th-century Judeo-Spain and 13th-century Galicia. Stott has long studied the oud (an Arabic lute) with master musicians from Morocco and Turkey, and is a skilled percussionist on hand drums like the darbuka and bendir. Haggerty, who tours regularly with the whirling dervishes in the Mevlevi Order of America, has been a student of Celtic fiddle and mystical Sufi technique for two decades.

Collectively, the group time-travels across continents on their powerful new CD, Star of the Sea, channeling transcultural rhythms and melodies into a striking contemporary amalgam. Drakulich and Stott flesh out the acoustic ambience of their original arrangements by digitally adding hypnotic drones to the mix. Contrary to expectations, the combination of well-placed electronics and traditional instrumentation transcends style and deepens the spirit of the songs. Stellamara cut directly to the devotional essence of music, and that's the only kind of retro that matters.

-- Sam Prestianni

Stellamara celebrate the CD release of Star of the Sea with performances on both sides of the bay. They play on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. The Ali Khan Band open. Tickets are $10; call (510) 525-5054. They also perform on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 8:30 p.m. at the Minna Street Gallery, 111 Minna (at Second Street). Tickets are $5; call 974-1718.

 
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