Stellamara – Seven Valleys


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I found Stellamara when I was searching for free MP3 world music downloads to use in my video game mod, Mournhold Expanded. The subterranean city district in my mini-expansion had a nightclub, so I needed music for my elven dancers. Stellamara fit the bill, and I included their (no-longer-available) free-download snippets in the mod, figuring that since they were giving the music away anyway, they couldn’t mind too much. Still, I knew in my heart that they had given the music to listen to at home, not to redistribute, so I always felt that pang of guilt.

When Mournhold Expanded was automatically entered into ModDB.com‘s Mod of the Year competition in 2006, I panicked, fearing that if I had won the prize, I might get my butt sued off by certain grumpy musicians – why should I profit from their hard work? I contacted the organisers and found it was too late to withdraw the mod, so they just flagged it as ineligible for the grand prize. It’s unlikely that it would have won, but I had to make sure that it wouldn’t. In the end, I got the kudos of an “honorable mention”, which seemed fair – I’d worked very hard on the mod, and it was great to have the recognition. Still, I wondered many times whether I should try to remove the music from the mod, which would have the added benefit of reducing the download size. I’ve never done so for several reasons, not least because the music gives an instant sense of exoticism that cannot be conveyed by visuals alone. Put simply, Stellamara sounds like music made by elves in some far away world.

The distinctly elven-looking vocalist/producer Sonja Drakulich created Stellamara to develop “devotional music” based in Near Eastern and medieval modal traditions, blending Turkish, Arabic, Balkan, Medieval European and Persian music. To aid her on her quest, multi-instrumentalist Gari Hegedus and cellist Rufus Cappodocia use the makam Middle Eastern modal scales to form Stellamara’s timeless soundscapes.

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Although Sonja is of Serbian and Hungarian descent, and Gari’s focus has been on Turkish classical and Mevlevi ceremonial music, Stellamara are actually an American act (though Rufus is from Ontario). Perhaps it’s this paradox of an Eastern-facing, Western band that makes Stellamara uniquely accessible. Though exotic and strange, Stellamara are easier on the ear than, say, Dead Can Dance. Sonja’s voice has the same deeply affecting resonance as Elizabeth Fraser, but where the Cocteau Twins’ ethereal trips feel like some sort of deliberate experiment to evoke the dreamworld, Stellamara feels like authentic shamanism.

Seven Valleys is a compelling listen from start to finish, and should appeal even to people who don’t like “that sort of thing”. Even if you just thought that Liz Fraser’s elven singing in LOTR: The Two Towers was quite pretty, and tapped your toe a bit to the Rome soundtrack, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. Seven Valleys is (other)world music for rock tourists.

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One comment on “Stellamara – Seven Valleys

  1. Pingback: #musicmonday: One year of Reinspiration « Reinspired

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