Having enjoyed Stellamara’s ethereal world beat exotica on CD for some years now, I have no explanation for my stunned reaction when vocalist Sonja Drakulich sang her first note at the Vault, other than that this was the first definitive proof I’ve seen that such a perfect voice does, in fact, come from a human being. Drakulich stepped on the Vault stage looking a little like Cate Blanchett in The Lord of the Rings, quickly winning the audience over with her world-class singing and unpretentious stage presence. One of the most impressive tricks she pulled out was a highly disciplined vocal waver: imagine an impressionist voice painting of a flickering candle flame. She and the other half of Stellamara’s core, multi-instrumental string lord Gari Hegedus, were joined by two lively percussionists and a new member, cellist Rufus Cappadocia, who exorcised notes from his instrument with a near obsessive passion.
— Good Times, “Music Seen”
Each masterful release by Stellamara has appeared years apart, but the treasures and rewards are well worth the wait. Led by the exquisitely gifted singer Sonja Drakulich, with her Hungarian and Serbian ancestry, this group runs on a feverish energy that always stops sufficiently short of frenetic, although they never lack intensity. Right from the start, the virtuoso playing of the members of Stellamara becomes ever-present, while the stellar interplay lends an even greater power to their wonderful web of sound. You’ll find yourself wishing for an even stronger vocal emphasis if only because of the magnificent vehicle of vocal expression that Sonja possesses. Her voice is at a never-ending peak of clarity and luminosity, from soft, distant and tailing off into the night, to lively and ignited by fires that burn brightly within. At times she may bring to mind Lisa Gerrard, Loreena McKennit or Azam Ali, but the magnificent way she uses her voice is hers alone. There is no lack of power or presence in this intricately realized music, and those who favor Balkan, Medieval, Persian, Arabic, Greek, Turkish or Far Eastern music will find themselves captured quite easily in the free-flowing marvel that is created. Gari Hegedus has a repertoire that utilizes various Eastern modal systems, and he plays Oud, Baglama, and Mandocello proficiently, taking each passage to a soulful level of modern passion. Cellist Rufus Cappadocia, percussionist Tobias Roberson and clarinet player Peter Jaques join in the sublime magic, moving the music from evocative to inward while driven with a balance that is carefully maintained yet not controlled. Featured as well are two Lyra players (a small pear-shaped upright fiddle from Crete): Irish-born Ross Daly (who also plays Baglama, Divan Saz, Tarbu and African Rebab) and Kelly Thoma (she is also part of the group Labyrinth w/Daly). There is a deeply devotional sense to this music which ebbs and flows from faraway places and times, making for a listening experience that is quite remarkable and unforgettable.
— Lloyd Barde, Common Ground Magazine
Stellamara is a Bay Area band creating a world music of the imagination: filtered through eastern European refrains, spun in Persian grooves, blended in medieval modalities, and supercharged by San Franciscan world music sensibilities. All this is centered by the vocal incantations of Sonja Drakulich…Much of Stellamara’s music and lyrics are based on traditional melodies and sung in the original languages, such as the Bulgarian lament “Zablejalo mi Agance” and the love-torn Hungarian cry of “Szerelem.” Drakulich’s diaphanous soprano curves in fractalized spirals one minute and soars in heavenside choirs the next. Meanwhile, Gari Hegedus is a stringed wonder, playing saz, baglama, oud, violin, and just about anything else from the Asian diaspora you can pluck or bow. It’s been seven years since Stellamara’s debut album, Star of the Sea. But despite some personnel changes, including the departure of Jeffrey Stott (who went on to found Lumin), they continue their exotic fusion, like a global gypsy troupe lost in time.
— John Diliberto, Echoes- Editorial Review at Amazon.com
Stellamara manages to maintain a balance of reverence for the music of other people’s cultures with a haunting elegance of expression….
— Electronic Musician
Stellamara is a global symphony spun through minarets and grounded in the earth. Five stars.
— John Dilberto, Echoes
Though indeed similar to DCD, if Stellamara had formed first they would be the comparative standard. Singing in a variety of foreign lyrics from the 13th and 15th centuries,Drakulich has as singular a vocal style as Lisa Gerrard does, but with the added allure of a siren.
…vocal reverberations and dark bowed string timbres weave in and out of now dense, now diaphanous textures, punctuated by plucked strings and hand percussion of every sort…undeniably beautiful.
— S.F. Bay Guardian
The power in the music is obvious from the opening tones… Listening to Stellamara is a new experience of mystical fables, deep soulful voices, rhythms from the core of the earth and expansive waves of music that ebb and flow as they penetrate through and beyond the listeners spirit into unseen horizons barely even imagined.
— Backroads Music
The music is ancient and mysterious as candle lit catacombs; one can almost smell the smoke of oriental incense tinged with primeval earthen molds. Most of the album is played live, the ensemble of Medieval instruments, strings and Middle Eastern percussion creates the immediacy of a castle courtyard performance. Sonja Drakulich’s lead vocals intoxicate with ornate embellishments and exotic harmonic overdubs. The lyrics and melodies are inspired by Medieval music from Galicia, Persia, Jewish Spain, and Croatia…you’ll love Stellamara’s dark hypnotic tapestry of sound…an excellent album for swimming the depths of the soul.
— New Age Voice
An earthy blend of ethereal hymns and instrumental reveries with the benefit of contemporary ambient atmospherics, Star of the Sea has as many catchy hooks as any top-selling pop album.
— Alternative Press
There is retro and then there is retro…the group time-travels across continents, channelling transcultural rhythms and melodies into a striking contemporary amalgam…Stellamara cut directly to the devotional essence of music and that’s the only kind of retro that matters.
By all means dive in…. From the very first track, the music’s historical references obviously draw upon the medieval era of Europe as well as the sounds of the Middle East….Even with all of these reference points, the music of Stellamara is not derivitave, but rather quite refreshing. Fine late night or early morning sounds to fill the air.
— Detroit Metro Times
Something astonishing…. Drakulich pulls lyrics from 13th century Galicia, Croatia, Persia and from deep within her own musical experience and inspiration. The music thus produced defies simple description. This is one to hear with ears and mind open. Given the opportunity, Stellamara will transport you to a place outside of time…. This is world music for another world—one well worth a visit.
— Cosmik Debris
…among the most appealing releases of the year.
Drakulich, while contributing her skills on the bendir, riqq, and zils, provides incredible vocal stylings that separate Stellamara from bands like Dead Can Dance…. Stellamara, perhaps the future poster child for world music.
“Zephyrus” by Stellamara is a languid love song about the sea—from a 14th century Galician text. The seductive women’s voices and th esteady rowing cadence brought images of sirens luring sailors onward.
— New Age Voice
Some of the most ancient melodies and rhythms of the world drawn into the modern style of electronic ambient music… The result is timeless music that has depth, inner resonance and mystery…You are gonna love Stellamara.
— Album Network
One moves from track to track as if in shifting scenes of a dream, from a medieval cathedral to a synagogue to a mosque…. From a passionate beginning with Arabic strings and percussion, the music drifts ever more slowly, like rocking into a deeper mystery in a boat on gentle swells.
— NAPRA ReView
The results are more than impressive…. Often achingly beautiful…. inspiration and solace.
— Aiding and Abetting
…vocal reverberations and dark bowed string timbres weave in and out of now dense, now diaphanous textures, punctuated by plucked strings and hand percussion of every
— S.F. Bay Guardian
Drakulich chants a sumptuous Galician vocal from the 13th century, then slips into Judeo-Spanish, a 15th century tongue. Whether it be Persian or Croatian, Drakulich’s voice makes the transition an easy and beautiful one. Propelled by exceptional playing, Star of the Sea flows at a fluid and hypnotic pace, culminating in a rousing percussive finale. I dig.
— Thrust—Record Roundup
Exotic instruments have been carefully and gently molded to form an other-worldly base for the evocative, gossamer, rich-as-a-golden-bell voice of Sonja Drakulich. Stellamara is stellar.