Black Sea Hotel
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Black Sea Hotel

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2006 | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2006
Band World A Capella




"Black Sea Hotel Top the Bill at One of 2014’s Most Spellbinding Shows"

“This song’s about waiting for your neighbor to die so you can marry his wife,” one of Black Sea Hotel‘s three singers, Shelley Thomas, cheerily explained to the crowd at Joe’s Pub Wednesday night.

“Perky!” her bandmate Willa Roberts grinned. She was being sarcastic, of course. The ancient Bulgarian and Macedonian folk songs that the Brooklyn vocal trio sing date from an era when life was shorter and possibly more brutal than today, an atmosphere underscored by the music’s biting minor keys, edgy chromatics, eerie close harmonies and otherworldly microtones. The group treated the crowd to what was essentially a live recreation of their latest album The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying, along with a haunting, encore from the band’s debut cd. The three women held the crowd rapt with their original arrangements of both obscure and iconic themes, with intricate, intoxicating counterpoint, tightly dancing tempos, unexpected stops and starts and split-second choreography. There’s some irony in the fact that Black Sea Hotel’s often centuries-old repertoire is built on harmony as sophisticated and avant garde as anything being played or sung today.

Their camaraderie onstage was unselfconsciously warm, linking hands loosely as they sang, hugging each other here and there, high on the music. The three women’s voices are so similar that it’s hard to tell who’s singing what unless you’re watching. In terms of raw power, it’s a toss-up between Roberts and Thomas. but it seems that Small has the most astonishing range of the three: for a natural soprano, it’s stunning to witness how she can get so much power and resonance out of her low register And the three switch roles: Roberts got to handle the most highly ornamented, toughest leaps and bounds early on, then passed the baton to Small. Thomas is the latest addition to the group, reaffirming her status as one of the most eclectic of New York’s elite singers. That she managed to learn the entire set from memory on short notice wasn’t only impressive: without that feat, the concert probably wouldn’t have happened at all. And as spectacular as the three women’s vocal acrobatics were, it was the final number, with its long, slow fade down, building the suspense to breaking point, that might have been the high point of their set.

The opening acts, assembled by Small, were every bit as good. Her trio Hydra, with Rima Fand and Yula Beeri, a vehicle for original composition in antique Balkan and occasionally Middle Eastern styles, were first. The second song of their too-brief set, a soaring Balkan art-rock anthem of sorts, had a bulk and gravitas that that sounded infinitely more mighty than just three voices and a mandolin could deliver. Alternatingly sweeping and austere, they blended the Balkan and the Beatlesque.

A subset of the even mightier all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra were next. Melissa Elledge, Josephine Decker, Rene Fan, Denise Koncelik, Rachel Swaner and Elaine Yau reminded that pretty much everything sounds good if played on an accordion, multiplied by six. A classically-tinged march, a couple of ominously cinematic themes, a coyly disguised generic new wave hit from the 80s, a campy anthem that sounded like it could be Queen but might have been something like Lady Gag. and a deliciously unexpected romp through a boisterous klezmer dance all got a seamlessly tight, winkingly virtuosic treatment.

And a trio version of one of New York’s original Romany-inspired bands, Luminescent Orchestrii (Fand and Sarah Alden on violins, with ringer Kyle Sanna on acoustic guitar) ran through a jaunty dance in medieval French; a bracing, hypnotically insistent Middle Eastern-spiced number; a similarly trance-inducing, circular Macedonian theme and a darkly blues-inflected art-rock violin number, all of which more than hinted at the kind of electricity this band can generate with all their members. - Delarue, New York Music Daily

"Black Sea Hotel: Balkan vocals from Brooklyn locals"

Maybe you remember the album "Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares" by that large Bulgarian choir from the early '90s? Maybe not. Either way, New York's Black Sea Hotel takes some of the most compelling elements of Balkan folk music and strips them down to their barest form. The vocal trio executes the kind of close, difficult harmonies that inspired Kate Bush to collaborate with Trio Bulgarka, a Bulgarian vocal group, on her 1989 album, "The Sensual World."

The Brooklynites celebrate their fondness for Balkan song with precision, often rearranging traditional pieces originally meant for larger groups. On Wednesday, the group led a workshop on Balkan singing at D.C.'s Field School in Northwest and performed at a house in Maryland later that evening. Tomorrow, Black Sea Hotel continues its short but notably diverse tour at Church of the Holy City on 16th Street. Tickets are $20. - Ryan Little, The Washington Post

"Soundcheck with John Schaefer"

When you hear the term a cappella, quirky college concerts, inventive pop covers, or famous television theme songs may be the first things that come to mind. But Black Sea Hotel shatters these expectations. The Brooklyn trio 's 2013 album, The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying, showcases the group's haunting, reverb-drenched harmonies, recalling the Gregorian polyphony of the Catholic church. Yet the group credits another exotic influence in helping to shape its sound: Balkan folk music.

No matter the creative source, Black Sea Hotel's music is ethereal, and oftentimes, dissonant, creating a swirling sonic palette that skips around nimbly. It's a sound that expertly plays with melody and harmony, fashioning a musical world equally familiar and fantastical. - John Schaefer

"East Village Radio, New Release Pick"

“Now that alt-folk is such an established musical concept, it makes sense that alt-world music would follow. Everything about this debut release from the all-female Brooklyn quartet Black Sea Hotel speaks of indie rock cred, from the fact that the bandmembers found each other on Craigslist to the enigmatic, muted cover art to the intriguing but kinda random band name. It seems like they should be doing some kind of moody, artsy indie-folk thing, like some sort of cross between Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. In fact, Black Sea Hotel are an a cappella vocal quartet singing traditional Bulgarian (and occasionally Macedonian) folk music, and doing a damn fine job of it. Mind, this is not some Balkan Beat Box-style crossover thing that applies some superficial Bulgarian touches to otherwise traditional western pop: this is Bulgarian vocal music without the training wheels. The four singers are technically very skilled, but what makes Black Sea Hotel so much more accessible to an interested newcomer to the style than most similar albums is that the singers are more interested in the beauty and emotional directness of the human voice than in clinical technical perfection. Those who don't speak Bulgarian can find translations of the lyrics in the booklet, but they're in no way necessary to enjoy this gorgeous, entrancing record.” - Stewart Mason

"CD Baby, Album Review and Editor's Pick"

This 4-piece Bulgarian women’s choir from Brooklyn has not let geography or distance separate them from the heart of Balkan folk music. Their original a cappella arrangements of traditional melodies breathe new life into age-old tunes. The stark vocal blend is emotionally raw, the rhythms economical, the overall aesthetic intuitively focused. Black Sea Hotel’s singing can turn on a dime from soaring, ethereal drones to tight, percussive tones. And from the sound of things, I imagine their live performances in the NYC-area to be both captivating and raucous affairs.” - CD Baby


Upcoming single release from music video, Zhenish Me Mamo, with bonus live tracks
The Forest is Shaking and Swaying, 2013
Self-Titled Debut Album, Black Sea Hotel, 2008
Demo Release, 2006



At once lyrical and ethereal, dissonant and driving, Black Sea Hotel’s distinct yet unified voices create a harmonic blend that is often called otherworldly, haunting, even spellbinding. Affectionately dubbed a “punk rock version of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares”, the NY-based a cappella trio draws its inspiration from the rich traditions of Balkan folk song. The group gathers material from master singers, archival field recordings, and large mid-century choral arrangements, creating original, complex three-voiced compositions. The sometimes strident, sometimes unearthly textures and overtones characteristic of Black Sea Hotel’s sound evoke ancient yet potent stories which still resonate today.

Black Sea Hotel’s appeal draws a remarkably broad audience. They perform at venues ranging from world class concert halls to downtown clubs, from international folk festivals and universities, to the Bulgarian Embassy. The group has collaborated with such musical luminaries as Kremena Stancheva (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens), and beat-boxer Adam Matta (Carolina Chocolate Drops), as well as Brooklyn Balkan bands Ansambl Mastika and Raya Brass Band. The trio has been broadcast live internationally on PRI’s The World Global Hit Segment, on John Schaefer's Soundcheck on WNYC, as well as on WFMU, WAMU, KUNM, KSFR, and Sirius XM Radio, among others. The group regularly leads workshops, classes, and lecture-demos in Balkan singing nationwide.

Black Sea Hotel’s live performances and recordings have been praised by The Washington Post, Paul Schomer of National Public Radio, David Byrne, music producer Martin Bisi, Lucid Culture, New York Music Daily, Timeout NY, East Village Radio, and more. The group's first album debuted at #2 on iTunes World Music Top Albums, and was chosen as Editor’s Pick / Featured Artist on CD Baby. Black Sea Hotel’s much-anticipated latest album, The Forest is Shaking and Swaying, was released in Fall 2013.

“(Black Sea Hotel’s) painstakingly researched and innovative arrangements of traditional Balkan folk songs are performed with a refined emotion that hits with the magnetic pull of rock-bound sirens. Just tie me to the mast now...!”

- Paul Schomer (Producer, National Public Radio)

Band Members