One of the primary pleasures of living in the Bay Area is that one needn't leave town to take advantage of an international array of cultural riches. And that includes the holidays. Seasonal musical offerings are particularly profuse in the coming weeks, with no shortage of options for getting in the spirit.
Since 2005, the dazzling Sligo-raised fiddler Oisin (pronounced oh-sheen) Mac Diarmada, a founding member of the traditional Irish band Téada, has led "Irish Christmas in America," an ever-evolving showcase for some of Ireland's finest musicians and singers. This year's tour, which plays Kuumbwa on Saturday and Freight & Salvage on Sunday, "really focuses on the songs of Christmas, because we've got these wonderful singers," says Mac Diarmada.
At the center of the show is accordionist Seamus Begley, Ireland's 2013 Traditional Singer of the Year. "Irish Christmas in America" also features a vocal duo, Eilis (Ay-lish) Kennedy, who grew up singing in Gaelic, and Pauline Scanlon, a vocalist in the tradition of Sinead O'Connor and Enya. They'll be joined by guitarist Donogh Hennessy, a founding member of Lunasa, and Mac Diarmada and Sean Gavin on flute and uilleann pipes.
If "Irish Christmas in America" brings the warmth and good cheer of the old sod to the Bay Area, "Zambomba Gitana" distills the passion and intensity of Christmas in Andalusia, with a cast of Gypsy flamenco artists from Jerez de la Frontera. Produced by Bay Area Flamenco, the show brings Jose Galvez, El Pele de Navajita Platea, Maria Bermudez, Angelita Agujetas, Kina Mendez, Antonio de Jerez and Luis de la Tota to San Francisco's Brava Theater on Dec. 6, La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley on Dec. 7 and Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Dec. 8.
Even flamenco aficionados might discover something new in "Zambomba Gitana," which features traditional Spanish holiday songs, villancicos, transformed into slow-burning bulerias, a flamenco form strongly identified with Jerez de la Frontera. With call and response vocals and palmas (hand clapping), Zambombas are more community celebrations than individual star turns, powered by the seasonally constructed clay-pot percussion instrument that gives the festivity its name.
When it comes to summoning unfamiliar lands, there's no sound more transporting than the voices of Kitka, the all-women Bay Area choir that specializes in music of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Singing songs in more than a dozen languages, Kitka presents its annual "Wintersongs" tour, including Friday, Dec. 13, at St. Paul's Church in Oakland; Arts at St. Bede's in Menlo Park on Sunday, Dec. 15; and Old First Concerts in San Francisco on Dec. 21. The ensemble holds its popular "Wintersongs Community Sing" at Oakland's Nile Hall on Dec. 22.
Subtitled "A World Unknown," this year's program features several new directions for Kitka, such as folk polyphony from the American South. The subtitle is drawn from the lyrics of an 18th-century hymn from the American Sacred Harp tradition, "Idumea," and Kitka will perform a new arrangement that combines the song with a pentatonic scale from Northern Greece. Another new piece, from the Bosnian-Muslim ganga tradition, is a result of Kitka's recent trip to Serbia to collaborate with Balkan traditional singer Svetlana Spajic.
Other options for Christmas music include "Black Christmas with Afrofunk Experience and The Broun Fellinis!" featuring the potent Afrobeat inspired Experience with the seminal Bay Area acid jazz combo. Details: Thursday, Dec. 19, 8:30 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco, $8, www.cafedunord.com.
The annual Windham Hill "A Winter Solstice" tour brings together a sensational cast, including pianist Liz Story, Lisa Lynne on Celtic harp, bouzouki and bass, and Barbara Higbie on violin, piano, vocals and guitar. Flutist/percussionist George Tortorelli and Aryeh Frankfurter, an expert on the Swedish nyckleharpa, round out the show. Details: 7 p.m. Dec. 20; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; $25-$28, www.kuumbwajazz.org; 4 p.m. Dec. 22, SFJazz Center, San Francisco; $25-$60; www.sfjazz.org.
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.
"Irish Christmas In America": 7:30 p.m. Saturday; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; $25-$27, www.kuumbwajazz.org, 408-847-6982; 8 p.m. Sunday; Freight & Salvage, Berkeley; $22.50-$24.50; 510-644-2020, www.thefreight.org.
"Zambomba Gitana": 8 p.m. Dec. 6; Brava Theatre, San Francisco; $25-$65; www.bayareaflamenco.org; 8 p.m. Dec. 7; La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley; $25-$45; 510-849-2560, www.lapena.org; 6 p.m. Dec. 8; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; $25-$45; www.bayareaflamenco.org.
Kitka "Wintersongs": 8 p.m. Dec. 13; St. Paul's Church, Oakland; $15-$40; www.brownpapertickets.com; 4 p.m. Dec. 15; Arts at St. Bedes, Menlo Park; $5-$32; www.brownpapertickets.com; 8 p.m. Dec. 21; 8 p.m. Old First Concerts, San Francisco; $15-$25; www.oldfirstconcerts.org.