While traveling in the Mediterranean, researching the Neolithic period, Jennifer Berezan made sure to visit Malta, the historic island south of Sicily that is home to some of the world's oldest temples. One of these, the subterranean Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, includes a room that was built for sound.
"The archeological manuals all said that only a male voice would resonate there," Berezan scoffs. "So as a musician — and a woman — I of course couldn't wait to try it out. When I first sang there, it was unlike anything I had heard before. It had the resonance of a huge cathedral but emanating from underground: literally the bones of the earth vibrating with sound, creating the most incredible acoustics. So I had the crazy idea to make a recording there."
Raised on the Canadian prairie and now living in Berkeley, singer/songwriter/activist Berezan released her first album, In the Eye of the Storm, in 1988. Her next, 1995's She Carries Me, incorporated meditative and trance music. This transition was destined to occur, she says.
"I grew up with a sense of the wider purpose of music. I was raised in the Sixties and hugely influenced by the transformative political music of the time. So much of it felt 'spiritual' to me. I could feel the power of music to change consciousness, create community, and transform the world. ... It was a natural progression for me to merge my emerging folksinger self with my interest in the spiritual dimension of life. I also learned a lot from earth-based spiritual traditions who view all of life, all of the earth, as innately sacred."
She often asks non-musical celebrities to lend their voices to her recordings. While they performed only spoken-word parts in the studio, "when we performed the pieces live, people like Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Olympia Dukakis, and Eve Ensler were singing along euphorically with everyone else. ... Singing in community creates a container for everyone to feel comfortable to use their voices. I often also approach the performances as rituals, rather than concerts."
That's the spirit Berezan and fellow singer-songwriter Betsy Rose will bring to A Special Solstice Evening on Celebration of Darkness and the Return of Light, a women-only seasonal singing circle at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley (2345 Channing Way, Berkeley) on Friday, Dec. 11. No singing skills, experience, or talent are required.
As for the Hypogeum: After much red-tape wrangling, Maltese museum authorities granted Berezan three days to record in the chambers.
"The experience was phenomenal. We sang under red ochre paintings from 3600 BC. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and the stone chambers have a truly sweet and sacred feeling." The result was 2000's ReTurning CD. Her next will be based on the Buddhist practice of metta, or lovingkindness, and will include the voices of monks and nuns at Hwaeomsa Temple on South Korea's Jiri Mountain. 7:15 p.m., $15-$20. FCCB.org