A small minority with a great culture. A musical journey in the footsteps of the Karaims – Kurier Wileński


Karaims are the least numerous ethnic minority in Poland and Lithuania. Small in number, but with a very rich culture. The participants of Karolina Cicha’s concert, which opened the series of summer concerts in Vilnius City Hall, were able to see how beautiful Karaim music is.

“That’s a very interesting minority: their music is often borrowed from the countries where they lived. There are no original, typically Karaite sounds or motifs here; we can recognize Crimean, Ukrainian or Lithuanian melodies here. The words are much more original, because they were written by Karaim poets: very lyrical, emotional, moving “- Karolina Cichca said about Karaim music in an interview she gave” Kurier Wileński “shortly after the album’s premiere
† Photo by Marian Paluszkiewicz

Karaims are part of the history of Lithuania and Poland, they are part of the great history of the multinational Republic of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The presence of the Karaim culture among us is invaluable and a testament to the richness of our culture. I am pleased that the Republic of Poland and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland are participating in the Year of Karaims in Lithuania and co-organizing this concert – said Polish Ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska, who started the concert.

– I am extremely pleased that, as a representative of the Karaim community, I was able to bring to Lithuania the “Karaim Music Map”, a project that we have been creating in Poland for two years. I am very happy that the Karaim language, culture and music transcend all boundaries that arise today. By creating this project, we wanted to show that culture has no borders, because the Karaim music map knows no borders – Mariola Abkowicz, president of the Polish Karaims Association, asked the audience.

Karaimska mapa muzyczna is the world’s first full-length music album of traditional Karaim music. Karaim music is sung and played by Karolina Cicha – a composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, recognizable by her original technique of playing multiple instruments at once, along with the accompanying band.

As the singer emphasized during the concert, the music itself was a huge challenge, but so was the language. – We came under exceptional circumstances, at the invitation of the Polish Embassy in Lithuania, to present our musical project “Karaim music map”. The language you hear is Karaim. Over many weeks I learned to pronounce these words, incl. thanks to the help of Mr. Romas Czaoricki, who I hope is here with us today – said the singer.

Karolina Cicha’s music project premiered in the fall of 2020. As its creators claim, music is a very important part of Karaim culture, and when looking for sources and testimonials of musical practice within the Karaim community, one should refer to the memory of the oldest Karaims living in dispersion, and the few material testimonies – archival recordings preserved in Karaim’s private collections.

There weren’t many witnesses left. The number of Karaims in Poland should not exceed 200, while in Lithuania there are slightly more, around 240. They mainly live in Vilnius, Trakai and Panevezys.

Read more: Year of the Lithuanian Karaims. Karolina Cicha & Spółka sing and play at Plac Ratuszowy

Karolina Cicha & Co.: Karolina Cicha – vocals, accordion, keyboards; Patrycja Betley – percussion instruments, vocals; Ołena Jeremenko – violin, kemanche, vocals; Mateusz Szemraj – cymbals, saz, oud, mandola; Michał Kuliczenko – vocals
† Photo by Marian Paluszkiewicz

So what does the title card of Karaim music look like? You will find cities like: Warsaw, Lutsk, Trakai, Halych, Vilnius, Kiev and the cities of Crimea. These places were not only important in the history of Karaim, but also left traces in poetry and songs that refer to the history of Crimea, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Vilnius region and Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

– This song tells of the tears a young boy shed in Lake Galve in Trakai, because his beloved was assigned another husband. The lake welled up with his tears, so there were so many – said the singer who introduced the song “Troch Szacharda”, that is “The City of Trakai”.

The choice of the concert location on the Stadhuisplein was not accidental. In 2022 it will be 625 years since the Karaims were brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Witold. On this occasion, the state authorities announced 2022 the Year of Karaims in Lithuania. There is no doubt that the musical event was a great opportunity to get interested and delighted in Karaim culture. The concert was very well received by residents and tourists of Vilnius. The crowd grew by the minute and no one was rushing home on a clear Friday night.

Those who have not had time to listen to live Karaim music can do so on the Internet. The album “Karaimska mama muzyczna” is available for free, you can download or listen to it at mapamuzyczna.karaimi.org.

Read more:“Karaim Music Map” at Town Hall Square [GALERIA]


The concert took place on June 16 as part of the Karaim Year celebrations in Lithuania. The organizer was the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius in collaboration with the Vilnius City Hall. Partners: The Karaim Cultural Community in Lithuania and the Union of Polish Karaims.
The publication of the article is co-financed by the Ministry of National Minorities under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania.


Article published in the magazine “Kurier Wileński” No. 25 (74) 25/06-01/07/2022

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