A friend recently spent some time in Tblisi, and they very kindly brought back this CD of Georgian polyphonic singing. This style of music has ancient roots and a rich warmth we don't often get to hear:
In Georgia culture polyphonic singing has been preserved as a vital part of the national identity. Georgian polyphonic tradition is likely to be older than that of Western Europe. In Georgia, it is primarily the men who do the singing. A typical Georgian song is sung a cappella by men, in three voices. However, occasionally the string instruments and panduri are used as accompaniment. In 2003 Georgian Church issued an ordinance according to which no more then three voice polyphony is eligible for official praying in churches and during official ceremonies. The chords are also the subject to be taken into account and singers are asked to avoid modern and innovative harmonic language. According to existing opinion the Georgian Church tries to preserve the old traditions and unique musical language of Georgian chants which are of hundreds of years old.
Polyphonic singing has always had its natural place in Georgian social life, both at festivities and at work. Today, the most common forum for the tradition is the dining table. Not only at banquets, but also in common restaurants, one may here a company of gentlemen singing a beautiful song in chorus. Many Georgian ensembles pass on the tradition in concert form as well.
The Georgian language, one of the four South Caucasian or Kartvelian languages, is very old. It is not related to any other living language, and its original traits are well preserved due to the land being geographically isolated. It has also served as protection from aggressors throughout the centuries.
The most significant feature of the Georgian language is its richness in consonants. Despite this, Georgian singing is never rough or angular. On the contrary, it sounds warm, generous and marrowy - both when softly affectionate, spiritually sincere or defiantly proud.
The songs had many functions in a traditional village community:
- Table songs did not only express joy at the festivities. The textual forms of blessing elevated the meal shared with a guest to the level of ritual, which both strengthened the individual participant and the community, and further affirmed the existing social norms.
- The songs of the two groups competing against one another during field work (Naduri), serve on the one hand, to organize the work and increase group productivity, and on the other, to transform the physically extremely strenuous days into a festival, where old fertility rites could continue to be celebrated.
- The perkhuli, or circle dance, also performed by two alternating groups, joins dance to words and music. Most of these songs are associated with festivals and customs of a religious nature. One finds them especially often in the high mountain regions, where religious concepts often have no more in common with the Georgian-Orthodox Church than the name.
These peasant songs, sung in region-specific ways, constitute only half of the traditional folk music of Georgia. The embodiment of this advanced Christian civilization was not only to be seen in the leading architecture of its many churches, its frescoes, icons, book paintings or its religious and secular literature. The spiritual centers of Middle Ages Georgia were also centers of religious vocal art. Here, peculiar within the Orthodoxy, a three-part form of liturgical singing developed, which for the most part, was also handed-down orally. Only in the 19th century, when Georgian churches lost their autonomy (Autokephalie) as a consequence of the Russian occupation of 1801, and the services became increasingly Russianized, did the priests and musicians begin to set down the orally-transmitted songs in written form. These constitute an important foundation for the re-birth of this vocal art, almost totally obliterated during the time of the Soviets (1921-1990).
Here's a rare glimpse of Georgian Voices singing round the dinner table:
01 The Lake Sleeps
02 Mado Chkimi
03 A Winter
04 Svanetian Lazjgvashi
09 Azari and Sharatini
10 A've Known You Since Long Time
11 Kakhetian Mravalzjamieri
13 O God (Choral)
15 Girl, You are so Good
19 Dala Kojas Khelguajale
Get it HERE.