Music of Georgia

Folk music

Georgian folk music possesses what is the oldest tradition of polyphonic music in the world, predating the introduction of Christianity.


Scales used in traditional Georgian music have, like most European scales, octaves divided into seven tones (eight including the octave), but the spacing of the tones is different. As with most traditional systems of tuning, traditional Georgian folk music uses a just perfect fifth. Between the unison and the fifth, however, come three evenly-spaced notes, producing a compressed (compared to most European music) major second, a neutral third, and a stretched perfect fourth. Likewise, between the fifth and the octave come two evenly-spaced notes, producing a compressed major sixth and a stretched minor seventh. This system of tuning renders thirds as the most consonant interval after fifths, which resulted in the third being treated as a stable interval in Georgia long before it acquired that status in Western music.Fact|date=March 2007

Some consider the Georgian scale a "quintave system" (as opposed to the octave-repeating "octave system"). Due to the neutral tuning within the quintave system, the eighth degree or octave is slightly widened, which often results in a rise in pitch from the beginning of a song to the end.

Because of the influence of the Western music and its different system of tuning, present-day performances of Georgian folk music often employ Western tuning, bringing the seconds, fourths, sixths, and sevenths, and sometimes the thirds as well, closer to where they would lie in a Western scale.

Musical literature and traditions

Georgian folk songs are often centered on feasts called "supra", where songs and toasts to God, fatherland, long life, love and other topics. Traditional feast songs include "Zamtari", which is about winter and is sung to commemorate ancestors, and "Mravalzhamier", a joyous hymn. Work songs are also widespread. The orovela, for example is a type of work song found in eastern Georgia. There is also a distinct and rich tradition of Georgian sacred music, both settings of hymns for the Orthodox Church, and folk hymns and ritual songs that contain a great deal of "pagan"? imagery. There are, in addition, many lyric love songs, dance songs, lullabies, and travelling songs, among others.

Choirs are generally entirely male, though some female groups also exist; mixed-gender choirs are rare, but also exist. (An example of the latter is the Zedashe ensemble, based in Sighnaghi, Kakheti.)

Varieties within the country

Georgia is a small country, but it is very mountainous. For this reason, folk music styles from different regions of Georgia differ very widely, which makes it difficult to speak of characteristics of "Georgian folk music" as a monolithic whole.

Table songs from Kakheti in eastern Georgia usually feature a simple, drone-like bass part with two soloists singing the top two parts. Kakhetian melodies sound like recitative part of the time (with great emphasis on the words, which are highly poetic), and then break into series of ornate, cascading ornaments. The two melody parts do play off each other, but there is not the type of complicated back-and-forth between the parts that one hears in Gurian trio songs. Perhaps the most well-known example of music in Kakhetian style is the patriotic "Chakrulo", which was chosen to accompany the "Voyager" spacecraft in 1977.

In Rach'a and Ajara, male singers accompany themselves on bagpipe. Dissonance is prominent in the west, in Mingrelia and Guria, which also features high pitches and outrageous, yodelling-like vocals called krimanchuli. Svaneti's traditions are perhaps the oldest and most traditional due to the region's isolation. Svan harmonies are irregular and angular, and the middle voice leads two supporting vocals, all with a narrow range. The 20th century has seen professional choirs achieve renown in Georgia, especially Anzor Erkomaishvili's Rustavi Choir.

Contemporary Georgian music

Georgia is home to a form of urban music with sentimental, lovelorn lyrics, as well as a more rough and crude urban music featuring clarinets, doli and duduks.

Folk musical instruments

Wind instruments: larchemi-soinari, salamuri, pilili, gudastviri and stviri

Brass wind instruments: sankeri

String instruments: panduri, chonguri, chunir, chianuri and changi

Percussion instruments: doli, daira and diplipito


Georgian hip hop

Since its debut in the early 1990s as underground music, rap has become a leading mainstream genre for Georgia, a country better known for the intricate melodies of polyphonic choirs than the pulsating rhythms of the hip-hop beat.

Yet while cynics may question the concept of a distinctly Georgian hip hop, the motivation driving the phenomenon is simple: A person doesn’t need much money or resources to rhyme.

"I came from the Kutaisi streets and performed on the same streets in 1990," said 35-year-old Shavi Prinsi(Shavi Princi) (Black Prince), the country’s undisputed eldest hip-hopper and one of its biggest stars. Kutaisi is an industrial town of about 186,000 in western Georgia that ranks as one of the country’s rap centers. "All I had was a microphone and boom box."

It was after hearing Public Enemy’s song "Can’t Trust It" that Shavi Prinsi got hooked on hip-hop rhythm and taught himself how to dance by watching music videos. "Sure, I don’t understand English well, but I can feel the music and what they are trying to say. I understand the general meaning," said Prinsi, a one-time piano and drums student whose songs generally advocate the use of marijuana and cover what he calls "everyday stuff." "People love rap because the rhythm is catchy – they can dance to it."

But Georgian rappers insist their music does not just imitate the sounds born in New York’s South Bronx. "Look, we’ve lived through communism and experienced war on our streets," commented 30-year-old Tbilisi rapper Bedina. "We are against war, against drugs. If you need bread, there are better ways of getting it than by selling drugs."

Bedina’s own songs reflect his experience as a "street boy" in Georgia’s turbulent 1990s, his five years in prison for weapons’ possession and his life since he has been released. "Prinsi is from the sunny west side – green, clean air," commented Bedina. "I’m from asphalt, the blocks."

Unlike other parts of the world where open antagonism exists between rappers, Georgian rappers say solidarity characterizes their community. Accent, tempo and phrasing of lyrics make up the only difference between rap styles in Kutaisi and Tbilisi, the country’s two rap capitals, Shavi Prinsi explains. Rappers from both cities often perform together.

Bedina attributes the trait to the Georgian mentality. "We like to make friends with people," he said. By comparison with the American rap scene, he continued, " [t] here’s more justice in our approach."

No rivalry over mega-sized salaries, either. Unlike the West, where stardom is reflected in the income made from record sales, Georgian rappers and musicians in general do not make a substantial income from the sale of records. Musicians are not paid royalties every time their song is played on the air. Instead, the main source of income comes from performing in concerts. Recognition comes from video clips broadcast on a local music television station, which asks viewers to SMS or call in to vote for their favorite clip.

Some clips are made on budgets as low as 100 lari (about $55). Nonetheless, despite the financial limitations, they can exhibit a high level of direction and production.

Tbilisi rapper Bedina puts it down to an evolution in the packaging of Georgian rap. "You know, in 2002, Georgian show business really developed, but rappers weren’t invited to many concerts," he said. "Then we realized we should create melodic music videos with lots of dancing girls for mass consumption."

The western fashion of music business paid off. Rap’s popularity instantly shot up. In 2003, Armenian DVD and CD distributor David Arutunov organized the country’s first rap festival in Tbilisi. More and more young people adopted hip-hop fashion, while small groups of break dancers formed. Graffiti glorifying American rapper Tu-Pac popped up all over walls of Georgia’s cities.

The popularity of home-grown rap, however, may have peaked. A lack of sponsors has kept Arutunov from organizing another festival.

Tbilisi radio station disc jockey Ramaz Khatiashvili associates the drop in popularity with Georgian’s current fascination with western pop music. "Rap isn’t as popular as it was a couple years ago," Khatiashvili said. "Georgians aren’t listening to anything Georgian. They prefer American or English music now."

Bedina admits there has been a lack of commercial interest. "I haven’t been on TV lately, maybe because television is opposed to art, or people are just tired of hearing about their problems."

However, a strong fan base persists, predominately with teenagers. On November 27, despite freezing temperatures, the Soviet-era House of Culture in Gori, a small regional center not far from the breakaway region of South Ossetia, was packed to capacity for a variety show featuring pop singers, dancers and many rappers.

So long as hip hop artists identify with those fans’ needs, performers say, the future of Georgian rap is secure. Commented Bedina: "Our people relate to our texts because we sing about our common problems. We sing about the street."


* Broughton, Simon. "A Feast of Songs". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), "World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East", pp 347-350. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
* [ "Ancient Music Accompanies Ancient Wine," "From the Cradle of Wine"]
* [] Listen to streaming Georgian music of different genres, read bios, lyrics, download scores for free, learn descriptions of folk songs, some facts from Georgian music history.
* [ Traditional Polyphony of Georgia] , a UNESCO-sponsored project.

See also


External links

* [ Shavi Princi - Ar Damelodo]

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