Music & Dance

GEORGIAN MUSIC

Hypnotic, visceral and utterly different from anything you’ve ever heard before, Georgian music has the power to make you laugh, cry, dance and pray. Developed over the centuries, the traditions and styles of performance have been handed down from generation to generation by outstanding singers, many of who founded their own schools and whose memory lives on in the minds of Georgian people.

The inspiration is most often the church, work in the fields, feasting with friends or special occasions. The Georgian songs are sometimes accompanied by the chunir (Svan bowed lute), panduri (Kakhetian lute), chonguri (Gurian lute), doli (drum), chiboni (goat-skin bagpipes), duduki (traditional Caucasian woodwind instrument) and accordion. The wailing duduki, the twanging panduri and the irresistible beat of the drum provide the background to the amazing dances that Georgians seem to perform for almost any occasion.

Georgia is renowned for her polyphonic music – be it folk songs or church hymns. Featuring complex, polyphonic harmonies, Georgian folk singing has long been a subject of special interest among musicologists. Men and women sing in separate ensembles with entirely different repertoires. Most Georgian folk songs are peculiar to individual regions of Georgia. There are three types of polyphony in Georgia: complex polyphony, which is common in Svaneti; polyphonic dialogue over a bass background, prevalent in the Kakheti region in Eastern Georgia; and contrasted polyphony with three partially improvised sung parts, characteristic of western Georgia. Some of these songs are linked to the cult of the grapevine, and many date back to the 8th century. The songs traditionally pervaded all areas of everyday life, ranging from work in the fields (the Naduri, which incorporates the sounds of physical effort into the music) to Christmas Carols (Alilo). In 1977, when the US launched the spacecraft Voyager, it carried the traditional Georgian song Chakrulo on board as part of the world’s cultural heritage. In 2001 UNESCO acknowledged this music as “a masterpiece of the world’s intangible cultural heritage”.

GEORGIAN DANCE

In many parts of the world traditional dances can seem like boring stage shows only performed for tourists. In Georgia, the opposite is true. Traditional dance is as much a part of life as it ever has been. Nowhere else will you see ordinary people jump up and perform amazing, acrobatic dance steps that have not changed in centuries.

Dance is a central part of Georgian culture. Many people study national dances at primary school, and the first dance at most weddings is still an ancient ritual where the bride leads the groom on a dancing chase to symbolize their courtship. If, however, you do not get invited to any weddings, it is still possible to see Georgian dance in all its glory. The Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet troupe is a world renowned company founded in 1945. Their fast passed, exquisitely choreographed renditions of ancient dances has won acclaim all over the world, and when their band released an album it immediately became one of the most popular in Georgia. They play several times a year when in Georgia, when they are not on tour. Other recommended dance troupes include Rustavi and Erisioni, and traditional dance can be seen every night at the Nabadi theatre on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, as well as numerous restaurants.

Dances are mostly performed in traditional dress, the Chokha, a knee length coat that billows out at the waist, complete with holders for gun cartridges arranged along the breast. The outfit is completed with a traditional sword slung form the waist. Sometimes, the sword itself becomes an element in the dance. Many Georgian dances fuse traditional dance with martial arts, and seem to as much about gymnastic competition as anything else, with dancers competing to jump the highest onto their knees, hop on their toe-knuckle or even fight each other with swords and shields.