Musically speaking, Georgia is divided into two regions: east and west. However, both regions share many of the same styles and are known for their vocal polyphony.
Polyphony is when each line of music has its own individual line, as opposed to harmony lines. No matter the region, a cappella singing is generally the form of a lot of vocal music, especially music before the 20th century. Typically, this vocal style consists of two to four voices sung in a polyphonic fashion, but it’s also based on an ostinato bass and rhythmic drones. You’ll also find the use of the drones a common practice throughout much of the Balkans. In Western Georgia, they have their own type of yodel called krimanchuli that utilizes many of these contrapuntal and polyphonic features.
Another key feature is the use of dissonant interval notes. These include 2nds, 4ths, 7ths, and 9ths. They often make use of suspended chords, which gives a dissonance between the 4th and the 5th notes of the chord. I remember reading about Albanian and Bulgarian music that these dissonant chords were often used in shepherds’ songs as a way of communicating to other shepherds in neighboring fields. The dissonant notes carried farther.
Tuning was originally based on perfect fourths and perfect fifths. This goes back to Medieval music traditions. If you listen to Gregorian (or other) chants, you’ll hear the how the music is based on this. However, traditional Georgian music is tuned slightly differently than the twelve evenly-spaced half notes that comprise an octave used in most of the rest of Europe.
Georgians view music as a social or community event. Whenever there is any call for a celebration –a birth, a wedding, a birthday– people gather to sing. Many times, small groups of singers are more popular, especially trios. Dancing is also tied in with social events. They have several types of dances performed in a number of situations: Kartuli (a romantic dance danced by a couple, slow and dignified movements), Khorumi (a men-only dance performed by as many as 30-40 men as a pre-war dance), Partsa (fast-paced, rhythmic, characterized by dancer’s ability for quick movements, incites a party atmosphere), Khanjluri (men dress in traditional red chokhas, the dance is performed with daggers and knives), Jeirani (a type of hunting dance), Davluri (a type of city dance), and Mkhedruli (a type of cavalryman’s dance).
Their music isn’t all vocal music however. They do play instruments as well. Some of the most commonly played instruments in Georgian music are the larchemi (a Georgian panpipe), stviri (flute), changi (harp), gudastviri (bagpipe), chonguri (four-stringed, unfretted, long-neck lute), panduri (three-stringed, fretted, long-neck lute), and several different types of percussion instruments, such as the doli, daira, and diplipito.
One of the most well-known bands from Georgia is called The Shin, which means “home” or “going home” in Georgia. (Not to be confused with The Shins, an American indie rock band.) They represented their country in this year’s (2014) Eurovision Song Contest; however, they got last place and didn’t advance. But I like their style. It’s a mix of jazz and blues with minimal vocals. They have some interesting chord changes, something that stems from traditional Georgian music, yet it all seems to mesh quite nicely.
Another band that seems to find inspiration in some of their styles is called 33a. Minimal to a degree, at times it reminds me of Phil Collins or Sting. He also incorporates jazz elements into him music, and with his bass voice, it adds a unique quality to the music. He's actually pretty versatile.
And of course, Georgians are not exempt from girl pop music. The band Candy fulfills it to every extend needed. Singing in a mix of Georgian and English, they remind me of Japanese pop music groups. A few moderately catchy tunes sung by cute girls is probably enough to draw the attention of teenagers across the country. It’s as my dad used to call pop music: bubblegum music.
Sofia Nizharadze sings entirely in English on the album I listened to called We Are All. When I listened to this album, I felt that it would fit right in nicely with early-to-mid-1990s albums, even though it was produced this year. She actually represented Georgia in the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2010, which brought attention not only to Georgian musicians, but pushed her own music career as well. In fact, she was a judge on the “Georgia’s Got Talent” TV show. Needless to say, she’s pretty popular.
I also listened to Lela Tsurtsumia’s album Yamo Helessa. She’s been performing since the late 1990s. I found her music unique because it’s a fusion of pop and folk. It’s a pretty good example of listening for the drone I talked about earlier. I actually really like this album. I found the combination of strings and harp with the hollow vocal harmonies of the perfect fourths and fifth mystifying yet relaxing. In other songs, the traditional rhythms and moving flute lines reminded me of Renaissance dance music. It definitely made me feel as if I were part of something very ancient.
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