Georgian Folk Music

Georgian Polyphonic Singing was recognized by UNESCO as a Human masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage in 2001. After the accession of Georgia to the Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, Georgian Polyphonic Singing was inscribed on its Representative List in 2008.

One of the most well-known example of Georgian folk music - the patriotic song "Chakrulo" was chosen to accompany the Voyager spacecraft on August 20, 1977 and it has been included on the NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Record.

Georgia has rich and still vibrant traditional music, which is primarily known as arguably the earliest polyphonic tradition of the Christian world. Situated on the border of Europe and Asia, Georgia is also the home of a variety of urban singing styles with a mixture of native polyphony, Middle Eastern monophony and late European harmonic languages. Georgian performers are well represented in the world's leading opera troupes and concert stages.

The folk music of Georgia consists of at least fifteen, but according to some professionals, sixteen regional styles, known in Georgian musicology and ethnomusicology as "musical dialects". These sixteen regions are traditionally grouped into two, eastern and western Georgian groups.

The Eastern Georgian group of musical dialects consists of the two biggest regions of Georgia, Kartli and Kakheti (united as "Kartli-Kakheti"); several smaller north-east Georgian mountain regions, Khevsureti, Pshavi, Tusheti, Khevi, Mtiuleti, Gudamakari; and a southern Georgian region, Meskheti. Table songs from Kakheti in eastern Georgia usually feature a long drone bass with two soloists singing the top two parts. 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.

The Western Georgian group of musical dialects consists of the central region of western Georgia, Imereti; three mountainous regions, Svaneti, Racha and Lechkhumi; and three Black Sea coastal regions, Samegrelo, Guria, and Achara. Georgian regional styles of music are sometimes also grouped into mountain and plain groups. Different scholars distinguish musical dialects differently, for example, some do not distinguish Gudamakari and Lechkhumi as separate dialects, and some consider Kartli and Kakheti to be separate dialects. Two more regions, Saingilo (in the territory of Azerbaijan) and Lazeti (in the territory of Turkey) are also included in the characteristics of Georgian traditional music.


Traditional Vocal Polyphony

Georgian folk music is predominantly vocal and is widely known for its rich traditions of vocal polyphony. It is widely accepted in contemporary musicology that polyphony in Georgian music predates the introduction of Christianity in Georgia (beginning of the 4th century AD). All regional styles of Georgian music have traditions of vocal a cappella polyphony, although in the most southern regions (Meskheti and Lazeti) only historical sources provide the information about the presence of vocal polyphony before the 20th century.

Vocal polyphony based on ostinato formulas and rhythmic drone are widely distributed in all Georgian regional styles. Apart from these common techniques, there are also other, more complex forms of polyphony: pedal drone polyphony in Eastern Georgia, particularly in Kartli and Kakheti table songs (two highly embellished melodic lines develop rhythmically free on the background of pedal drone), and contrapuntal polyphony in Achara, Imereti, Samegrelo, and particularly in Guria (three and four part polyphony with highly individualized melodic lines in each part and the use of several polyphonic techniques). Western Georgian contrapuntal polyphony features the local variety of the yodel, known as Krimanchuli.

Both east and west Georgian polyphony is based on wide use of sharp dissonant harmonies (seconds, fourths, sevenths, ninths). Because of the wide use of the specific chord consisting of the fourth and a second on top of the fourth (C-F-G), the founder of Georgian ethnomusicology, Dimitri Arakishvili called this chord the "Georgian Triad". Georgian music is also known for colorful modulations and unusual key changes.

Thus, Georgian polyphonic singing was among the first on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001 and was relisted on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.


Traditional Musical Instruments

Georgian traditional musical instruments have been known since ancient times. The oldest archaeological find dates back to the XV c. BC. In ancient Georgian literary sources, more than 100 names of instruments are mentioned. A wide variety of musical instruments are known from Georgia. Among the most popular instruments are: blown instruments salamuri, soinari, known in Samegrelo as larchemi (Georgian panpipes), stviri (flute), gudastviri (bagpipe), sting instruments changi (harp), chonguri (four stringed unfretted long neck lute), panduri (three stringed fretted long neck lute), bowed chuniri, known also as chianuri, and variety of drums. Georgian musical instruments are traditionally overshadowed by the rich vocal traditions of Georgia, and unfortunately subsequently received much less attention from Georgian and Western scholars.


Georgian Folk Dances

Georgian Folk Dances also have an ancient history confirmed by numerous historical sources and archaeological artefacts.

Georgian dance is a celebration of life and of Georgia’s rich and diverse culture. Each dance portrays the characteristics of the region in which it originated. The mountain dances, such as Khevsuruli or Mtiuluri, are different from valley or lowland dances — e.g. Acharuli and Davluri. The costumes are different for every dance and resemble the clothing of the past in different regions of Georgia.

The dances perfectly capture the natural gracefulness and beauty of Georgian women and the courage, honor and respectfulness of Georgian men. The male dancers perform spectacular leaps and turns, incredible spins and can also boast a highly original technique for, unlike any other dancers in the world, they dance on their toes without the aid of “block” shoes. The female dancers “glide” like swans.

Georgian dance owes a huge debt of gratitude to Iliko Sukhishvili and his wife Nino Ramishvili, founders of the Georgian National Ballet. It is due to their efforts that Georgian national dancing and music has become known in many parts of the world.


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