Joseph Jordania – Distribution of Vocal Polyphony among the World’s Musical Cultures

August 6th, 2014

The University of Melbourne, AustraliaThis article is designed to give a reader general picture of the distribution of vocal polyphony in different regions of the world. Due to the large number of polyphonic cultures the reader will not find the specific details of different local polyphonic traditions here.

Before the actual information about the distribution of vocal polyphonic cultures it is appropriate to discuss few important points.

“What is polyphony, or how should we define it?”

Polyphony is usually defined as a type of a music, where there is more than one pitch heard at the same time. Generally agreeing with this definition of polyphony, I believe this definition is one-sided and does not take into account a very important social aspect of vocal polyphony. I believe we must distinguish two equally important components of traditional vocal polyphony: social and musical. Socially polyphony implies active musical interaction within the group of the people. Musically polyphony implies having more than one pitch during the performance. It is clear that traditional definition of the polyphony is based on musical component only and does not take social component into account.

Social and musical aspects of polyphony do not always go together in various cultures. For example, the phenomenon of unison (/octave) singing socially represents polyphony (as group singing), although musically it is a monophony (only one pitch). On the other hand the unique overtone singing of some Central Asian cultures musically represents polyphony although socially it is not polyphony.

Social polyphony is distributed extremely wide across the world musical cultures. Most of so-called “monophonic cultures” (such as Chinese, Australian Aboriginal, or most of American Indian music cultures) have traditional forms of social polyphony (group singing). Arguably, there is no culture without some traditional forms of group singing. One of the true universals of human musical cultures – the antiphonal dialog between two parties (between soloists, two groups, and particularly between soloist and a group) represents the most basic and widespread form of social polyphony.

Our review mostly represents cultures where vocal polyphony is represented by both – social and musical – components. Regions where multi-part singing is represented by musical component only (without social component) are marked as having “elements” of vocal polyphony. Cultures with social polyphony only (unison or octave singing) are not discussed in this article, but readers should remember that there is hardly a culture without social polyphony.

“Where should we put the “dividing line” between multi-part (or polyphonic) and one-part (or monophonic) singing?

According to my attitude towards the definition of polyphonic singing, there is no clear borderline between polyphony and monophony. Strictly speaking, I do not believe there is any purely monophonic culture in the world, the one without any elements of social/or musical polyphony.

Both social and musical aspects of polyphony should be present in a tradition to qualify as polyphonic. Cultures with a tradition of group unison singing (without multi-part singing) are in the group of cultures with social polyphony only. This is a huge group of cultures comprising about the half of the world musical cultures. These cultures (without musical aspect of polyphony) in my classification represent the group of cultures traditionally known as monophonic cultures. Tradition of overtone singing, on the other hand, represents the tradition where musical aspect of polyphony is present, although the social aspect is not. Some singing styles (particularly unison-heterophonic singing) are in a position of a “transitional phenomenon” between polyphonic and monophonic singing styles.

“Is there such a thing as “polyphonic musical culture” and “monophonic musical culture”?

Despite my own belief that there is no strict division between polyphonic and monophonic singing traditions, and that there are no purely monophonic cultures in the world, some cultures could be viewed as “polyphonic” and some as “Monophonic”. Being polyphonic or monophonic is one of the most important and basic characteristic features for most of musical cultures. For the representatives of so-called “polyphonic cultures” (where both – social and musical components of polyphony are widely represented) it is quite usual to view even one-part melodies as a part of multi-part texture, or to sing an accompanying part to the unfamiliar melodies from their own or other cultures. For polyphonic cultures co-sounding of different parts is often more important than the melodic development of each part. Musical texture is often based on repetitive short melodic phrases, and songs may not be based around the ‘main melody of a song’. From the social point of view during the process of the performance society usually is not divided into “performers” and “listeners”, as in polyphonic cultures all the members of the society are usually performers and listeners at the same time.

On the other hand, in so-called “monophonic cultures” linear development is paramount and songs usually have well defined and complex melodic structure. The role of the individual performer is crucial. The importance of individual performer in monophonic cultures leads to the professionalisation of musical culture. The role of musical instruments (particularly string instruments) is much more important in monophonic cultures, and the instruments are often technically more elaborated than in polyphonic cultures. Professionalisation of individual performers in monophonic cultures often leads to the creation of complex theoretical systems of scales and modes. Unlike the polyphonic cultures where the process of the performance often does not divide the society on “performers” and “listeners”, in most of the monophonic cultures the roles of a “performer/performers” and “listeners” are clearly defined.

We should also remember that musical culture of some countries consists of both – polyphonic and monophonic types of traditional music, and the singing practices of certain region/regions of a country could be very different from the singing practices of the other regions of the same country.

“What is the relationship between vocal and instrumental forms of polyphony?

There is no doubt that there is an intrinsic intimate relationship between vocal and instrumental forms of polyphony (and generally music) in any given culture. At the same time this relationship is often more subtle and does not necessarily mean that instrumental and vocal music will have the same forms of monophony or polyphony. For example, some of the Central Asian countries combine vocal monophony with quite developed instrumental polyphony. Generally speaking, instrumental polyphony is geographically spread much wider than vocal polyphony. Cultures with the vocal forms of polyphony usually have instrumental polyphony as well, but at least some cultures with monophonic singing traditions have instrumental polyphony.

One of the most interesting aspects of relationship between vocal and instrumental forms of music is that different types of traditional instruments within cultures show different links with their own vocal music. Blown instruments seems to have much more intimate relationship with the vocal tradition rather than string instruments (this could be the result of breathing – common feature for both singing and playing on blown instruments). This general closeness of the vocal music with the blown instrumental music allows us (to some extend) to reconstruct the presence of vocal forms of polyphony in some ancient civilizations where polyphonic blown instruments (e.g., double polyphonic flutes) were widely spread.

“What are the origins of vocal polyphony – did it come from the further development of the initial one-part singing tradition?

Strictly speaking, this question has nothing to do with the actual distribution of vocal polyphony in different cultures. At the same time this important question often affects the way we are looking at the historical dynamics of the distribution of vocal forms of polyphony in different regions of the world. The initial common belief of musicologists and ethnomusicologists that polyphony came as a late (and natural) development of the initial monophonic singing tradition is outdated. Numerous examples of wonderfully developed vocal polyphony from the most remote and economically undeveloped regions of the world suggest that polyphony could be extremely ancient integral part of human musical culture. During the last 20 years in my publications I argued that the origins of human group singing and vocal polyphony goes back to the beginnings of the evolution of hominids. According to this model, there are close historical links between the origins of human part-singing and the evolution of human intelligence, language and speech.

Before we start discussing distribution of vocal polyphony in different regions of the world we should note, that polyphony is truly a world phenomenon, and it is spread (in different forms and different quantities) on every continent of our planet. Primarily because of such a wide distribution and complexity and diversity of styles, the detailed map of polyphony is as difficult to create, as the detailed map of the entire world musical styles. Our article, as it mentioned before, does not go into the details and does not (and can not) represent the whole richness of the world of polyphony.

Secondly, this article discusses vocal forms of polyphony only. We will be mentioning instrumental polyphony only in the context of its links with the vocal forms of polyphony.
And finally, we should remember that our article represents not the distribution of polyphonic singing among the contemporary populations, but rather the distribution of polyphony among the ideally represented “indigenous” populations of the world. For example, discussing American continents we will mostly concentrate on distribution of polyphonic singing among different American Indian tribes of the North and South America. Distribution of polyphonic styles in relatively new European, African and other populations of Americas will be briefly mentioned. I will also try (wherever this is possible) to convey the information about the distribution of polyphonic singing in earlier epochs. We have such a possibility because of the richness of literary and archaeological evidence from some regions (such as North Europe, North Africa, West Asia and Central America).

My comments will follow the continents and the large sections of the continents, generally accepted in contemporary regional studies in different disciplines. We will start with Africa, followed by Europe, Asia, Americas, Australia and Oceania.

A F R I C A. Starting with Africa is justified by the fact, that African continent represents the biggest and the most active region of the distribution of traditional forms of vocal polyphony.

African continent is traditionally divided into two big regions: (1) North Africa and (2) Sub-Saharan Africa. This division has its merits for understanding of the distribution of vocal polyphony in Africa, although the distribution of traditions of polyphonic and monophonic styles makes good sense to actually distinguish three big regions in Africa: (1) sub-Saharan Africa, (2) North Africa, and (3) Sahara.

Sub-Saharan Africa represents arguably the largest region of distribution of vocal polyphony in the world. Representatives of all language families in Africa enjoy singing in groups. Responsorial singing is ubiquitous. The main compositional principle used in African polyphony is parallel movement of parts. Parallel movements of parts in African polyphony are obviously connected to the tone character of African languages. According to the influential work of Gerhard Kubik, the main principle of traditional polyphony in Central and East Africa is parallel movement of parts together with the principle of “skipping the neighboring note”. So in case of the full diatonic scale we will have parallel thirds all the time. In case of the hexatonic scale (and in its most popular version – major scale without the 7th grade) we will have mostly parallel thirds with occasional fourths, and in case of pentatonic scale we will have mostly parallel fourths with an occasional third. Consonants (particularly thirds and triads) are the basis of the vertical coordination of different parts, and the drone is almost completely absent in sub-Saharan African polyphonic traditions.

Crucial importance of the polyphony and harmony for the African music led one of the first native African musicologist George Balanta to declare famously (and rather controversially) that “All African melodies are constructed upon harmonic background…”

African traditional music is among the best recorded of the World. This led Alan Lomax to declare that Africa was “the best recorded of the continents”. Hugh Tracey, who valued African music primarily for its esthetical value, arguably did the largest number of recordings of African music.

One of the most important and influential polyphonic traditions in Africa comes from Central African Pygmies and San from South Africa. Tradition of yodeling is extremely developed among San and particularly among pygmies (reaching sometimes the complexity of eight different yodeling parts singing in interlocking texture). Ethnomusicologists agree that music of large number of Central and southern African tribes were strongly influenced by Pygmy polyphony. Some scholars (Grimaud, Rouget, Lomax) suggested that Pygmy and San music (particularly their traditions of vocal polyphony) have common roots.

Solo polyphony (overtone singing) is also present in Africa in two isolated cultures: among Xhosa in South Africa and Wagogo in Central Tanzania.

New African music, based on the use of European musical instruments and the elements of tonal harmony together with the traditional forms of polyphony and principles of the vertical coordination of the parts (including the prevalence of the parallel thirds) is developing dynamically. After the first isolated attempt of Rycroft in 1958, the study of popular music in Africa gained momentum after the 1980s.

African component played a crucial role in the development of many musical cultures in North, Central and South Americas. Brought as slaves during the 17th-19th centuries mostly from the west coast of the sub-Saharan Africa, African populations brought the active tradition of multi-part singing together with them to their new countries, often becoming the leading element of the newly established musical culture.

North Africa consists mostly of so called “monophonic cultures”. Culturally and linguistically they are part of the bigger Arabic world and have close relationship with the cultures of the Near East. North Africa is one of the most monophonic regions of the World, with the highly developed traditions of solo professional musicians, wonderfully developed musical instruments and well established theoretical knowledge about the system of modes.

Sahara. Although this region culturally and geographically is sometimes perceived as a part of the North Africa, musically is quite distinct from both North Africa and from sub-Saharan Africa. This region is very sparsely populated due to the harsh environment of the World’s biggest desert and mountains. Sahara is the home of indigenous Tuareg and Berber tribes who once were covering the most of the North Africa up to the Mediterranean Sea. Pushed southwards into the desert and mountainous regions by the invasions of Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs preserved many unique features of their culture. Tradition of vocal polyphony is one of the most important features of Berber-Tuareg musical culture.

Vocal polyphony of Berbers and Tuaregs do not have close relationships with the rich polyphonic traditions of sub-Saharan African populations. On the other hand, traditional polyphony of Berbers and Tuaregs demonstrates links with the polyphonic traditions of northern (European) side of the Mediterranean Sea. Wide use of the drone both in European Mediterranean polyphonic traditions and among Berbers and Tuaregs is the most salient feature shared in both regions.

Musical culture of the Ancient Egypt does not offer as much historical and archaeological evidence as ancient civilizations of the Middle East of North Europe, but there are interesting indications that polyphony was not alien to the musical culture of Egypt. In his attempt to interpret heyronimic musical signs, Hickmann suggested that Ancient Egypt had two-part polyphonic music based on drone. This suggestion is supported by the richness of polyphonic traditions of Mediterranean peoples and the earliest population of North Africa – Tuaregs and Berbers (mostly based on drone).

E U R O P E. Europe is another very important region of the distribution of vocal polyphonic traditions. Unlike sub-Saharan Africa, Europe does not represent a single and almost unbroken region of distribution of vocal polyphony. On the contrary, quick glance at the regions of the distribution of vocal polyphony in Europe reveals that polyphonic cultures are clustered here in few isolated geographic areas.

Mediterranean Region with the adjacent territories comprise major part of European polyphonic cultures. Most of the polyphonic cultures are concentrated around two types of natural environment in Europe – mountains and islands. Corsica and Sardinia have particularly rich polyphonic traditions among the islands of the Mediterranea. All the mountain ranges from the Pyrenean Apennines through to Alps, Balkans and Caucasia represent chain of isolated regions of distribution of traditional forms of vocal polyphony.

Most of the European traditions of polyphony have obvious traces of the influence of European professional music, with its system of harmonic progressions, chord structures and melodic development. Even all those regions which regained their older forms of traditional polyphony – Balkans, Caucasia, and to some extend – Alps, still have the more recent layers of vocal polyphony based on the influence of European professional music and harmonic system.

Despite the large number of isolated regional styles of vocal polyphony, earlier layers of European traditions of vocal polyphony have few important shared features. Two of the most salient features are (1) wide use of drone, and (2) coordination of vocal parts on dissonant intervals.

The same features are represented in most part-singing traditions of East and North Europe. To name only the few, these traditions include: Latvian drone singing with the small range repetitive melodies, unique Lithuanian Sutartines with the chains of seconds, Balkan part-singing with the inventive use of seconds and fourths, Polesye and other Slavic regions with long drones and small range melodies, Mordovian wide range drone-based polyphony and Caucasian two- three-four part polyphony (the latter is found only in Georgia) also based on drone.

Regions of North Europe from Scandinavia to Iceland through British islands and array of other smaller islands are known as another important region of distribution of vocal polyphony, although some of these polyphonic traditions are known to us more from the historical sources than contemporary ethnomusicological recordings. These sources include the written monuments from the Icelandic Sagas to the medieval manuscripts, describing in detail (including the names of the parts) the existing North European tradition of singing in different parts.

A S I A. The largest continent, comprising two thirds of the World human population, with the immense geographic, climatic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, Asia is traditionally divided into several sub-regions. Major parts of Asian musical traditions belong to monophonic cultures, traditions of vocal polyphony are represented in several regions of this huge continent.

One of the largest areas of distribution of vocal polyphony in Asia is South-East Asia. This region does not represent the uninterrupted region of vocal polyphony, but rather many isolated regions (mostly in mountains) where part-singing is still practiced. These regions include up to 25 Chinese ethnic minorities from the southwest of China through to the ethnic minorities in Central and North Vietnam mountains. Polyphonic traditions are also present in several of Indonesia’s islands (particularly on Flores). Taiwan aboriginal tribes Ami, Bunun, and Paiwan are another very important part of polyphonic cultures of this region.

Polyphonic singing of Ainus, the first inhabitants of Japanese islands, living today in North regions of Japan and in adjacent territories of Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, is possibly the most isolated part-singing tradition in the world. Ainu polyphony is often based on extensive use of canons.

Isolated vocal polyphonic traditions are also distributed in different parts of India – most notably in the Northeast region (Asam) and among South Indian tribal populations, as well as in small pockets in mountainous regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Dwellers of the eastern Afghanistan – Nuristanians are another interesting isolated region with interesting forms of vocal polyphony.

Unique solo polyphonic singing style of Central Asian peoples is often called “overtone singing”. The original Mongolian name for this style of singing – khoomii translates as “throat” (hence the ambiguous English term “throat singing”). In overtone singing singer produces a specific tense drone, and using it as a fundamental pitch, on top of the drone produces a melody using the selected series of overtones, avoiding non-pentatonic overtones. This singing style (actually, consisting of several different techniques of voice-production) is particularly widely spread in western part of Tyva (or Tuva), in western Mongolia and adjacent territories (particularly – Altay mountain ranges), Khakassia, Bashkiria, Uzbekistan. Distantly resembling although different singing techniques (using overtones) is also known to exist in Tibetan Buddhist chant, among the Khosa in South Africa and Wagogo in Central Tanzania. Specific “vocal games”, making use of overtones (although this style involves two performers, both women, using each-others mouth cavities) are distributed among Ainus in Japan and Sakhalin and Inuit in northeast Canada.

Elements of vocal polyphony are also found in isolated regions of Anatolia in Turkey, as well as among fisherman of the Persian Gulf and Marsh Arabs of Iraq. These later traditions are particularly interesting in the context of the rich historical and archaeological information about the musical life of ancient civilizations of the Middle East (particularly Sumerrians and Hettites). Polyphonic double blown instruments with two pipes with clearly different functions (often consisting of one drone and one melodic pipes), existence of the temple choirs (Nar-Nari) and lots of figures of ‘singing heads’ in Sumerian temples, and even the first alphabetical musical recordings of two and three-part music from Sumer and Hittites suggest that cultures of the ancient Middle East were familiar with the vocal forms of polyphony some 4000-5000 years ago.

Very interesting three-part-drone singing still exists among Nuristani in Eastern Afganistan.

North & South A M E R I C A. Both North and South Americas mostly represent monophonic cultures with few isolated regions of distribution of vocal forms of polyphony. In North America the most important region of distribution of vocal polyphony is British Columbia in South-West Canada, and California in the USA. Tribes Nootka, Kwakiutli, Selish in British Columbia have interesting forms of vocal polyphony. North-West and North-Central California are another important regions with elements of vocal polyphony. According to the historical sources, vocal forms of polyphony were also spread in southern California

Al for the other regions of North American Indian musical cultures, unison singing (particularly between the soloist and the responding unison chorus) is widespread.

In South America polyphonic traditions are spread geographically wider that in North America, and major part of these traditions (particularly among Amazon rainforest Indian tribes and in Ands) is based on group singing with free heterophonic texture. Elements of canonic polyphonic singing also exist in isolated regions of the Indians of Amazon Peru and Venezuela. In musical traditions of the tribe Q’ero in Peru (they live in high mountains east of Cusco) polyphonic tradition with some unique features is found (particularly interesting are elements of drone, unique for South American Indian music).

The picture of distribution of polyphonic traditions would not be compete without mentioning the polyphonic musical instruments from the ancient civilizations of Central America. Array of double, triple and even quadruple flutes were found in the archaeological cultures of this region. The construction of these instruments suggests that two, three and four part music was played on these instruments, and the use of drone (or even double drones) was widely spread. There is an interesting evidence of the use of parallel seconds as well in some instruments. As polyphonic blown instruments show promising parallels with vocal traditions, there is a possibility that a tradition of vocal polyphony based on drone and use of some dissonances was present in ancient civilizations of Central America.

Among contemporary populations of Central and South America (particularly in the cities), representing a mixture of Indian, European and African populations, polyphonic singing is widely spread. These traditions are particularly rich in the regions with major African populations. Contemporary polyphonic singing is mostly based on European harmonies with parallel thirds.

A U S T R A L I A. Traditional musical culture of Australian aborigines in mostly monophonic, although singing in unison-heterophonic style is widely spread (particularly among Central and South Australian tribes). Musical cultures of the North Australian tribes have clear links with the nearby island cultures. Singing together with the didgeridoo (arguable the deepest drone instrument of the world, thought to be initially introduced from the island cultures) creates interesting vocal-instrumental drone polyphony.

O C E A N I A. Oceania is another very important region of distribution of different forms of vocal polyphony. Vocal polyphony is spread on all three big groups of the islands of the Pacific, although to a very different extend. Micronesia mostly has monophonic singing traditions (although group singing is widely spread here) with some elements of polyphony. Melanesian islands have diverse forms of traditional polyphony, including parallel polyphony and polyphony based on drone and dissonant harmonies. The richest traditions of vocal polyphony are distributed on the vast distances of the Polynesian Islands. Apart from New Zealand Maori almost the whole Polynesia represents the unbroken region of distribution of vocal polyphonic traditions. Part singing in Polynesia unites all strata (genders, ages) of Polynesian population and is one of the central elements of traditional cultural and social life. Polynesian traditional music and polyphony was strongly influenced by the European music brought by Christian missionaries during the last couple of centuries.

For the further reading about the distribution of vocal polyphony in different regions and cultures of the world, ‘Garland Encyclopedia of world Music’ would be a good starting point to look at the general picture and to find the available publications. Two existing books that summarize the available information on world polyphonic cultures for the time of their publication (‘History of Polyphony’ by Marius Schneider, 1934-1945, second edition 1969, and ‘Georgian Traditional Polyphony in an International Context of Polyphonic Cultures: The Problem of the Origins of Polyphony’ by Joseph Jordania, published in 1989) are not available in English.


July 25th, 2014

A Trio (Alan Gasser, Stuart Gelzer, and Carl Linich) Performing Traditional Vocal Music from the Republic of Georgia. KAVKASIA (meaning “Caucasus”) consists of three Americans who together have more than forty years of experience singing the traditionalusic of Georgia. In 1994 we formed a professional vocal trio dedicated to studying and performing that music. In the years since then, we have performed everywhere from Lincoln Center to the Tbilisi Opera House.

We sing concerts and lead workshops in North America, and we have made several extended visits to Georgia to study with singers there, both in professional ensembles and in remote villages. In 1997 each of us was made a State Prize Laureate and was awarded the Silver Medal of the Georgian Ministry of Culture “for profound knowledge of the folk music of Georgia and his role in its popularization around the world.”

In April 2004 Kavkasia was on tour in New England, performing six concerts: at Williams College, Williamstown, MA; Bennington College, Bennington, VT; Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Saxtons River, VT; Columbia University, New York, NY; and Marlboro, NY.

In August 2004 Kavkasia performed its Tenth Anniversary Concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Toronto.

The same week, Kavkasia taught a six-day intensive workshop on Georgian singing at the Royal Conservatory of Music, in Toronto.

In October 2006 Kavkasia performed in Fredericksburg, Virginia: a workshop at Chancellor High School; a concert and a workshop at the University of Mary Washington; and a concert on the Acoustic Roots series at the Liberty Town Arts Workshop.

In January 2007 Kavkasia performed in Toronto: January 13: concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity presented by Small World Music and the Church of the Holy Trinity and January 14 York University Recital Hall.

In late January 2007 Kavkasia performed in the Bay Area with the women’s vocal ensemble Kitka: January 26 at St. John’s Church in San Francisco; January 27 at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz; January 28 at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland.

What the CRITICS have said about KAVKASIA:

“…exotic, beautifully modulated style… haunting beauty…”
New York Times

“… as riveting as any world beat act.”
Now Magazine

“This music is hundreds of years old, its origins deep in the Caucasus Mountains, harmonious and throaty.”
Weekend Edition, National Public Radio

“… superb blend and tuning… outstanding, both as an introduction to a rich musical tradition and as an example of highly accomplished a cappella singing.”
Toronto Globe and Mail

“This music vibrates up your body, and by the time it gets to the back of your neck, the little hairs on the back of your neck are standing up. It’s quite wonderful.”
Metro Morning, Canadian Broadcasting Company


June 16th, 2014

Suliko (Georgian: სულიკო) is a Georgian female and male name meaning ‘soul’. It is also the title of a love poem written in 1895 by Akaki Tsereteli, which became widely known throughout the Soviet Union as a song performed with music composed by Varenka Tsereteli. In that form it was often performed on radio during Stalin’s rule, reputedly because it was Stalin’s favorite. It was translated to and performed in multiple languages including Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, English and German.

Georgian original

საყვარლის საფლავს ვეძებდი,
ვერ ვნახე!.. დაკარგულიყო!..
გულამოსკვნილი ვჩიოდი
„სადა ხარ, ჩემო სულიკო?!“

ეკალში ვარდი შევნიშნე,
ობლად რომ ამოსულიყო,
გულის ფანცქალით ვკითხავდი
„შენ ხომ არა ხარ სულიკო?!“

ნიშნად თანხმობის კოკობი
შეირხა… თავი დახარა,
ცვარ-მარგალიტი ციური
დაბლა ცრემლებად დაჰყარა.

სულგანაბული ბულბული
ფოთლებში მიმალულიყო,
მივეხმატკბილე ჩიტუნას
„შენ ხომ არა ხარ სულიკო?!“

შეიფრთქიალა მგოსანმა,
ყვავილს ნისკარტი შეახო,
თითქოს სთქვა„დიახ, დიახო!“

დაგვქათქათებდა ვარსკვლავი,
სხივები გადმოსულიყო,
მას შევეკითხე შეფრქვევით
„შენ ხომ არა ხარ სულიყო?!“

დასტური მომცა ციმციმით,
სხივები გადმომაყარა
და იმ დროს ყურში ჩურჩულით
ნიავმაც ასე მახარა

„ეგ არის, რასაც ეძებდი,
მორჩი და მოისვენეო!
დღე დაიღამე აწ ტკბილად
და ღამე გაითენეო!

„სამად შექმნილა ის ერთი
ვარსკვლავად, ბულბულ, ვარდადო,
თქვენ ერთანეთი რადგანაც
ამ ქვეყნად შეგიყვარდათო“.

მენიშნა!.. აღარ დავეძებ
საყვარლის კუბო-სამარეს,
აღარც შევჩვი ქვეყანას,
აღარ ვღვრი ცრემლებს მდუღარეს!

ბულბულს ყურს ვუგდებ, ვარდს ვყნოსავ,
ვარსკვლავს შევყურებ ლხენითა
და, რასაცა ვგრძნობ მე იმ დროს,
ვერ გამომითქვამს ენითა!

ისევ გამეხსნა სიცოცხლე,
დღემდე რომ მწარედ კრულ იყო,
ახლა კი ვიცი, სადაც ხარ
სამგან გაქვს ბინა, სულიკო!

English version

I was looking for my sweetheart’s grave,
And longing was tearing my heart.
Without love my heart felt heavy -
Where are you, my Suliko?

Among fragrant roses, in the shadow,
Brightly a nightingale sang his song.
There I asked the nightingale
Where he had hidden Suliko.

Suddenly the nightingale fell silent
And softly touched the rose with the beak
“You have found what you are looking for,” he said,
In an eternal sleep Suliko is resting here.”

Russian version

Я по миру долго искал,
Но ее найти нелегко,
Долго я томился и страдал;
Где же ты моя Сулико!

Розу на пути встретил я,
В поисках уйдя далеко,
Роза, пожалей, услышь меня,
Нет ли у тебя Сулико?

Роза, наклонившись слегка,
Свой бутон раскрыв широко,
Тихо прошеплала мне тогда
Не найти тебе Сулико.

Среди род душистых, в тени,
Песню соловей звонко пел,
Я у соловья тогда спросил
Сулико не ты ли пригрел?

Соловей вдруг замолчал,
Розу тронул клювом легко,
Ты нашел, что ищешь, – он сказал
Вечным сном здесь спит Сулико.

Changi (Georgian Folk Instruments)

May 23rd, 2014

Nowadays, Changi is preserved only in one region of Georgia – Svaneti (western Svanetian Changi mountainous part). Changi consists of two main parts: body and supplementary elements, which are represented by keys (1) and tuners (2). The body consists of horizontal and vertical parts. The horizontal part – the resonator – is made out of a long hollowed tree and has the shape of a semi-cylinder. Plate of about 4mm with a small curvature in the middle is nailed onto it. The plate has 6 notches for buttons (1) to fasten the strings, they are fastened at the same distance from the sides of the resonator. The vertical part is straight and flat. It has holes for the tuners (2). The tip of the vertical part is inserted into the horizontal part forming a right angle. On both parts small wooden sticks are nailed parallel to the strings. The Changi is mainly made of softwood. The most popular material is fir, but sometimes pine-tree is used. The Changi has 6 or 7 strings. The tune of a six-string Changi is “fa”, “sol”, “la”, “si”, “do”, “re”. The seven-string Changi has the same tune but its scale begins with “mi”. Special proportions are kept by Changi “Deer” the instrument makers when designing Changi.

It is mostly played by women and is generally used for accompaniment. Solo songs are often accompanied with it. But melodies performed on this instrument represent the transcription of Svanetian national “Saperkhulo” (a dance) melodies not the original instrumental music. Only one Changi is used while accompanying solo melodies. Nevertheless, combining “Chuniri” and “Changi” into ensemble was quite frequent. Changi is quite popular in Svaneti. It was considered to be the instrument of “sorrow”. According to the sayings, it was often played to comfort a person in his grief. There is a legend connected with Changi that tells us the story of an old man whose son was killed in a war and who found an expression of his grief in a sad melody of Changi. Changi in Svanetian language is also called Svanetian Changi “Shimekvshe” that means a broken arm. Svanetian Changi is recognized to be one of the ancient string instruments. It has existed since the IV century B.C. It is worthy of notice that one of the most ancient nations “Shumerians”, who lived in western Asia and are thought to have been closely connected with our ancestors with ties of kinship had the similar instrument that looked like the Svanetian harp. There is a supposition about the origin of Changi, according which it must have been originated from a bow. This weapon is not a particular nation’s invention. Thus, Changi could have been invented independently in different nations. The instruments similar to Changi were widespread in many ancient Eastern counties: in Egypt, Shumereti, Babylon, Iran, China, Greece, etc.

The Shin

April 20th, 2014

THE SHIN is from Republic of Georgia, a Caucasian country in Eurasia to the east of the Black Sea will be a new release on JARO Records. “EGARI”, the project focused on the Georgian tradition and singing.

The Shin’s newest project “Egari” is a collaboration with a Georgian folkloric musicians, singers and dancer. It is based on Georgian polyphony, traditional instruments, fiery Caucasian dance and European ethno-jazz. The name “Egari” means “That’s it!” and reflects The Shin interpretation of the Georgian folk music. The musicians resurrect archaic instruments, breathe new life into them, and free them of the dusty, archival, as well as pathetic Soviet-era teint. Egari is a rebirth of the free and unfettered dialog between East and West, which has always been a characteristic of Georgian culture: in the poetry of Rustaveli, the paintings of Pirosmani, old Tbilisi’s architecture, Otar Ioseliani’s films, and of course, in that country’s music. The latter, now fully revealing its true nature, is open to inspire and be inspired by the musical essence of other cultures. This overwhelming acoustic-visual experience represents a highly original contribution to the development of music in the beginning of the 21st century.

The Shin are Zaza Miminoshvili (guitars and midi guitars, panduri, song writing), Zurab J. Gagnidze (fretless electric and acoustic bass, Guruli vocals, song writing), Mamuka Ghaghanidze (vocals percussion, song writing).

The Shin formed in Germany in 1998, where Zaza Miminoshvili and Zurab Gagnidze have been since 1994. Mamuka Gaganidze joined the group in 2002. In their Georgian homeland, these musicians are already living legends and belong to the artistic elite of the country: composers and performers Zaza Miminoshvili and Zurab Gagnidze wrote music for Robert Sturua’s productions for the state theater in Tbilisi, and also for many motion pictures. They were prize winners at numerous jazz festivals. In 1992, Zaza Miminoshvili was named the best acoustic guitarist in Georgia. Mamuka Gaganidze records soundtracks with with the famous Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. Zurab Gagnidze worked with Randy Brecker, Chaka Khan, Okay Temiz, Giora Feidman, Ramesh Shotham and many others. The musicians are famous for their jazz-fusion, rooted in Georgian musical traditions but strongly influenced by other international sources. Their witty version of this music has been distinguished by several international prizes.

In Georgian Shin means the road home. Even though each of us has our own personal road home and our own personal home, the music of The Shin has the amazing ability of leading everyone ”home”. The music leads you to somewhere you know you’ve been before, where the windows are fogged over from the rain and it smells of kitchen smells, where you hear voices and, even though you might not understand what they are saying, you understand everything anyway. This music leads you home, no matter how far away it is.

The Shin’s music brilliantly unites Georgian folk tunes with jazz, the unique vocal technique of Georgia with scat, elements of flamenco, ancient eastern and modern western music. The Shin’s „instrumental theatre“ replete with cultural undertones. The music oscillates between pure life-joy (with lots of humorous asides) and genuine solemnity. The Shin generates rhythmic-harmonic extensions, seasoned with exotic sound-spices from Europe’s Southeastern frontier to the Orient. The group’s guruli-type polyphonies merge pagan ancestry with Byzantine celebration, under an all-inclusive, sui generis type of swing, whilst the specific sound of the Georgian language is adapted to jazz’s scat tradition. It is a masterly performance, displaying virtuosity, explosive temperament and sparkling humor of the musicians, as well as their remarkable emotional interplay and the special rapport that the musicians share with their listeners, literally enthralling the audience from their very first notes.

Played with
Randy Brecker, Giora Feidman, Chaka Khan, Okay Temiz, Claus Boesser-Ferrari, Jatinda Thakur, Shankar Lal, Fill Guy, Rajesh Mehta, Milt Hinton, David Murray, Julius Hemphill, Don Byron, Ernie Watts, Elliot Sharpe, Joe Lovano, Kimmi Knepper, Richard Davis, Jaki Byard

ManyTimer (World-Jazz), BBB Music Ltd., 2004, The Shin, Büttelborn, Germany (In the beginning of May2005 nominated a best CD of the week by the Blue Rhythm magazine.) Ibero-Caucasian Style (Jazz-World), CD & CD ROM, 2003, The Shin, Heilbronn, Germany. The Shin (Jazz-Rock) F&C Records, 1995, Jazz Group ADIO, Heilbronn, Germany. Tseruli (acoustic guitar music), Acoustic Music Records, 1999, The Shin, Osnabrück, Germany.

The Legend of Tamar (Broadway Show), Erisioni Productions, 2000, Seatle, USA. Lazutlar (Black Sea Style), Kalan Müzik, Yapim, 2000, Fuat Saka, Istanbul, Turkey.

The Urmuli Quintet

March 23rd, 2014

The Quintet Urmuli has produced four entirely different CDs over a ten-year period of performing hundreds of concerts, mainly in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland. The group was last presented in a wonderful live concert hall at the Tbilisi conservatory. Now they play three nights per week to enthusiastic listeners at the Maidan Restaurant in Old Tbilisi. Their repertoire consists of a wide-spread spectrum of Georgian traditional music, melodies and polyphonic songs, some of which date back to medieval times. The artists have masterfully arranged to their instrumentation and vocal pleasure by sincerely maintaining the Georgian spiritual culture and character.

The intensity and integrity of introducing Georgian ‘Music of the centuries’ consequently found the Quintet performing at very outstanding concert-sites: Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Alte Oper in Frankfurt, Baroque hall Kloster Benediktbeuern in Bavaria, L’Auditorium Saint-German-des-Pres in Paris, and many others. Their concerts have been recorded by several major Radio Stations in Germany, and their TV documentary features have been heard all over the world. Apart from being members of the Quintet Urmuli, the group’s members have performed music with different ensembles in numerous other foreign countries all over the world.

A German writer said this about the quintet in 2005: ‘Vocal and duduk melodies represent the early European music. And there is a question: various oriental compositions, Jewish and Roman music… is Georgian music really the origin of it all? It is an object of scientific investigations. One thing we know for sure: Quintet Urmuli makes a very strong impression upon people. Georgia must be a country of extraordinary beauty’ – Matias Wiideman.

Georgian Times sat down with artist and producer Michael Brittingham and members of the Urmuli Quintet, Shalva Abramashvili, Davit Jimshitashvili, Nugzar Kavtaradze, Vladimir Mamaladze and David Ratiani, to find out why they are cooperating together to pay for the tuitions of two Georgian students as they go into university this fall.

Q: What is the history of Quintet Urmuli? When was the group founded? How did you find each other?

Quintet spokesman, Nugzar Kavtaradze: We started working in 1993. At the beginning the staff was different from what it is now. We issued our first two albums in Germany. At that time, we had a German manager who arranged concerts in different countries of Europe for the band. To date we have had more than 600 concerts in many different European countries.

In 2001 we issued two more albums: one studio record, the other a live recording. At the moment we are working on recording two more albums, and are in search of finance for these projects.

Q: What kind of music do you play? Do you play only traditional folk music, or do you merge classical and modern music styles in your repertoire too?

Kavtaradze: That is what makes Quintet Urmuli so original. We can offer single instrumental and vocal parts, as well as a blend of the both. The band plays mainly folk music, but we also have city guitar folklore in our repertoire. One unique composition of ours is a duduk and chuniri duet. Classical music is also an integral part of our repertoire; we play Mozart, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Azarashvili, Dolidze, and many other classics.

Salamuri and Panduri instrumentalist David Jimshitashvili: Recently we played Kiazo’s Aria on just duduk and chuniri parts… it sounds very different from the symphonic orchestra, but is very interesting and original.

Davit Ratiani: We also collaborate with many other bands and musicians from different genres like jazz and popular music. Among other things, we often do soundtracks.

Q: Is your audience mainly Georgian or do foreigners also show interest in your music?

Kavtaradze: Once on Christmas we gave a concert at the Goethe Institute. The director of the Institute, who made a speech before our performance said: ‘Unfortunately, Quintet Urmuli is more popular in Europe than in its native Georgia’. This is true. We have had many more performances abroad than in our own country. Of course, there are many foreigners among our listeners. Now that we play at the Maidani Restaurant three times a week, we are happy to see how many people from different countries are interested in our music. I am pleasantly surprised and proud that among our admirers there is an increasing amount of young people… Georgians. In spite of the recent tendency to imitate the West, Georgian youth are still not detached from their roots.

Davit Jimshitashvili: In all European countries there are many clubs where professionals and music critics go specifically to listen to musicians and assess the art. Maidani is one of the few restaurants in the city where people come with purpose to listen to the music.

Q: How do you view your cultural role in our charity auction and why did you agree to participate in it?

Kavtaradze: Any performance is important for us, it adds to our experience, and besides, it is a pleasure for any musician. In this case we are happy to contribute into the event and help these children get the necessary means to realise their talents.

Davit Ratiani: Charity is not new for us. We have done many concerts for charity. A couple of times we participated in charity concerts organized in Germany. The money was sent to Georgia, once to infant houses, the other time to help build hydroelectric stations. We are always open and ready to devote our efforts to help people in every way we can.

Chuniri (Georgian Folk Instruments)

February 12th, 2014

Chuniri is an ancient Georgian string instrument played by a bow-shaped stick. It consists of Chunirioval body (1), neck (3) and subsidiaries. The sound is reproduced with a bow. The body(1) of the Svanetian Chuniri has the shape of a sieve. It is open from below. It is covered with leather (2). The neck (3) is whole and flat that is attached into the body. On the head there are three holes for tuners. The subsidiaries are tuners (4), a bridge (5) and a leg (6). On one end of the neck, horsehair strings are fastened. The bow (7) has notches for strings. A Rachian Chianuri has a boat-like body, cut out of a whole piece of wood. It has 2 holes of 5-6 mm in diameter. The body is covered with leather that is fastened by a rope to the back part of the Chuniri. The neck is whole. Its round head has 2 holes for strainers. Khevsuretian and Tushetian Chianuris have round bodies. Chuniri While playing, the musician touches the strings with finger-cushions but without touching the neck, therefore the Chianuri has a flageolet sound. The bow touches all strings simultaneously so the Chianuri has only three-part consonance. The bodies of Chianuris and Chuniris are made of fir or pine-tree. The necks are of birch or oak. The strings are made from horsehair. This sort of string gives the instrument very soft and sweet sounding. The Rachian Chianuri has 2 strings. Its tune is major third. The tune of the 3-stringed Svanetian and Tushetian Chuniri is second-third. Chuniri can have two or three strings made of horsehair. Its fiddlestick also has horsehair. Chianuri has the prop attached to the edge of the hollow body along the neck. Only the mountain inhabitants of Georgia preserved this instrument in its original form. This instrument is considered to be a national instrument of Svaneti and is thought to have spread in the other regions of Georgia from there. Chuniri has different names in different regions: in Khevsureti, Tusheti (Eastern mountainous parts) its name is Chuniri, and in Racha, Guria (western parts) – “Chianuri”. Chuniri is used for accompaniment. It is often played in an ensemble with Changi and Salamuri. Both men and women played it.

One-part songs, national heroical poems and dance melodies were performed on it in Svaneti. Chuniri and Changi are often played together in an ensemble when performing polyphonic songs. More than one Chianuri at a time is not used. Chianuri is kept in a warm place. Often, especially in rainy days it was warmed in the sun or near fireplace before using, in order to emit more harmonious sounds. This fact is acknowledged in all regions where the fiddlestick instruments were spread. That is done generally because dampness and wind make a certain affect on the instrument’s resonant body and the leather that covers it. In Svaneti and Racha people even could make a weather forecast according to the sound produced by Chianuri. Weak and unclear sounds were the signs of a rainy weather. The instrument’s side strings i.e. first and third strings are tuned in quart, but the middle (second) string is tuned in tercet with other strings. It was a tradition to play Chuniri late in the evening the day before a funeral. For instance, one of the relatives (man) of a dead person would sit down in open air by the bonfire and play a sad melody. In his song (sang in a low voice) he would remember the life of the dead person and the lives of the other dead ancestors of the family. Most of the songs performed on Chianuri are connected with sad occasions. There is an expression in Svaneti that “Chianuri is for sorrow”. However, it is often used at parties as well.

Darbazi (Canada)

January 23rd, 2014

Founded in 1995, Darbazi is a Toronto-based ensemble that focuses exclusively on performing traditional music from the Caucasus Georgia, a mountainous country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

With repertoire ranging from sacred chants to exuberant drinking songs, Darbazi seeks to broaden the awareness of Georgia’s heritage for abundant food and wine, hospitable spirit, and polyphonic songs. Over the years, the choir – made up of three women and eight men, two of whom are from Georgia – has striven for a deeper understanding of this unique music.

Through cultural exchanges and travel, the members have had a chance to work with legendary Georgian singers and experience the profundity of Georgian hospitality. This in turn has translated into Darbazi’s authentic voice for the richly varied musical traditions of Georgia’s many distinctive regions, bringing themselves and their audiences great meaning and joy.

Darbazi has performed in and around Ontario, at Toronto’s Fete de la Musique and First Night events, at Montreal’s World Music Festival, at Festival 500 in St. John’s, Newfoundland and in New York City. Attending the Third International Symposium on Georgian Polyphony in Tbilisi in October 2006 was a highpoint for Darbazi.

აღმოსავლეთ საქართველოს ქალთა სიმღერები

December 1st, 2013

2008 წელს, თბილისის ვ. სარაჯიშვილის სახელობის სახელმწიფო კონსერვატორიის ქართული ხალხური მუსიკალური შემოქმედების კათედრამ, ფოლკლორის მხარდაჭერის პრეზიდენტის პროგრამისა – ”ქართული ხალხური სიმღერის ასაღორძინებლად” და საქართველოს კულტურის, ძეგლთა დაცვის და სპორტის სამინისტროს მხარდაჭერით გამოსცა კომპაქტ. დისკების კრებული ”ქართული ხალხური მუსიკა”. მასში გაერთიანებულია საქართველოს ყველა კუთხის სიმღერები.

კრებულის ერთ-ერთი დისკის, აღმოსავლეთ საქართველოს ქალთა სიმღერების, მხოლოდ ნაწილს – საექსპედიციო ჩანაწერებს გაეცანით ჩვენს ძირითად გვერდზე.

Me Rustveli / მე რუსთველი

November 22nd, 2013

Ensemble was established in 1996, in the  monastery named after Archangel Michael, Rustavi. The aim of collecting ensemble members was the strong desire of participation (performing  chants) in divine service. Since the first days of its establishment the  ensemble has started an intensive work on searching and studying Georgian chants. The repertoire included chants of annual cycles of divine service and  celebration songs.

From the beginning the band consisted of 5 members. Later the number has increased, the majority of which were the students  of conservatoire. The ensemble worked on learning both chants and Georgian folk  songs. Gradually the band repertoire has increased and the desire of creating  folklore band created a unique ensemble named “Me Rustveli”.

In 2000 rector and faculty members of Tbilisi Vano Sarajishvili State University gave the band the status of conservatoire folklore ensemble. Since then, it has  started its active concert work not only within Georgia but beyond its borders as well.

Strong ties with conservatoire have had great influence on the ensembles  professional development (promotion), the repertoire has become more colorful,  more concert experience has been gained and the membership has become more complete.

The present-day membership is: Nugzar Arveladze (leader), Mikheil Edisherashvili, Tamaz Mamaladze, Teimuraz Janelidze, Teimuraz Kilasonia, Giorgi Janelidze, Giorgi Tsivtsivadze, Shalva Maisashvili, Lasha Maisaia.

Even today the ensemble continues its service  in the chapel named after Saint Ioakim and Anna, and its concert work gains  more popularity in Georgia  and beyond its borders. It also continues its active cooperation with conservatoire.

“Me Rustveli” has a great potential to search  and perform ancient folklore works. It plans to record CDs with its unique  performance, and to participate in various folklore festivals sand concerts.

This is what Anzor Erkomaishvili writes about “Me Rustveli”: Today many bands have taken performance of  seldom works of Georgian chants in their repertoire. Young people try to  penetrate the depth and restore the far-forgotten song tradition. “Me Rustveli” is within such bands; despite its age, the ensemble has already gained enough  authority and an audience respect, as its members serve the national work and  continue the best traditions brought up to day by our ancestors.

Ensemble is hardly based on the national ground  and has quite refined performing skills. Its members have the great ability to penetrate the depth of the best  works of any region and to please the audience. That makes their songs easily  accessible and pleasant to listen.

The repertoire, except  church songs, includes the songs of every region in Georgia. They are performed on  concert stages. The ensemble tours a lot in various cities of Georgia, holds meeting-concerts,  participates in church celebrations and uses all opportunities to popularize Georgian songs.

The majority of the ensemble members are  professional musicians. They have been brought together by their huge love of  songs and their national obligation of rescuing spiritual treasure of Georgian  people. Today their names are identified with the ensemble concept. It seems  like they have to share same life and destiny. The daily life and tensed work  has created an amazing unanimity that stresses the dignities of their moral.

Concerts and tours:
2002, International festival of songs in Sachkhere (Georgia).
2003, “Me Rustveli” opens Beethoven international festival in Bonn (Germany).
2003, Aram Khachaturian International festival in Yerevan (Armenia).
2004, International Symposium of Folklore in a huge  hall of Tbilisi conservatoire (Georgia).
2004, International festival of Georgian wines and  cuisine in San-Francisco (U.S.). Solo concerts in various cities of California (U.S.).
2006, Solo concerts in Belgium  and Holland.
2007, International festival of burdon music (Latvia).