Georgia is renowned for its richness in music and dance that spans over the centuries. The vibrant and unique traditional music is among the earliest polyphonic traditions in Christianity. Contemporary music styles in Georgia consist of a variety of European harmonic languages, Middle Eastern monophony, and native polyphony. Georgian songs are typically acapella sung by a group of men. Georgian polyphony has been arguably listed as an invaluable and priceless tradition by the Intangible Culture Heritage of Humanity. In ancient times, Georgians had a song for every activity as an integral part of their culture. They sang during weddings, celebrations, and funerals.
Besides, there exist several work songs, lullabies, love songs, ritual songs, healing songs, and dance songs. Contemporary singing styles arose in Tbilisi around the 19th and 20th centuries. This music style is, however, not so different from the traditional songs as it naturally incorporates polyphony. Georgian performers are recognized worldwide for their epic stage concerts. Here are some of the most popular and beautiful Georgian songs in history.
1. Shen Khar Venakhi- “You Are A Vineyard”
Attributed to King Demetrius I of Georgia, this chant is one of the greatest polyphonic Georgian songs and is almost an unofficial anthem in Georgia. It is believed that King Demetrius wrote the lyrics to the hymn upon his consecration as a monk. The song is wholly dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary and is a prayer of exaltation and praise to her. Mary is described as a beautiful vineyard growing in Eden, and as the sun shining brilliantly on the land of Georgia. The hymn is familiar, especially to the Georgian Orthodox Church. However, there is no mention of the gods or saints in this song. Due to this, it’s the only song that was allowed to play in the non-religious Soviet Union. You Are A Vineyard is sung by an acapella choir and is characterized as a symbol of medieval traditionalism in Georgia.
2. Tsintskaro- “At The Spring Water”
Loosely translated as “At The Spring Water,” this Georgian folk song originates from Kakheti. The song bears the name of a village in Kartli Region, Eastern Georgia. The protagonist talks about a beautiful girl he met while passing by a natural spring. He tries greeting the girl, but she ends up offended and refuses to answer. A male vocalist and male choir perform this song. However, the song is little known to most Westerners. Melodies from this love song have been employed in subsequent works of art including the 1985 Kate Bush’s song, “Hello Earth” and Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre. Hamlet Gonashvili sang the most popular version of this song.
3. Mravaljamier- “Forever More”
The unique song accompanies Georgian festivals and feasts, also referred to as Supras. The author is presently unknown since it’s an old song that has been passed down to generations over the years. On average, three voices are required to sing it properly. This popular song is part of the Georgian culture and is usually the first to play on airwaves on January 1st, upon the start of a new year. The song is about happiness and enjoying every bit of life. It mainly spreads good vibes and emphasizes on kindness as a virtue. Humanity and love are presented as key in defeating any evil.
Traditionally, lullabies were common in most regions of Georgia. They are customary in the Georgian polyphony and double as healing songs for sick children. Healing songs were addressed to the gods and spirits who were believed to possess the sick children. Lyrics from these songs portray a heroic character and emphasize on morality. The name of this genre, ‘Nana,’ arises from the refrain ‘Iavnana’ in which it is vocable. Nana translates to a “pagan mother goddess” in some parts of Georgia. There exist more than sixty different versions of this Georgian song. This Georgian folk genre, symbolized by roses and violets, is mostly associated with femininity. Iavnana is a culture held in high regard and has been passed even to modern-day Georgia. Georgian poets, including Galakiton Tabidze and Ilia Chavchavadze, have widely incorporated Iavnana motifs in their works.
Also referred to as Naduri, Shemokmedura is a Georgian folk song originating from Guria, Western Georgia. Traditionally, it was a popular polyphonic work song among the people of Guria. Lyrics of the song, however, don’t mention anything to do with the work process. They are coined in such a way to narrate a story so that to keep the workers entertained. It created cheerful spirits for work and motivated people to work even faster. At the end of a long day, the reward for their work was a Georgian Supra and traditional songs. If a family tilled its land without the Shemokmedura, it was deemed unfriendly and mean. The song’s popularity gradually grew, and by the 19th century, it was sung in the Georgian church vineyards. Shemokmedura is regarded as a great treasure of Georgian polyphonic folk singing.
Authored by Georgian composer Revaz Laghidze, Tbilisi is a song of praise to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. The Georgian song describes Tbilisi as the city of the sun and roses, where the sun is deep blue and pure. Beautiful sites that double as top tourist destinations in Tbilisi are clearly brought out. The Kura River is praised for its serenity and lush greenery. The Ruins of Narikala are described as picturesque and awe-inspiring despite being reminders of wounds from the past. Laghidze, without a doubt, effortlessly professes his undying love and the pride he takes in Tbilisi. Tbilisi’s popularity in the Soviet Union grew in the 1980s, and translations have been done in different languages, including English and Russian.
Originating from Kakheti Region, the polyphonic Georgian folk song is a three-part song that dramatizes preparations for a battle. Chakrulo was cited as a chief example of Georgian songs exhibiting vocal polyphony by UNESCO in 2001. The song is characterized by two distinctive high vocals in harmony with a slow chorus. A major highlight for this song was in August 1977 as it was one among the 27 music compositions on the Voyager Golden Record that were sent to space. The fact that Chakrulo beat “Moscow Nights,” a well-known Russian song, to make it to the Voyager project makes it pride of the Georgians. The most popular version of the song was created and performed by Hamlet Gonashvili, widely-known also for his Tsintskaro rendition and excellent interpretation of Kakheti and Kartli songs.
Krimanchuli is a Georgian word translated to mean the upper voice or a twisted high voice. The Georgian song from the Guria region is rich in pleasant melodies and musical adornments. The song was created during the medieval times and was sung by children to scare evil creatures believed to live in the forests.
Krimanchuli is one of the most widely known songs in Georgia. It is more of a yodeling technique, and jazz versions of this song are preferred. For Georgian natives, Krimanchuli is sung by men. The performance of the song radiates positive energy while effortlessly portraying the lively and energetic nature of the residents of Guria.
Commonly referred to as the hymn to love, Mukhambazi is one of Jansug Kakhidze’s most popular songs. Born in 1935, Kakhidze was the music director of the Georgian State Symphony Orchestra for two decades. The song was authored by Petre Gruzinski, a renowned Georgian love poet. The romantic song brings out profound feelings and emotions of love. Many are times; the song is played during evening dinners and nuptials.
Mukhambazi song is popularly known by its second name, which is “I’m looking for you day and night”. A prime highlight for this song is when it was featured in the Georgian film, “Racha, My Love,” a romantic comedy that tells of a love story brewed in the Georgian highlands.
10. Sakartvelo Lamazo
Undoubtedly, Sakartvelo Lamazo is one of the most emotional and patriotic Georgian songs. This splendid piece was composed by a famous Georgian poet, Ana Kalandadze, and it’s no surprise that Georgians tend to be teary when listening to or singing it. You surely expect a great piece from a poet who boasts more than 700 works, having written her first poem after graduating from Tbilisi State University in 1946. Ana’s poems were mostly romantic and patriotic, with several pieces being made into songs whose popularity transverses outside the borders of the former Soviet region.
Tsisferi Trio, a Georgian trio well-known for its emotional, patriotic, and romantic songs, performed the most popular version of Sakartvelo Lamazo. Sakartvelo and Lamazo mean Georgia and beautiful, respectively. Some of the most notable lines present in this epic creation are:
Is another Sakartvelo somewhere else?”
Conventionally, a song will evoke a particular emotion throughout its lyrics, but this piece composed by Gia Kancheli takes the cake for bringing out a perfect combination of feelings in a short duration. You are sure to relate with emotions such as sadness, happiness, enjoyment, and regret when listening to Interlude. The song depicts Gia’s music delivery technique that comprises long, subdued discords and short, slow, minor-mode melodies.
Born in Tbilisi in 1935, Gia Kancheli was an accomplished music composer with several orchestral and choral songs in his name. Some of his works have been premiered in international orchestras without forgetting that he composed music for notable films, including the Russian sci-fi movie, Kin-Dza-Dza. Kancheli died in 2019, aged 84.
Singing and dancing are a vital part of the culture of the Svans, the inhabitants of the Svaneti, a famous province in the northwestern part of Georgia. It’s due to this reason that Svaneti boasts some of the most famous Georgian folk music pieces, including hymns such as Lile. Lile is dedicated to the sun and is just one of the several Svan songs that incorporate elements of paganism. It also forms an example of Svans’ three-part polyphonic songs performed in round dances with loud and inharmonious voices. Most Svaneti songs are ancient, having been composed before the spread of Christianity. That’s why you’ll notice several features of paganism in music from Svaneti.
and dancing on a global map. Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet was started by Iliko Sukhshvili and Nino Ramishvili, one of the most popular Georgian dancers.
13. Shemodgomis Kvavilebs-Autumn Flowers
Bidzina Kevernadze’s musical piece cannot go unnoticed. The prominent Georgian composer and music director wrote Autumn Flowers in dedication to his wife. The song first featured in theaters before being adapted as the soundtrack for the “Data Tutashkia” series. A notable Georgian actress and singer, Nani Georgievna Bregvadze, performed the stunningly beautiful soundtrack.
The geographical location and the multicultural interactions have had a significant influence on Georgian folk music, characterized by a variety of styles ranging from the typical polyphonies to the modern combination of native, European, and Middle Eastern styles. The above Georgian songs are rich in emotions and convey varying messages, with some serving particular purposes in their places of origin. All in all, be sure to enjoy the vibes portrayed by each song as you seek to know more about the Georgian culture.