The musical culture within Georgia is, to put it frankly, a serious business. Polyphonic singing, in particular, stands out as the precious jewel in the crown of Georgian music, as it was proclaimed Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.
Archeological discoveries demonstrate Georgia’s musical culture dates to at least 3,000 years ago, while pagan, secular, and military music are mentioned by the Greek historian Xenophon, in the 3rd century BC. However, polyphonic Georgian songs as we know them today rose to prominence alongside Christianity, since they started as church chanting.
From then on, Georgian folk music evolved outside of its religious origins and developed as a secular expression of artistry. As a consequence, current genres are varied and widespread, distinguishing multiple versions of polyphonic music, urban folk music, and other categories.
For further details, the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony displays a vast and widespread catalog of each genre, regional variation, and types of Georgian Folk Music.
But no one enjoys just reading about music without some samples. Luckily, Georgian music has plenty of examples of stunning harmonies, haunting lyrics, and dashing compositions.
Perhaps the most crucial song in Georgian history is Chakrulo, an iconic masterpiece of traditional Georgian polyphony. Originally from the Kakheti region, its importance to the world’s heritage was acknowledged when it was one of the selected tracks included in one of the two Voyager Golden Records.
These phonograph records were released into space with the Voyager spacecraft, containing samples of the most emblematic elements in humanity’s culture and history.
Shen Khar Venakhi
The name of this hymn roughly translates to You are the Vineyard, or You are a Vine, and it’s one of the most well-known chants worldwide.
According to folk tradition, King Demetrius I wrote the lyrics of the hymn during his confinement in the David Gareja monastery complex in Kakheti. The poetry is allegorical, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Georgia as a nation without explicitly mentioning them.
Precisely because of this, Shen Khar Venakhi became the only church hymn allowed by the Soviet government, and its popularity in the Georgian country spread like wildfire. Nowadays, it is something akin to an unofficial national anthem. It is played in schools, weddings, funerals, and in the heart of every Georgian.
Other emblematic Georgian folk songs
Georgia’s musical repertoire is only comparable to its thriving history. A plethora of beautiful traditional songs stand the test of time and keep being a part of daily Georgian culture.
Lile is one of the most famous pagan Georgian songs. It references the mythological Lile, a sun deity in Svan mythology, with the song being a sun-worshipping tune during ancient times.
Another iconic musical masterpiece is Khasanbegura, a unique song that narrates the historical defeat of Georgian traitor Khasanbeg Tavdgiridze at the hands of locals during the Russian-Turkish war. Its fascinating historical aspect goes along with harmonious vocals featuring five voices, yodeling, and the unyielding spirit of Georgian pride.
Other polyphonic folk songs to look out for are Krimanchuli, Mravalzhamieri, Shemokmedura, Daigvianes, Tsin Tskaro, Bindis Peria Sopeli, amongst others.
Contemporary Georgian Music
While Georgia’s musical history is incredibly plentiful and varied, its magnificence shouldn’t make us ignore the current musical scene in the country.
The country, mostly its capital city Tbilisi, is thriving with new talent innovating in every possible genre available, from the most mainstream pop music available and incredible avant-garde mixes of contemporary and traditional sounds.
Amongst these celebrated artists stand out Khatia Buniatashvili, a worldwide famous pianist with an extensive repertoire, including collaborations with Coldplay. Alongside her is Temur Kvitelashvili, a guitar virtuoso that has blended multiple musical genres by adding his particular twist. Finally, Nino Surguladze, an award-winning mezzo-soprano that has been recognized with the Presidential Order of Excellence.
Similarly, through the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the Georgia country is a member of the European Broadcasting Union and thus, a participant of the Eurovision Song Contest. Through the years the country has had highs and lows, with some of its most iconic entries being the Nu-Metal band Eldrine in 2011, and Nina Sublatti’s Warrior, an anthem to powerful women, including the Great Queen Tamar.
To be continued …