The Wire

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In Writing

Portal to Georgian sounds

February 2013

A selection of sonic impressions from the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its capital Tbilisi, selected by Matthew Collin, author of a Global Ear report on the city’s electronic music in The Wire 348.

Guria’s freeform yodelling
Georgian traditional music boasts many complex and atonal polyphonic harmonies, but there are none so strange as the sound of the bucolic Guria region, one of the former Soviet Union’s major tea growing areas. Krimanchuli is a kind of abstract but immaculately coordinated yodelling that some local musicologists have described as "ancient free jazz".

Hamlet Gonashvili’s haunted chords
Gonashvili (1928–1985) was one of Georgia’s greatest male voices of the 20th Century. "Orovelo" could be his finest moment – a haunting lament laid out over a deep vocal drone that shakes the soul.

Giya Kancheli’s spiritual symphonies
Kancheli is Georgia’s most famous living classical composer, although he has lived in Belgium since the early 1990s, when his homeland was twisted by civil war and separatist conflicts after independence from the Soviet Union. Kancheli’s work is usually deeply spiritual but often tinged with grief – but he also provided the film soundtrack for Giorgi Danelia’s absurdist comedy classic from 1986, Kin-Dza-Dza!

Spring Rhythms’ progressive freakout
The first officially sanctioned rock festival in the Soviet Union was held in 1980 in Tbilisi, which was (and still is) far more politically liberal than Moscow. Spring Rhythms was actually more of a song contest than a party, and most of the recorded entries haven’t stood the test of time, but twisted prog/fusion rockers Gunesh from Turkmenistan were on the bill, so it must have been some kind of fun.

Robi Planet’s punk power
As in most former Soviet republics, punk came somewhat late to Georgia but Robi Kukhianidze (aka Robi Planet), was a crucial player in the 1980s. Hailing from Georgia’s second largest city Kutaisi, the music that Kukhianidze now plays with his group Outsider is charged with dramatic power and pathos, somewhere between Gogol Bordello, the Sex Pistols and a Weimar cabaret ensemble, but retaining a naturally anarchic Caucasus spirit.

The Electronauts’ pioneer spirit
Electronic music, paradoxically, started to develop in Georgia in the 1990s when there were chronic electricity cuts caused by the economic chaos and corruption that dogged the decade. Sergi Gvarjaladze’s film Electronauts documents the scene’s origins and features key instigators like Natalie TBA Beridze and Nika Machaidze (aka Nikakoi).

Mikheil Saakashvili’s pop propaganda
Flamboyant Georgian president "Misha" Saakashvili liked to use pop music as a political tool and his government commissioned various anthems to promote patriotic fervor. He even once booked Boney M for a bizarre propaganda gig in a frontline village. "Misha Magaria" ("Misha Is Cool") was his 2008 election campaign song, with a video that features a cast of hundreds dancing through a provincial town in one long tracking shot that encapsulates his idiosyncratic concept of state-building.

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