Georgian Polyphonic Singing – An Unforgettable Sound
It is widely known that Georgia has a diverse culture. The existence of every national culture is characterized by its uniqueness and Georgia has a lot to offer. Its culture is famous for being different and special. Traditional Georgian architecture, arts, polyphonic songs, folklore and literature are some of the things that have been bequeathed to Georgia by generations and generations of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Georgia has truly made a substantial contribution to the world.
Georgian culture might surprise you, both traditional Georgian singing and dancing is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or seen before!
Traditional Georgian polyphonic songs are highly valued in Georgian Culture. Polyphonic singing is at least 2000 years old, maybe 3000, predating Christianity which arrived in Georgia in 326 AD. In the polyphonic tradition, singers sing in a multi-part, usually unaccompanied, harmony. The lyrics of Georgian songs are about things like work, love, family, and the country. All regional styles of Georgian music have traditions of vocal a cappella polyphony, although in the most southern regions (Meskheti and Lazeti) only a handful of historical sources provide information about the presence of vocal polyphony before the 20th century.
Vocal polyphony based on Ostinato formulas are widely distributed across all Georgian regional styles. At first, Georgian polyphonic singing was listed as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ in 2001, but in 2008 it was relisted on the ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. The most common form of polyphony is 3 voiced songs. Nearly all the songs are sung in 3 parts: Top, middle and bass. The middle part holds the melody, the bass supports it harmonically, often with little melodic changes, and the top is more intricate and varied. In Christian tradition these voices are supposed to represent the Holy Trinity, with the three parts making an indivisible whole. Traditionally the top two parts are sung by soloists, while the bottom part is sung by a group. Many songs start with a solo introduction, usually sung by the middle part, from which the voices pitch themselves.
The diversity of Georgian singing is reflected in ‘musical dialects’. Every ethnic group in Georgia is distinguished by its specific “musical speech”. The diversity is comprehensively revealed by different forms of polyphony. There are three types of polyphony in Georgia: complex polyphony, which is common in Svaneti; polyphonic dialogue over a bass background, prevalent in the Kakheti region in Eastern Georgia; and contrasted polyphony with three partially improvised parts, characteristic of western Georgia.
The traditional Georgian song ‘Chakrulo’ was chosen to accompany the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 together with a collection of music from around the world. It is usually sung at ceremonies and festivals and belongs to the first category, complex polyphony. It is distinguished by its use of metaphors and its yodel, the Krimanchuli (meaning the ‘upper vice’) and a “cockerel’s crow”, performed by a male falsetto singer. Traditionally, these songs were written about all areas of everyday life, ranging from working in the fields (in songs like the ‘Naduri’, which incorporates the sounds of physical effort into the music) to songs about the curing of illnesses and to Christmas Carols (like the song ‘Alilo’). Having previously suffered the drawbacks of socialist cultural policies, traditional Georgian music is now threatened by a rural exodus as wells as the increasing popularity of Pop music.
Here are some special Georgian polyphonic songs for you to enjoy!
Shen Khar Venakhi