Georgian Ensemble’s EU Anthem in Strasburg Captivates Int'l Audience

Georgian polyphonic music and its ancient culture have once again come into the world’s spotlight and captured the admiration of an international audience. On 8-10 November, at the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasburg , famous Georgian folk ensemble Shavnabada had the honor of opening the ‘World Forum for Democracy’ and performing the anthem of the European Union. Georgian men’s choir presented Beethoven’s symphony No. 9, known as Ode to Joy, that was adopted by EU as an official anthem, in Georgian style. The amazing performance of Georgian singers left the hall speechless while their footage published on the Facebook page of the Council of Europe broke all-time records. Apart from the EU anthem, Shavnabada performed well-known Georgian folk song Chakrulo, one which was sent to space in 1977 on a Golden Record on Voyager 2 by NASA, along with 27 musical recordings including pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Louis Armstrong.

In order to gain deeper insight into world famous Georgian folk music, and to uncover Shavnabadas’s performance in Strasburg, GEORGIA TODAY attended the rehearsal of the ensemble and spoke to the Director of Shavnabada, Dato Tsintsadze. The ensemble counts 15 members who share a love of Georgian traditional songs. Even though each member has a different profession and background, every week after work they gather at their studio to rehearse.

As the founder of Shavnabada told us, he and his group members grew up together and almost all of them used to sing in folk music ensemble ‘Martve’ which has brought up generations of musicians and singers in Georgia.

“Almost everyone in this ensemble was taught how to sing in Martve,” Dato Tsintsadze told us. “After we grew up and realized that we were not kids anymore, we decided to found our own ensemble. I discovered old records of Georgian folk music made by famous British studio Patefon Records, which traveled throughout Georgia in 1901-1914 and recorded songs characteristic to the country’s different regions. This was the very thing that fueled my lust to revive traditional centuries-old Georgian folk music. Georgian chants and polyphony have undergone times of hardship; during the Soviet Union, the churches were closed that hindered the development of Georgian gospel. That was followed by a dark period in the history and culture of Georgia in the 1990s, so traditional music was forgotten and put in the shadow for some time. That is why the restoration and the preservation of our culture and songs became the core aim of our ensemble”.

Tsintsadze explained that originally there were only five people in the group.

“We started at my house, studying old recordings of Georgian songs and teaching each other how to sing. We practiced a lot and gradually expanded and reached success not only on the local scene but beyond the country’s borders. I was 19 when we first performed at the Tbilisi Conservatory on behalf of Shavbanabda. Over the years, we have recorded a number of songs, produced nine CDs and delivered many concerts. We’ve toured throughout Georgia and brought Georgian culture to different countries around the world. We also produced a CD with Georgian chants and lyrics so that anyone can learn how to sing on his/her own. Currently, there are 15 members, the youngest of which is 24 and the oldest 34,” Tsintsadze elaborated.

When attending the rehearsal, you feel it is more than singing; it’s the art of communication and a big family where the members are connected with close ties, friendship and love.

“Georgian folk music enables me to be the link between past and future. Through singing traditional Georgian music, that comes from our ancestors, and transferring it to the new generation, you become a connecting bridge between past and future. Georgian music is really special, since it’s an integral part of Georgian culture, like winemaking, Georgian national dances, architecture etc.,” he said.

The performance by Shavnabada of the EU hymn Ode to Joy, which is about love, brotherhood and unity of Mankind, was quite symbolic, because these are the very principles on which the ensemble stands.

“We opened the forum in Strasburg and it was a really big honor and responsibility for us, since we represented the Georgian nation in culture, history and values. The person behind the idea was Armaz Akhvlediani, founder of Tbilisi Political School, who suggested the Council of Europe that we perform at the Democracy Forum. So, together with composer Misha Mdinaradze, we presented a Georgian version of the classical piece which includes elements of both choral and folk music. The attendants were really surprised and impressed when they saw us in traditional Georgian men’s wear and daggers entering the hall. We opened the forum with distinguished Georgian composer Djansugh Kakhidze’s version of Mravalzhamier (May You Live A Long Life) , which was followed by an Abkhazian song, quite symbolic since Abkhazia is part of Georgia, then we performed Chakrulo and ended with Beethoven’s 9th symphony. At first, the audience did not realize what we were singing but then everything became clear and they were really amazed,” Tsintsadze said.

He also spoke about the history of Georgian songs and unveiled some interesting details, telling us that Georgian singing tradition has its roots in the 8th – 7th centuries BC. According to Greek sources, when they first invaded Georgian land, the Greeks said that the native people were famous for cultivating grapes, setting up irrigation systems and singing cheerful songs. As for gospels and polyphony, the earliest written information appears in chronicles of the 4th -5th centuries. “All of which serves as proof that Georgia songs come from ancient times,” Tsintsadze elaborated.

To summarize the story and give a general impression of Georgian songs, famous composer Igor Stravinsky’s quote suits quite nicely:

“Recordings of Georgian folk polyphonic songs make a great musical impression. They are recorded in a tradition of active reproduction of Georgian folk music, the origin of which begins from ancient times. It is a wonderful finding and can give to the performance much more than any modem music can... Yodel, or "Krimanchuli," as it is called in Georgia, is the best song I have ever heard. ["America" magazine, No 23, 1967]”

Lika Chigladze

07 December 2017 19:22