Saturday, July 22, 2017

DOCUMENTARIES: Music of Georgia (Caucasus) Series. Color, 115 min, 1998-2012. By Hugo Zemp (

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Traditional music of Georgia (the Caucasus) is now internationally renowned and appreciated for the richness and beauty of its polyphonies. While concerts and studio recordings have revealed the diversity of local musical traditions, the films in this series show, for the first time, the performance of three different music styles in the context of rituals and learning.

At the foot of the Caucasus, the Kakheti province of eastern Georgia is famous for its wine and its polyphonic songs. Banquets with their alternation of ritualized toasts and collective singing are considered by Georgians as a major component of national identity. Verbal art and musical art are bound together in a unique way.

Table songs of Kakheti have two ornamented solo voices - occasionally one melodic voice - while the choir sings the drone, a sustained tone in the bass. Thanks to CDs and international tours by folk groups, lovers of Georgian polyphony from abroad appreciate this specific repertoire. However, this film reveals the performance of these songs in the traditional context of banquets (supra), under the presidencies of toastmasters (tamada).

Georgian banquets conventionally are the prerogative of men. Mastersinger Andro Simashvili, known as Andro Papa, leads his friends at a classical men's banquet. On the other hand, renowned female singer Leila Legashvili is the toastmaster at a women's banquet, where Andro Simashvili is an honored guest. Long songs and elaborate toasts are shown in their integrality, revealing important insights into Georgian cultural values.

Extra Feature:
Hymn of New Spring Branches (Himni Gazapkhulis Rtotha) by Leila Legashvili (4 min)
“This is a very interesting and pleasant film packed with highly elaborate examples of traditional/folk creativity. It features Andro Simashvili - the expert and performer of ancient folk songs. The film is full of humor, Kakhetian life situations and relationships, and shows many Georgian table songs. It preserves many interesting material which makes it very important for the next generations. Thanks to everyone who helped to make this film, Andro Papa and his singing became eternal.” — Anzor Erkomaishvili, President of the International Centre of Georgian Folk Song, Tbilisi, Georgia
“This documentary is delightful, possibly the best film about Georgian village singers that I have seen. Not only the music, but the very feel of Kakhetian village, with its live humor, even the smell of traditional food, is all there in the film!” — Joseph Jordania, University of Melbourne, Australia
Table Songs of Kakheti is Zemp's fourth Georgian-music documentary that I have seen. It is as instructive, and entertaining, as his earlier work. As a teacher, I have shown the earlier films to undergraduate anthropology students who's reactions have been very positive. An obvious choice for anthropologists teaching about folk music or concepts of traditional culture, gender, social change, and doubtless many other topics. I highly recommend it.” — Kevin Tuite, Université de Montréal, Canada
Related Resources
Read the article "A Man Can Sing and Play Better than a Woman" by Nino Tsitsisvili, originally published in the journal Ethnomusicology, 50(3), 2006

The Feast-Day of Tamar and Lashari (73 minutes, 1998)

Pilgrims meet at two mountain sanctuaries to celebrate the deified Queen Tamar and King Lashari with prayers, sacrifices and ritual songs. The participants of the feast also enjoy secular music and the company of friends.

The Pshavi people of the eastern mountains of the Republic of Georgia perform a ritual which can be characterized as a syncretism of ancient polytheistic beliefs and Orthodox Christian faith, but which is qualified by city habitants of Tbilisi as "pagan". The ritual of Tamar and Lashari celebrates queen Tamar (12-13th century) and her son Lasha, deified by the mountain dwellers.

Each year, and for three days, on the hillside of a Caucasus valley, pilgrims consecutively meet at two sanctuaries consecrated to these deities and worship them through prayers, songs and sacrifices, enjoying at the same time food and happy chats with friends they have not seen for a year. In addition to prayers and sacrifices by a shrine priest, religious songs are an essential part of the ritual.
The purpose of this film is not to isolate the most archaic elements, nor to reconstitute an idealized image of a polytheistic ritual of the past, but it is to show the multiple dimensions of the festival as it happened in July 1991. Several centuries-old songs could be heard there, but also profane music, traditional and modern, rural and urban, oriental and occidental Music.

Funeral Chants from the Georgian Caucasus (21 minutes, 2007)

During a burial, women and men separately perform individual laments punctuated by collective wailing, while a men's small choir perform polyphonic songs composed of musically stylized cries of grief.

The villages of the Svaneti province are located in north-western Georgia, in the valleys that lie between the mountains of the Caucasus. The Svans represent about 1% of the Georgian population. Their language differs from the Georgian language, and their religion is a syncretism of Orthodox Christian faith and pre-Christian beliefs. The polyphony of the Svans appears as one of the major styles of the Georgian vocal art. It consists of two soloist voices and the bass of the choir.

In their funeral rituals, the Svans combine three vocal expressions which are rarely found nowadays in other parts of the world: women's individual laments punctuated by collective wails like in Ancient Greece, men?s individual laments, and polyphonic chants by male choirs. While the individual laments are aimed at the deceased and the souls of departed people, the men?s polyphonic chants use no words but a series of syllables which follow a set pattern. With chords partly dissonant to a Western European ear, and without any cries other than musically stylized ones, these collective chants of great intensity manage to convey the helplessness and inexpressible grief of Man faced with death.

with co-director Nino Tsitsishvili:
Duduki of Tbilisi: Eldar Shoshitashvili and His Students (21 minutes, 2012)

The duduki is a double-reed wind instrument of the oboe family. During a rehearsal, the teacher and his students perform traditional repertoires of Middle Eastern origin as well as styles derived from rural polyphonic singing, and westernized songs developed by Georgian musicians since the 20th century.

The Georgian duduki is known by different names in neighboring countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, ethnomusicologists Hugo Zemp and Nino Tsitsishvili filmed a rehearsal for an upcoming concert, where master musician Eldar Shoshitashvili and his students perform traditional repertoires of Middle-Eastern origin but also westernized songs developed by Georgian musicians since the 20th century and styles derived from the rural polyphonic singing.

“These three films unified in one series show the distinct layers of contemporary Georgian culture with a remarkable precision and attention to real contexts. The creator of these documentaries is both a wonderful filmmaker and a great producer, but he always remains a musician, creating a sense of being in tune with the performers.” — Rusudan Tsurtsumia, Head of the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony, Tbilisi, Georgia

More informations to Hugo Zemp

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