As Georgia, this year, celebrates its 25th anniversary of restituting statehood and independence, some of the leading lights of the nation’s lush music-scape are soon to descend on Qatar in a gala concert aptly titled Stars of Georgia.
On November 12 at the Katara Opera House, the concert promises to take the music lovers of Qatar on an enchanting trip through the sights and sounds of Georgia, traversing everything from the unique traditional polyphonic a capella music to popular urban and romantic songs that reflect Tbilisi’s pluralistic culture and identity.
The evening features top, internationally renowned Georgian artistes, such as the legendary “grand lady of songs and romance”, Nani Bregvadze, among others. Community caught up with the ambassador of Georgia to Qatar, Ekaterine Meiering-Mikadze, to know more.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the restitution of Georgian statehood, this celebration via a musical concert holds special significance. Why is music such an integral part of Georgian culture?
Music is, of course, a universal expression of creativity and culture. In Georgia, it is unthinkable to separate culture from music. Paintings, sculptures, architecture, and the spread of churches and monasteries from the early ages onwards; all culminate in the use of music. Georgia’s polyphonic music is absolutely unique, much older than the one in Western Europe. In later times, as Georgia developed on the crossroads of civilisations, melodies and rhythms entered from all directions – Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. It all converged over centuries to make our music distinctively Georgian, though not necessarily in language. Georgia, and Tbilisi in particular, has its own distinctive spirit. In difficult times, music was also the vehicle to make people stick together as Georgians. In the times when national self-determination was undermined, cultural identities were more important. Today, we celebrate the restitution of statehood and independence of 1991. For the first time, we now enjoy both, cultural and political freedom.
What do you have to say about the great Nani Bregvadze who will be performing in this concert?
Nani Bregvadze is the grand lady of songs and a living icon highly regarded in Georgia and beyond for her amazing stage presence and nuanced renditions of popular songs and city romances. Born in Tbilisi in 1936 as one of five sisters, she grew up in a family of artistes. Sharing her parents’ enthusiasm of music, she attended music school in Tbilisi before being discovered in 1957 at the sixth World Festival of Youth and Students, after which she studied singing and piano at the Tbilisi State Conservatory. Torn between becoming a concert pianist or a singer, her artistic career got a decisive push by Bruno Coquatrix of the Olympia music hall in Paris who introduced her to an international audience. Touring the world until 1980 with the Georgian vocal ensemble Orera, Nani Bregvadze became the voice of Georgia par excellence, spreading the melodious genres of city romances epitomising Tbilisi as well as traditional Georgian folk songs.
Tell us more about the other top Georgian artistes who are part of this show.
David Mazanashvili, for instance, began to play piano when he was four years old. At 10, he participated in the competition of young composers and was recognised as city laureate. His musical learning spans various genres from classical to jazz piano with compositions of his own being an inseparable part. His career led him to New York in 1999 and back to Georgia, where he, together with Gia Salagishvili and Nodar Ekvtimishvili, formed the Georgian Jazz Trio that has since had many notable performances in Georgia, the region, and the wider world.
Then there’s Eka Mamaladze, an artiste in a class of her own. Growing up in music with her mother Nani Bregvadze, she attended the Tbilisi Music School for Talented Children and graduated in piano at the Tbilisi State Conservatory in 1983. She then began a creative co-operation with the famous Georgian conductor and composer Jansug Kakhidze, with whom she recorded many songs for films, a trademark art form in Georgia. These soundtracks are part of Georgians’ collective memory and considered jewels of popular music. Her broad repertoire includes masterful renditions of works by the renowned Georgian composer Giorgi Chubinishvili.
Lastly, the Georgian Voices ensemble, which was formed in 1979, builds on Georgia’s unique polyphonic musical heritage dating back to medieval times. Performing in Georgia and since 1991 increasingly all over the world, the choir has developed a rich repertoire of traditional popular music, both profane and sacred. Whenever possible, Georgian Voices perform in natural acoustics environment like chamber music halls and churches, as these spaces transmit the full sound of the authentic singing technique. Innovating with contemporary musical expressions, Georgian Voices have also performed with the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Katie Melua, Take 6, Sting, and other musicians.
In what way do you feel Georgian music stands out from the others? What makes it unique?
Music is, by definition, a continuum. It is not really unique in the sense of being isolated or having grown in an environment without cultural relations. But what truly makes Georgian music unique is definitely the early polyphonic music that probably developed and survived in a largely homophonic environment because of Georgia’s landscape. With mountains all around, invaders destroyed and enriched the lower lands, but the mountainous terrain has been a huge conservator of what trickled down across centuries. In other musical forms, there are stronger relations towards West, East, and South. When you listen to it, you hear the Silk Road coming back to life. Last but not least, Georgia has always actively promoted music. In Georgia, every child breathes music. And when a whole population gets immersed in music, chances are that some very, very talented singers and instrumentalists will emerge. Today, Georgians can be found anywhere around the world as top performing artistes; from the leading opera houses to the most celebrated philharmonic orchestras.
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