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Ts’utisopeli, which translates literally to ''minute village,'' is a Georgian proverb that refers to our transient lives on earth. It is a piece of folk wisdom frequently heard in conversation, in ritualistic toasts and in song texts throughout the country. In the spirit of this sentiment, the aim of the Ts’utisopeli Project is the documentation, preservation and dissemination of village songs from the eastern regions of the Republic of Georgia.
Similar to many places in the modern world, daily life and culture in Georgia is rapidly changing. Youth are drawn away from their villages to find work in the capital, and a notable number of households have one parent missing who has left to find work abroad. It is common, particularly in the more isolated regions represented in this project, to meet single elderly people who find moving away from their land to the city unimaginable. They are often living alone, joined by their children and grandchildren only during brief summer holidays. Anyone with the opportunity to wander through these mountains and valleys will meet many of these beautiful, fiercely charismatic and unstoppably generous characters, and will likely be greeted with streams of stories, lessons, songs and friendship.
All of the songs on this site were recorded between the years of 2010-2014 by Aurelia Shrenker and Richard Berkeley. The site and its recordings serve no commercial purpose whatsoever. We the recorders were overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of these people, whose songs were one of the many things they shared: They took us to visit their family members’ graves; they told us stories of lost children and war; they walked with us to their places of prayer, including us in their rituals; they mended our torn shirts and taught us to make bread in their clay ovens; they fed us day after day, everything that they had, never asking anything in return. They gave us the gift of their world – a gift that was never intended just for us, but rather to be shared with you.
The writer Jorges Luis Borges once said, ''The soul is contained in the human voice.'' When the older generations of today are gone, and with them their ballads and unique ways, Georgia will be facing a different tomorrow, potentially departed from a past to which it will be impossible to return. It is all of this that brings us to this work, with the intention and hope that when these songs are heard, they will stir the hearts of Georgians and others alike, and will encourage all of us to reconnect with our world’s heritages that are still alive before they, too, have passed. If the soul is contained in the human voice, then this voice embodies not just one soul, but the soul of all of our roots -- our families, our villages and our world.
The voices on this site are representative of the current soundscape of villages in eastern Georgia. It is not the quality of the voices that is of utmost importance, but rather the histories they embrace and the cultural heritage each one epitomizes.
Thank you for listening to these songs. Thank you for reading the stories behind them and looking into the light of the musicians’ eyes that shared them with us, so that we may keep them for tomorrow while listening to them today.
When speaking about the regions of Georgia it is important to differentiate between contemporary regions and historical ones. Today Georgia is divided into provinces, each with their own municipal capital. The recordings on this site were made in just three of these eastern provinces - Mtskheta-Mtianeti, K'akheti and Lower Kartli. Historically these provinces were divided into smaller regions naturally demarcated by the geography of the Caucasus Mountains, each highland inhabited by people with unique customs and ways. There are differences between Pshav, Tush and Mtiul people for example, that make each of these regions culturally unique. As depicted on the map below, the area of Ts'utisopeli field recordings includes eight historical regions within eastern Georgia - Kartli, K'akheti, Tusheti, Erts'o-Tianeti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi and Khevsureti.
Georgians have an in-depth working knowledge of their family tree and can often, off the top of their heads, name relatives going back at least seven generations. With regard to Georgia’s Soviet past and more current trends of urbanization, a lot of movement has occurred within the country over the last century -- Some of it forced, some of it encouraged with government incentives and some of it out of freewill. Needless to say, many children living in the lowlands today strongly identify with their grandparents' highlands, even if they themselves have never visited.
To an outsider these distinctions may seem subtle at best, but regarding those whose roots run through this landscape, they are distinctions essential to acknowledge in order to gain a better understanding of these cultures and the music that springs from them.
The map below depicts the historical regions of Georgia and clearly outlines the territory that this project covers:
Map created by Stephan Rozencwajg
Foreigners familiar with Georgia may know of the rich, complex polyphonic musical traditions that exist in many of its regions. Musical styles vary unbelievably for such a small country, with mountains playing a huge role in contributing to this diversity. Both the Greater Caucasus and the Lesser Caucasus Ranges run through the country, dividing it into many different highlands, each with a unique culture that is reflected in language/dialect, cuisine, traditional clothing, rituals and forms of song.
Polyphonic (multi-voiced) singing is present in each region of the country, with commonalities that tie the traditions together, but also unique qualities that make them distinct. Dissonant chords are one common prominent characteristic. The prevailing form of polyphony is three-voiced unaccompanied song, traditionally sung with one top voice, one middle voice and many low voices that form a drone. This being said, three-part songs sung in trios (one voice on each part) do exist in the west where four-part singing can also be heard. There is no practice of unison singing in Georgia, but there is a solo repertoire that consists of lullabies, work songs, mourning songs, humorous songs and ballads.
As three-part polyphony is the dominant form of Georgian music, the one and two-part songs that prevail throughout the northeast are somewhat unique within the country. Two-voiced songs are widespread throughout the five northeast highlands of Khevsureti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Khevi and Mtiuleti, varying in complexity. Khevsur singing for example is less melodious and focused rather on rich poetry sung in simple motifs, whereas the two-voiced songs of Mtiuleti and Khevi are more complex.
Music from Tusheti may have been more shaped than the others by neighboring cultures; Tush men are traditionally transhumant, covering large swaths of territory by foot seasonally in search of grazing ground for their flocks. Often spending a tremendous amount of time alone, their lifestyles are conducive to balladry, a tradition that also runs strongly through the music of the Chechens, Vainakhs, Adighes, Ossetians and Azerbaijanis.
The one and two-voiced singing from Georgia's northeast highlands is often accompanied by the panduri, a simple three-stringed fretted lute. Lutes similar to Georgia's panduri are also played in neighboring areas, such as the Caucasus Tar (Azerbaijan and Armenia), the Agach Komus (Dagestan) and the Pandur (Chechnya), to name a few.
There are a handful of instruments besides the panduri that are used in Georgian folk music: the garmoni, a button accordion much celebrated in the northeastern highland regions; the chonguri, a 4-stringed lute found in the west; the doli, a hand-drum; the ch'iboni, a bagpipe from Ach'ara; the salamuri, a wooden flute found in many regions; the changi, a harp played by women in Svanetian musical traditions; and the ch'unir, a bowed lute, also played in Svaneti.
Many highlanders from these five northeast regions have moved down to the plains of K'akheti and Kartli, the two largest and most central regions of Georgia. Landscapes there offer immigrants from the highlands milder weather, a longer growing season and more connection with Tbilisi and the rest of the country. Table songs are the well-known musical genre of these regions, songs that feature two highly ornamented voices that weave over a group of droning basses and are often performed in slow tempo and relatively free rhythm. The contemporary demographic of K'akheti and Kartli is very mixed. Pockets of K'akheti are lined with villages of people not only from the five northeastern highlands, but also from Imereti, Svaneti, Ach'ara and Dagestan.
Some of this diversity is exemplified in the six languages and plethora of dialects found in the songs on this site. Although Georgian is the prominent language that reflects the vast majority of recordings, there are also songs in Svan, Megrelian, Bats, Udi and Chechen. The presence of songs in Bats and Udi on the site is especially important due to the fact that they are both severely endangered languages. To read more about endangered languages spoken in Georgia, visit UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.
To hear songs in Udi, visit the page of Olia Kumsiashvili.
To hear songs in Megrelian, visit the page of Eleoni Ensemble.
Georgian is a South Caucasian (or Kartvelian) language. It is the dominant language in its family which includes Megrelian, Svan and Laz. Although the precise year of the alphabet's creation is unknown, the earliest example of written Georgian is from the 5th century in a script called Asomtavruli. Over the centuries the alphabet changed twice before becoming the Mkhedruli alphabet which is in use today. The two preceding alphabets (Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri) are used in combination in the writings of the Georgian Orthodox Church and are referred to as the Khutsuri (or priest's) alphabet.
All of the Georgian on this site (artist names, song titles and lyrics etc.) has been transliterated from the Georgian script to the Latin script in an effort to make it accessible to a wide audience. The transliteration on this site is the official system of transliteration - The Georgian National System of Romanization.
For those interested in learning some of the songs from the lyrics provided, we have included instructions on how to read and pronounce Georgian.
Georgian Alphabet (Mkhedruli):
ა ბ გ დ ე ვ ზ თ ი კ ლ მ ნ ო პ ჟ რ
a b g d e v z t i k' l m n o p' zh r
ს ტ უ ფ ქ ღ ყ შ ჩ ც ძ წ ჭ ხ ჯ ჰ
ს t' u p k gh q sh ch ts dz ts' ch' kh j h
The modern Georgian alphabet is made up of phonetic graphemes, meaning that each of its 33 letters always corresponds to the same sound, no matter the context of the letter within a word. Each vowel and consonant has its own distinct sound, even when there are two of the same vowels or consonants in a row. Although some of the consonants are difficult to pronounce, the phonetic aspect of the alphabet makes the task of reading and writing a little simpler.
Examples: aura (''aura'') has three syllables (a-u-ra)
baasi (''conversation, talk'') has three syllables (ba-a-si)
tavisupleba (''freedom'') has five syllables (ta-vi-su-ple-ba)
VOWELS: All vowels have just one pure sound -- There are no diphthongs in Georgian vowels:
a - as in "ball" e - as in "wet" i - as in "eat" o - as in "boat" u - as in "too"
CONSONANTS: Georgian (as well as other languages in the Caucasus) is known for its consonant clusters. "Ch'k'viani," meaning intelligent, (three consonant sounds clustered together at the beginning), is one example. In rare circumstances, a Georgian word can have as many as six consonants in a row! Many Georgian consonants need clarification in order to read and pronounce correctly. To begin, a handful of Georgian consonants are transliterated into two characters in Latin script, but produce just one sound:
zh (ჟ); gh (ღ); ch (ჩ); sh (შ); ts (ც); dz (ძ); ts' (წ); ch' (ჭ); kh (ხ)
Some of these consonants have equivalent sounds in English:
zh- as in leisure; ch- as in child; sh- as in shell; ts- as in suits; dz- as in ads
Some of these consonants do not have equivalent sounds in English:
The ''kh'' (ხ) is pronounced like German Bach, or Scottish loch, or Yiddish chutzpah.
The ''gh'' (ღ) is pronounced further back in the throat than ''kh,'' and can be compared to the the French ''r.''
The ts' and ch' are non-aspirated versions of ts (as in suits) and ch (as in child) that we hear in English.
There are six non-aspirated consonants in the Georgian language, transliterated with an apostrophe after the letter/s. Aspirated syllables (like p, t, and k in English) are pronounced with a puff of air, or expulsion from the lungs. This puff of air is absent in non-aspirated syllables, which instead are produced with pressure, or a slight squeeze, from (depending on the letter) the tongue, throat, or lips:
k' (კ); p' (პ); t' (ტ); ts' (წ); ch' (ჭ); q (ყ)
The ''q'' (ყ) is a ''k'' sound, glottalized in the very back of the throat.1
The ''v'' (ვ) is soft, often pronounced as more of a ''w.''
1The Georgian national system of romanization uses an apostrophe after the q in transliteration. Because there is only one ''q'' in Georgian, we have chosen to transliterate it on this site without the apostrophe.
In loving memory of those who participated in this project and are no longer with us:
Gogia K'avtiashvili in Zemo Kedi
Jemal K'irvalidze in Arbushik'i
Tamara Mgeliashvili in Kvemo Kedi
Barbare Chobalauri in Kvemo Kedi
Leila Lachisvhili in Kvemo Art'ani
Marik'a Aladashvili in Samtats'qaro
Maia Topuria in Sighnaghi
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to many people for making this project possible. We are deeply thankful for their participation and their myriad of contributions, each of which supported this work in unforgettable ways:
The Danforth Family, who provided much of the support needed to create and complete this project.
The Institute of International Education's Fulbright Program.
Patty Cuyler, for her ceaseless support.
Mari Khachidze, for her perpetual encouragement and her detailed work recording the lyrics of all of the songs.
To the countless who fed and watered us along the road, and gave us directions to the next village.
Alek Nodia & INFINITUS
Amanda Blasko & Family
Maqvala Ts'ik'lauri; Nino Medulashvili & Family
The Zemo Kedi Cultural House
Giorgi Chkheidze & the Chkheidze Family
Maia, Mindia & the Ts'ik'lauri Family
Teah Pirtskhelani & the Pirtskhelani Family
Zaza & Maia Khutsaidze in Kvemo Alvani
Lali Khandolishvili, Gela & Rezo Ghlighvashvili
The Qedeli Institute for Social Therapy
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Meri Jikhoshvili in Zemo Alvani
The Gorelishvili Family in Zhinvali
Tia Ich'irauli in Kvemo Alvani
Guram Mutoshvili & Family in Joqolo
The Jermizashvili-Karchaidze Family in Lak'atkhevi
Tamta Sharashenidze & The National Intellectual Property Center of Georgia
Nino Iashvili in Gurjaani
The Dusheti Cultural House
Meri Khornauli in Dusheti
Vazha & Valik'o Tskipashvili in Magharosk'ari
Nazi Ts'veroshvili in Kvemo Art'ani
Tariel Arabuli in Bulachauri
Tamrik'o Bibilashvili in Bulachauri
Nutsa Piranishvili in Sno
Tinatin Mezvrishvili in Sagarejo
Golend Khutsishvili in Zemo Kedi
Lela Khutsurauli in Kvemo Kedi
Lali Kavtaradze in Pasanauri
Ketino Raubuli in Sighnaghi
Neli Gobidzishvili in Dedoplists'qaro
Nugzar K'ap'anadze & Family in Giorgeti
P'aat'a Mekhrishvili in Ozaani
Mevludi Maisuradze & Gocha Bukvaidze in Telavi
Emzar, the angel of our long road and a brilliant car mechanic
Khvicha in Kvemo Kedi
Zura in Jijeti
Zura Arabuli in Barisakho
Amiran Gigauri & Family in Gomets'ari
Elik'o from the Dusheti Cultural Center
Giorgi K'alandia & The Georgian State Museum of Theater, Music, Cinema and Choreography
Lola Petrova & The American Embassy in Tbilisi
Zurab & Vakht'ang P'ap'iashvili in K'akhi, Azerbaijan
Shemodzakhili Ensemble in Akhalsopeli
The nuns of Bodbe Monastery
Giorgi Vashakidze & Susanne Gentz
The entire staff of Artgene
Irak'li Ugulava and Geoland Maps & Navigation
Recorder: Zoom H4n
Microphones: Rode NT5 Matched Pair
Headphones: Grado SR80
Computer: Apple Macbook Pro 13''
Vehicle: Toyota Landcruiser HZJ80 with BFG tires
Aurelia has been captivated by the music and culture of the Republic of Georgia since the age of 13. Originally from Massachusetts, she studied ethnomusicology at UCLA and received her B.A. from the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. A singer with a background in classical voice, Aurelia has performed as a soloist, with Village & Northern Harmony, and with vocal duo Ash (Æ). As a teacher of Georgian music, she has worked with many ensembles in the USA, as well as in France, Israel, and Georgia.
Aurelia began recording and documenting music from eastern Georgia in 2010. She received a Fulbright Award in 2011 to continue the project, and dedicated the following three years to gathering translations and histories about the songs and artists. This website is a culmination of that work.