Wednesday, January 16, 2008

120. Music of the Great Tradition -- 20:Georgia

As Jordania stresses in his book (see especially pp. 75-76), group vocalizing in just about every region of Georgia is so thoroughly polyphonic that unison singing is literally unheard of. Most Georgians are capable, it seems, of spontaneously hearing and singing separate parts. This in itself is of great significance, since it has generally been assumed, by those schooled in West European traditions, that some special training and skill is necessary just to be able to sing in harmony at all, much less naturally and spontaneously, without even thinking about it.

Jordania ascribes such abilities to the existence of an ancient tradition of polyphonic singing that goes back to our earliest human ancestors in Africa. This tradition would have survived in various "marginal" areas of the world, such as islands and mountains, where it has been protected from the encroachment of more recent traditions based mostly on monophonic singing.

Jordania's position is quite close to my own in many ways, though for him the tradition goes back much farther into the past, in fact millions of years. He sees it as spreading to the rest of the world with the first wave of migration out of Africa of so-called Homo Erectus peoples, whom he regards, along with proponents of the "multiregional" model, as already full fledged "Homo Sapiens." I, on the other hand, tend to be more comfortable with the model that sees "modern" humans (Homo Sapiens) leaving Africa for the first time roughly 70,000 to 90,000 years ago, the so-called "recent Out of Africa" model. The jury is still out on which of the two models best fits all the evidence -- though as I see it, the bulk of the genetic evidence points to the more recent exodus. In any case, we both agree on the importance of Georgia as a refuge area where some very old and powerful polyphonic vocal styles have survived for a very long time indeed.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, several examples of Georgian music can be heard on the website entitled The Traditional Polyphony of Georgia, where a regional map is displayed. If you click on region no. 15, Guria, you'll hear an example of vocalizing that, for me, resembles P/B style in many ways, especially when we consider the elaborately yodeled highest part. Some traces of interlock can also be heard. A type of hocket, along with yodel, can be heard in the concluding section of this Georgian Work Song, as performed by the Rustavi Choir (track 14, from the CD Georgian Voices).

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