Iberi: Buba Murgulia (artistic director), Davit Kurdadze, Nikoloz Birkaia, Aleksandre Birkaia, Tornike Dzadzamia, Giorgi Janashia, Archil Gibradze, David Kavtaradze, Luka Chigvinadze, George Kananadze
In ancient times, the country of Georgia was called Iberia; the vocal ensemble IBERI honors its homeland’s historic traditions in song. These are songs so beautiful; they were launched into space on Voyager 2’s golden record and declared an intangible cultural treasure by UNESCO.
IBERI sings work songs, carols, hymns, historical ballads, and a host of treasures from the pre-Christian era with gripping intensity and virtuosity. Clad in their trademark black coats and boots, the musicians’ iconic brand of polyphonic singing features blocks of unconventional improvised harmonies with wild stratospheric falsetto tones floating above sepulchral bass notes. Drama, ecstasy, and tenderness are at the core of every note IIBERI sings. Apart from singing IBERI incorporates elements of dance and traditional instruments into its concerts. The choir has extrovert, open hearted and cheerful stage presence, communicating with audience and involving them into singing.
Much like skilled jazz players, Iberi are passionate about an often-forgotten traditional approach to improvisation as a way to uncover new aspects and colors in well-loved pieces. In Georgian traditional singing, there is a lot of space and possibility to improvise. Iberi often creates their own interpretation of songs by mixing diverse versions and adding their own touch.
Since their debut in 2012 IBERI has performed at significant festivals, like WOMEX, globalFEST and numerous venues around the world from USA till Australia spreading their unique culture and vocal tradition. In April 2022 Iberi has released their new album SUPRA dedicated to famous Georgian feast tradition.
Iberi, Arkhalalo, fragment, 2 min 33 sec, mp3, 320 Kbps
Iberi, Saeklesio Mravalzhamieri (Church Mravalzamieri), fragment, 2 min 12 sec, mp3, 320 Kbps
As the Georgians tell it, when God was distributing land amongst the peoples of the earth, the Georgians were too busy drinking and feasting to turn up on time. When they finally arrived, there was nothing left. “But Lord,” they protested, “we were only late because we were toasting You.” God was so touched by this that he gave them the land he was keeping for Himself – warm, fertile and fringed by the magnificent Caucasus mountains. That land is home to some of the greatest food on the planet and with feasting celebrated in a national myth,it’s not surprising that it’s also the principal occasion for music making. There really is a holy trinity in Georgia of food, wine and song. Wine making has been going on for some 8,000 years.
The word supra literally means ‘tablecloth’, although it’s usually translated as a feast. It’s the social hub of Georgian society – an age-old tradition, a religious rite and a symbol of national identity all in one. The tradition is learned from an early age, as children observe the adults and gain knowledge about the values of life, such as motherland, parents, ancestors, family, friendship, love, truth…
Supra is a ritual in itself, and includes food, wine and song – sung round the table. Every feast is led by a tamada, a master of ceremonies who is elected by the guests at the beginning of the party. He is the head of the feast and leads the toasts that punctuate the supra. There are many obligatory toasts, but the tamada is considered to have done a great job if he presents them in a new and interesting way, keeping the guests entertained.
Each round begins with a toast by the tamada who must empty his glass first. Guests then follow suit, often answering with toasts of their own, keeping to the theme of that round of toasts. Most of the songs are a cappella, but some are accompanied by chonguri-lute. The concert program is composed in the way of supra: there are toasts and suitable songs.
Toast: The Glory of the Lord. The Lord is the one who created us, bestowing upon us the meaning of life and death. He gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves from the outside, to see who and what we are. He is the only one in this variable world that is not changing – he gives a solid foundation for earthly and everlasting life. (Georgia has been an active Orthodox country since the 4th century, so the first toast of every supra is always dedicated to God.) ‘Mravalzhamieri’ is a special type of song, wishing for long life, happiness and prosperity. There are many mravalzhamieris but they all originate from the wine producing regions of Georgia.
Song: Kutaisi Mravalzhamieri (‘Blessings from Kutaisi’) – a song from Kutaisi, wishing and giving blessings for a long life.
Toast: Motherland. The motherland is not only around you but in you. These skies, these days, these nights, these rivers, these people, and the nature around you are all so beautiful, and they are here only in your motherland. Such an extraordinary feeling for the homeland makes everything beautiful.
Songs: Mkholod Shen Erts (‘Only for You’) – a love song sung for women and the homeland; music composed by Kote Potskhverashvili, lyrics by Shalva Dadiani. The potpourri of the two urban melodies
Toast: The Ancestors. From the outside a man seems to be just one person, but all his past ancestors are a part of him, too and make him who he is today. Some ancestors we know and remember, but most are unknown to us first-hand. However, they all still prominently exist in our lives; we see them in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions.
Songs: Sisona Darchia – Sisona Darchia is the name of the Gurian hero who fought against the Ottoman invaders during the 18th century. Khasanbegura – Historical-heroic war ballad about the battle of Shukhutperdi (Guria region) which took place in 1854 during the Crimean War (1853–1856) between Russian-Georgian troops against Ottomans. Renegade Hasan-Beg Tavdgiridze fought on the side of the enemy who fell on the battlefield.
Toast: Friendship. Diogenes, a Greek philosopher who lived in a barrel, said that friendship is one spirit in two bodies. Friendship is a kind of agreement between two people, where neither party reaps the benefits for themselves. Friendship can demonstrate to the world that which can be achieved together.
Songs: Mizezs vedzeb – The song by Jansug Kakhidze (1935–2002) mostly about the past love. Garekakhuri – Kakhetian dancing and celebrating song, also singing during the Georgian wrestling competitions.
Toast: Deceased ones. Remembering our loved ones who have passed away is one of the main elements of Georgian supra – it is a way of having continuous contact with them. It is a relief to realize that these people are not lost from our hearts, souls and memories – only from our day-to-day lives. This realization brings much happiness.
Song: Shen khar venakhi (‘You are the Vineyard’) – a church chant written by King Demetrius I of Georgia (reigning 1125–1156), and is dedicated to Saint Mary, the patroness of Georgia.
Toast: Next generation. The connection between a son and a grandson gives a feeling of immortality – the life of one man is complete, but in its descending lineage it lasts forever. A man loves the entire world and himself through his child.
Song: Vengara – a lullaby from the Mingrelian region.
Toast: Deeds. There is a saying, “a body without a spirit is dead, so faith without deeds and goodwill is dead”. If you cannot do it for others, then give to others. Goodwill will return to you for what you have unselfishly done for others. “Whatever you give, that is what is not lost.” (from the XII Century Poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli)
Song: Arkhalalo – a working song, about harvesting, from the Kartli region.
Toast: Love. The world and its people were created with and for love. “What has been ruined by enmity will be rebuilt with love” – from The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli. Only love gives people the power to improve themselves day by day.
Songs: Kovel Sneulebaze (‘Harder Than Any Illness’) – a city-folklore, love song; music composed by Sisters Ishkhneli, lyrics by Akaki Tsereteli. Romelni Kerubimta – a chant for Cherubim from east Georgia.
Toast: Dignity. The term ‘dignity’ is very profound, but everybody feels it in his own way. In short, this is the essence of human thinking and speech, and it acts in accordance with the universal principles established by the universe itself. This is a complete antipode of egoism, and is equally linked to truth, love and courage.
Song: Varado – a song of wounded warrior from Abkhazia region.
Toast: Sweet Memories. A big part of our life consists of memories and good deeds. There are bad memories as well, but time can convert them. Over time, from this new perspective, they don’t seem so bad anymore and we can laugh about them at the supra feasts.
Songs: Two Salamuri –the melodies of the shepherds from the mountains of eastern Georgia. Harira – a solemn song from the Mingrelian region.
Toast: The Truth. All previous toasts mean nothing, or have false meaning, if said without the truth. Only what is true can be called real. All good deeds are only done truthfully. Every valuable thing is fulfilled in righteousness. There are no quarter, half or
semi-truths; it’s either the full truth or it isn’t the truth at all.
Song: Saeklesio Mravalzhamieri (‘Church Mravalzhamieri’) – blessing and celebration song.
Toast: The Person. God created the world in six days, on the last day he created man, and rested on the seventh. Once he had completed his creations, he created a new creator. It is thought that people are most like God when they are making something new.
Song: Adjarian Potpourri – celebrating, dancing songs mix from Adjaria region.