Artgene Festival – a Panning Shot Over Georgian Traditional Music


Our Reportage from The Artgene Festival, Tbilissi, Georgia

Today begins the Artgene, this stuff here.

Basically, a traditional Georgian music festival that lasts seven days when each day is dedicated to a region of Georgia. The festival takes place at the Ethnographic Museum, an outdoor museum, in a large park near the Turtle lake.

We arrive in perfect timing for the beginning of the festival, the entrance costs 10 lari (about 4 euro), the performances are held in an outdoor amphitheater. Today the weather is not the best, there are some clouds.

At 19, the festival begins, on stage seamlessly performances of children, elders, adults, women and men; musicians, dancers, singers. The whole day is dedicated to the Samegrelo region, the region of Zugdidi. After a couple of hours, a downpour starts and we are forced to flee, there are not many shelters!

We get a bottle of Saperavi (pretty lousy) waiting for the performances to resume. In fact, the shower does not last long but nothing portends that the festival will go on. The stage has been dismantled but at some point, we see people at work on another stage.

Finally, at about 22 something begins, is the concert of Georgian armed forces military band! Watching the show we are no more than twenty persons (including insiders and journalists). I would say that the concert is fairly negligible.

It is a typical fanfare of horns performing a predictable modern band repertoire. We’ll be back tomorrow hoping that the weather will assist us.

Artgene Festival – Regions & Traditional Music

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After yet another lunch of khinkali, at 18:30 we’re back at the ArtGene. The day is dedicated to Abkhazia and the region of Mtskheta-Mtianeti. When opening an old blind man takes the stage, accompanied by the acclaim of the large audience and by the lovely daughter of no more than four years. 

The man speaks at length and with intensity, punctuated by the thunderous applause of the auditorium; obviously we do not understand anything and we have no idea who he is, most likely a Georgian Abkhazian, maybe a writer or a poet.

After the speech, the music begins: once again all ages are represented, the groups of children are many, quite good (some are really young). And then the numerous formations of dancers, with men who perform acrobatics full of energy and vigor and women who have interesting choreographies in beautiful traditional costumes.

The types of music are basically three: the polyphonic choirs, based on subtle dissonances between the voices; the song form, accompanied by Panduri (small three-stringed lute), Chunguri (larger lute, four-stringed), Doli (twin-side cylindrical drum played with fingers), and sometimes flute (Salamuri) and Changi (a sort of triangular harp ); The instrumental music to accompany the dance (same instruments but different rhythms).

The most stunning thing is the vitality of this tradition, felt like something up-to-date and experienced in everyday life, and not, as is often the case elsewhere (eg in Italy), with a sort of parodistic or pseudo-philological “folklorism”, disconnected from real context of belonging. 

The Georgians sing at the table, or while drinking with friends, listen and know in depth the repertoire of their own region, and often that of the other, there are many radio exclusively dedicated to traditional music. 

With this attitude, which some tend to connect, perhaps not unreasonably, to the strong sense of Georgian nationalism, the musical heritage of this nation is alive and constantly evolving, in a cultural route that leads from ancestral times to the present day.

Artegene – The Performances


The performances are dozens, some very short so that everyone has the opportunity to present at least one song. The fact that the festival lasts a week gives the idea of how many schools and groups there are in such a small country like Georgia; also the average level is quite high.

We enjoy the show in the front row, armed with camera and recorder, until to the spectacle of a group of “warriors”, armed with swords, shields, maces-whip and other amenities, medieval accompanied by music, performing mad fights with sparks coming out at the crossing of the blades.

Among them is a girl, very good, but the main attraction is a big bearded guy, clearly drunk, that during his turn is likely to fall and even break a spotlight.

After this exhilarating display of martial virulence, we go to take the usual bottle of wine, the same Saperavi of yesterday is the cheapest one.
Shortly after the concert of the main group begins, again the most disappointing part of the evening.An attempt to mix between traditional music and “Western” genres (rock, reggae, funk), unfortunately, very scarce success.

On the way back we take a taxi and the taxi driver shoots a crazy fee (15 lari, about three times the normal rate) we’re quite pissed off and fucks him off with 6 lari, which is also too much.


More about Georgia?

What to see in Georgia: the 16 most beautiful places in the heart of the Caucasus
Georgian wine, produced in terracotta amphorae for 6000 years
Wine tour, how to taste the best Georgian wine

If you want to know more, we have written articles on hydroelectric projects in Georgia, which could destroy part of this magical place:

Khaishi, an almost submerged country
The hydroelectric projects in Georgia and the extinction of the Svan people

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