This blog addresses the musics of the Caucasus. It is intended as a one-stop shop to provide an overview of the musical traditions from the region. As an ethnomusicologist, I found it difficult to access information on all the traditional musics of the Caucasus, and when I collected as much information as I could, I found it difficult to connect to musical examples. So this blog tackles this challenge by summarizing relevant scholarly articles on the musical traditions while providing adequate examples as well as sources for further listening and study.
The Boundaries Defined:
Geographically speaking, the focus is on the music of the South and North Caucasus. Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are the countries that define the South Caucasus, historically known as Transcaucasia. The republics or districts traditionally associated with the North Caucasus are Abkhazia, Adyghea, Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North and South Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan.
Musically speaking, I focus primarily on vocal forms of traditional and/or folk musics. Any musical genre that was institutionally synthesized through a fusion of traditional musics with Western art music, pop or jazz aesthetics is not discussed. Unfortunately, I am not able to give adequate attention to sacred music either – though at times it does enter the discussion. The dance and instrumental music of the caucasus is yet another dense and complicated subject I have not yet been able to synthesize, though I hope to address it in the future posts.
Below is how I suggest entering the discussion of the music of the Caucasus.
The Caucasus – an overview
This offers a general introduction to the Caucasus, some historical details, and lists the specific people whose music I discuss… read more→
Of all the people in the Caucasus, the Azeri’s traditional musics seem most easy to categorized into 3 definitive streams: classical mugham stemming from an Iranian urban influence; ashiqs, which shows direct connection to Turkic bardic tradition; and rural folk or peasant music… read more→
While the full range of Armenian traditional music is complex and interwoven with other people’s musics of the region (like the Kurds, the Persians, the Azeris), what I focus on in this section is Armenia’s most distinctive and expressive lyrical genre … read more→
Transcaucasian Urban Folk
By looking at the urban musical traditions of Armenia and Georgia, this section bridges the monophonic musical traditions already discussed with the subsequent posts that tackle polyphony in the Caucasus … read more→
Polyphony in Georgia and the North Caucasus
Part singing occurs through most of Georgia and the North Caucasus. In general, the upper voices are sung by soloists while the rest accompany on bass in the limited range of baritone-tenor. The section looks at the truly amazing variety of polyphonic forms throughout the region … read more→
The Bards and Ballads of the North Caucasus
The bards and ballads of the North Caucasus offers a gold mind of material for ethnomusicologist and music enthusiast. The following offers an entry into the rich and various traditions of solo singing among the Vainakh, the Adyghe, the Ossetians, the Avars, the Lezgis, the Kumyks, the Laks and the Nogai … read more→
Dear Andrea, I am a Georgian choir leader from Vienna, Austria (ensemble “Haralo”, our teachers are/were: Frank Kane, Carl Linich, Islam & Vakho Pilpani and the Turmanidze family from Adjara) and would like to ask you about the Maspindzelsa trio version you have put on youtube. I figured out the bani completely and almost all of Luca’s part, but as you stand too far from the microphone, your voice is almost unaudible. As I cannot come to Canada in the next future my humble question is if you could somehow give me access to your parts recordings? I’d be more than grateful, as I fell in love with the song and it has been spinning in my head for weeks now (you know how that is). Yours in song, Silvia
PS I spent some time in Adjara with Canadian folk singer Linda Morris, maybe you know her.
Hi Silvia. Sorry for my delayed reply. I’ve been in Georgia and our internet was not the best, plus it’s awkward to reply to these wordpress posts. Thanks for you interest. I actually am not sure what you are talking about wrt maspindzelsa. We don’t have the parts separated anywhere. The most stable part is probably Luca’s but given he is my son, our voices sound so much alike it’s kind of hard to hear who is singing what at times. But both Bachi and I always varied up our parts anyway. There are other versions you can probably hear the parts better on, I think we learned ours from the Tristan’s trio, Shalva Chemo. Or maybe it was the Gurian trio (the same trio, except Anzor is singing bass). I do have a transcript of one verse I have used for papers that I will send you on FB messenger. It probably will help you hear the different parts – and of course you will have to use headphones. Just please don’t share it cuz I don’t have the correct acknowledgement on it and am too tired at the moment to search this out (still quite jet lagged!) Thanks again for you interest and best wishes to you!