Iberi was formed in 2012. They take their name from Iberia, the old Greek and Roman name for the eastern part of Georgia. They perform church music, historical ballads, lullabies, work songs, ‘table songs’ for feasting and modern urban songs. They’ve performed across the world, from Europe to the United States, from Asia to Australia.
„It‘s not only about performing on stage,” says their leader Buba Murgulia,” we sing because we love it and it’s a part of our life.” This is largely true of singing in general in Georgia - it’s something that’s intrinsic to life.
Georgian polyphonic singing in three or sometimes more parts is very distinctive, isn’t to be found in the neighbouring countries, and has been placed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.
Georgia is a mountainous country where travel is often difficult, so the style of the music various from one region to another. In the centre and east, for instance in Kakheti the principal wine-growing region, there are usually two solo voices inter- twining with each other over a slowly moving drone sung by the rest of the singers. There are shimmering clashes and dissonances, tensions and releases, as the harmonies collide like slowly shifting tectonic plates. In the western regions of the country - Imereti, Adjaria, Guria and Mingrelia the singing is generally faster-paced with the voices moving more athletically. The men sing in a higher ‘head voice’ and soloists add a spectacular yodeling called Krimanchuli with striking leaps and rhythmic patterns. The northern region of Svaneti, up in the Caucasus mountains, is one of the highest inhabited places in Europe and cut off by snow for many months of the year. Here the voices usually share the same rhythm, but the melodies sound more archaic and angular and the harmonies more dissonant. Like the landscape, the music is from another world.
There seems to be a modern expectation that Georgian polyphonic choirs should sing the ancient songs as authentically as possible. However, Georgian singing has always allowed the opportunity to improvise, which led to multiple versions of the same song in different villages. Iberi have embraced this impromptu approach with their own musical style with both passion and grace, while still respecting the songs’ heritage, and the numerous singers who have kept this tradition alive. They create their own nuanced versions of these songs, improvised differently with each performance.
Simon Broughton – Editor in Chief of Songlines magazine, UK