Haunting, Otherworldly Ancient Georgian Songs from Zedashe

by delarue

If you’re a fledgling Brooklyn record label, you want to establish yourself with a big-name indie rock band, right? Maybe if you’re lucky, some famous remixer [fill in the blank with the name of one if you know any – dozens of emails pitching indie rock remixes come over the transom here every day, and every single one of them goes in the trash] will remix one of the tracks ,and then you’ll suddenly be rich and famous, no? Insurgent Brooklyn label Electric Cowbell Records does things a little differently. Aside from putting out the excellent, more Afrobeat-inclined second release by CSC Funk Band (more about that one here soon), they went to Georgia in the former Soviet Union for Zedashe. In an era when nobody buys music anymore, they are going to sell a lot of copies of this album. It’s actually worth owning as a cd – you heard it here first.

Zedashe are a multi-generational ten-piece-plus choir from the village of Sighnaghi who specialize in centuries-old folk songs. They sing in their native Georgian language, accompanied by spare panduri lute, gardoni (wooden accordion) and chiboni (bagpipes) and occasional drums. Their music is literally otherworldly: it comes from another time and place. Throughout history, Georgia has been torn by war and invasions: it’s a miracle that any culture there existed at all, let alone one that could be passed down through the generations. The album was recorded at the local winery. It’s hardy, feral stuff.

Low, hypnotic, sometimes menacing drones anchor many of the choral pieces. A work song for artisans carving a wine trough sounds like a sea chantey – and lends credence to the argument that WHOOOOAH means exactly the same thing in Georgian as it does in English, i.e. “stop right now and go back in the direction you just came from.” There’s a catchy anthem that with English lyrics could be an East Anglian folk song and a matter-of-fact number with the garmoni delivering an echoey effect like a 1960s guitar repeaterbox. The close harmonies of the choir, composed of men, women and children in the old tradition, are sometimes surreal, often trance-inducing: this is the creepiest childrens’ choir you will ever hear, bar none. There are places where the counterpoint is as sophisticated as the most elaborate western classical music. There are horror film soundtracks in process waiting for some of these songs. There’s also a psychedelic aspect to many of the 23 tracks here. Zedashe take what they do very seriously: the opening track, for example, is described as being “derived from G. Svanidze’s 1924 recording of Petre Petriashili.” After hearing this, one can only hope to hear the original. For the English-speaking world, Electric Cowbell has a useful listening guide with translations of the lyrics here.

This blog was launched in August of 2011. The very first album chosen for review here – out of a universe of millions – was a 2004 collection of choral works by Ukrainian composer Roman Hurko, in memory of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. At the time, given the global extinction event that happened the previous March 11, it made sense. With this album, it looks like this blog has come full circle.