Zedashe Bring Ancient Yet Amazingly State-of-the-Art Georgian Harmonies Back to Life

by delarue

Imagine if you couldn’t rap, or sing old Irish songs, because it was against the law. That’s essentially what the older members of Zedashe had to deal with in their native Georgia before the breakup of the Soviet Union. When the Berlin Wall came down, it didn’t just open up the Iron Curtain nations to plundering American privatizers: it unleashed a torrential cultural reawakening. Zedashe number among the many, many artists who seized the opportunity to resurface with their underground, centuries-old sound intact. They dedicate themselves to preserving and bringing a folk repertoire rarely heard outside their native land – and until recent decades, not heard there either – to a global audience. It’s an ancient, yet strangely almost avant garde sound, considering how alien and jarring their tonalities are, compared with not only western music but the music of the neighboring lands as well. You might think that there’d be some obvious cross-pollination with Turkish, Armenian or Russian music, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least with this particular slice of the Georgian folk tradition. Zedashe are playing just their second-ever US tour. Their first New York stop is at Drom at 7:30 PM on October 1 as part of the New York Gypsy Festival; advance tix are $15. Then they’re at Barbes playing for the tip jar on October 3 at 8.

The group’s seventh and latest album, Our Earth and Water, is streaming at Rockpaperscissors. If stark close harmonies, boisterous field hollers, intricate vocal ornamentation and austere folk hymns for mixed choir are your thing, don’t be daunted by the grand total of 26 tracks: most of them clock in at around the three-minute mark, often less. Most of the songs are for choir alone, with occasional accompaniment from strummy panduri lute, accordion, drums and even bagpipes on the album’s creepiest tune. The men and women of the group tend to belt at full throttle – this is not relaxing, sleepy-time music. The upbeat numbers include a quick shout-out to the ancient Georgian war god along with the expected wedding songs, harvest songs and work songs. But there are some quieter tracks, including a a dizzying yet elegant rondo, a tender accordion waltz sung by one of the women and a plaintive panduri-and-vocal lament sung by one of the guys.

This isn’t all completely serious stuff, either: there’s a bit of quasi-yodeling, some goofy falsetto from the men in the group, a real tonguetwister that sounds like a jumprope rhyme and a suspiciously eyeball-rolling here-comes-the-bride number. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that the group records at the local winery. Take a taste of this and let it take you back to a land that time forgot.