Georgia has rich and still vibrant traditional music, which is primarily known as arguably the earliest polyphonic tradition of the Christian world. Georgian performers are well represented in World’s leading opera troupes and concert stages.
Folkmusic of Georgia consists of fifteen regional styles, known in Georgian musicology and ethnomusicology as "musical dialects". According to Edisher Garaqanidze, there are sixteen regional styles in Georgia. These sixteen regions are traditionally grouped into two, eastern and western Georgian groups.
Georgian folk music is predominantly vocal and is widely known for its rich traditions of vocal polyphony. It is widely accepted in contemporary musicology, that polyphony in Georgian music predates the introduction of Christianity in Georgia (beginning of the 4th century AD. All regional styles of Georgian music have traditions of vocal acappella polyphony, although in the most southern regions (Meskheti and Lazeti) only historical sources provide the information about the presence of vocal polyphony until the 20th century. Both east and west Georgian polyphony is based on wide use of sharp dissonant harmonies.
Singing is mostly a community activity in Georgia, and during big celebrations all the community is expected to participate in singing. The tradition of "trio" (three singers only) is very popular in western Georgia, particularly in Guria. Georgian folk songs are often centered around banquet-like feasts called supra, where songs and toasts to God, peace, motherland, long life, love, friendship and other topics are proposed.
Traditional feast songs include "Zamtari" (“Winter”) , which is about the transient nature of life and is sung to commemorate ancestors, and great number of "Mravalzhamier" songs Work songs are widespread in all regions. The orovela, for example is a specific solo work song found in eastern Georgia only. Extremely complex three and four part working song naduri is characteristic for western Georgia. There are great number of healing songs, funerary ritual songs, wedding songs, love songs, dance songs, lullabies, traveling songs. Many archaic songs are connected to round dances.
Georgian vocal polyphony was maintained for centuries and millennia by village singers, mostly local farmers. Despite the poor technical quality of the old recordings, they often serve as the model of high mastery of the performance of Georgian traditional songs for contemporary ensembles. During the Soviet period folk music was highly praised, the revered folk musicians were rewarded by governmental prizes and were awarded salaries. Also, singing and dancing, usually closely interconnected in rural life, were separated on a concert stage.
From the 1970s Georgian folk music was introduced to a wider audience in different countries of the World. Ensembles Rustavi and later Georgian Voices were particularly active in presenting rich polyphony of various regions of Georgia to western audiences. Georgian Voices performed alongside Billy Joel, Rustavi Choir was featured on the soundtrack to Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski . During the end of the 1960s and the 1970s an innovative pop-ensemble Orera featured mixture of traditional polyphony with jazz and other popular musical idioms, becoming arguably the most popular ensemble of Soviet Union in the 1970s.
The 1861 article by Jambakur-Orbeliani and 1864 article by Machabeli are considered as the first published works where some aspect of Georgian folk music were discussed. Dimitri Arakishvili and Zakaria Paliashvili are considered the most influential figures of study of Georgian folk music. Arakishvili published several standard books and articles on Georgian singing traditions, musical instruments, scales, and is widely considered as “founding father” of Georgian ethnomusicology.Grigol Chkhikvadze and Shalva Aslanishvili,received professional education in Russia and became important figures of the study of Georgian traditional music.
Historian Ivane Javakhishvili published an influential work on the history of Georgian music, which is still considered as the most comprehensive work on historical sources on Georgian music. Otar Chijavadze, Valerian Magradze, Kakhi Rosebashvili, Mindia Jordania, Kukuri Chokhonelidze were the first Georgian scholars that were educated in Georgia and contributed to the study of different aspect of Georgian folk music.From the end of the 20th century a new generation of Georgian ethnomusicologists appeared, among them Edisher Garakanidze, Joseph Jordania, Nato Zumbadze, Nino Tsitsishvili, Tamaz Gabisonia, Nino Makharadze, David Shugliashvili, Maka Khardziani.
Inthe 21st century Georgia has become one of the international centres of the study of the phenomenon of traditional polyphony. In 2003 the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony was established (director Rusudan Tsurtsumia). The tradition of biannual conferences and symposia started in Georgia in the 1980s. These symposia are drawing leading experts of traditional polyphony to Georgia.
Rich variety of musical instruments are known fromGeorgia. SoinariGeorgian panpipe Stviri flute Gudastviribagpipe Sting instruments changiharp Chongurifour stringed unfretted long neck lute Pandurithree stringed fretted long neck lute Dimitri Arakishvili and particularly Manana Shikaladzecontributed to the study of musical instrument in Georgia
Wind instruments: larchemi-soinari, salamuri, pilili, gudastviri and stviri Brass wind instruments: sankeri String instruments: panduri, chonguri, chunir, chianuri and changi Percussion instruments: doli, daira and diplipito Chuniriused to describe two types of three- stringed bowed musical instruments: a bottle- shaped lute and a pear-shaped bowl lyre Chibonidroneless, double-chantered, horn-belled bagpipe ChangiTurkish harp Panduria medium or long-necked lute with a small resonating chamber.
Chonguria plucked string musical instrument Salamurichromatic end-blown flute Dudukia traditional woodwind instrument indigenous to Armenia Dolidrum Dairamedium-sized frame drum Tsintsilaancient Georgian percussion instrument that represents a couple of oval plates with handholds. Gudastviria musical instrument, a form of bagpipe Zurnaa multinational outdoor wind instrument