GEORGIA, as the song so aptly put it, is on my mind.
Ray Charles’ Georgia, I suspect, is probably a rather nice young lady. But even if, instead, she is the southern state of the USA, named after George II, this is not the Georgia either that I have in mind at the moment.
She is the Georgia made famous by the Beatles in their White Album song, Back In The USSR.
Paul McCartney’s lyrics leave us in no doubt that it was Georgia girls that were on his mind.
Since then the Soviet Union has broken up and Georgia is once again an independent country, though its row with Russia over the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia still rumbles on.
Until last weekend, I could not have told anyone with any degree of certainty where Georgia was.
This is a bit shameful, but it’s shame shared by millions, I bet. Georgia is not a major player on the world stage.
For the record, it’s a fairly mountainous lozenge of land tucked between the Caspian and Black Seas with Russia to the north and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south.
The country of four and a half million inhabitants – that’s a bit more than Wales and a bit less than Scotland – is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, a point on the ancient Silk Road.
Its sense of identity should then, by rights, have been a hotchpotch, a mongrel affair. It’s anything but.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, external and conflicting cultural pressures, your average Georgian is a proud, independent and distinct character who takes himself quite seriously.
Or so it appears. Enough of the history lesson. Why I am enamoured of, and intrigued by, Georgia?
Because last weekend we went to Wakefield Cathedral to hear a concert of Georgian music, headlined by a dozen young Georgian fellows going by the name of Shavnabada.
It was the recommendation of a friend of a friend. It was an adventure, something novel.
Nobody had told us what Georgian music was like. I thought I’d heard of a male voice choir called Rustavi, but I wasn’t sure. I had imagined this folk-and-monastery stuff might be a bit Yo Ho Heave Ho meets the Volga Boatmen.
No, sir. Nowhere near.
Despite having a lifelong interest in music and a choral background, despite playing guitar and writing songs, I am ashamed to say that the unique way Georgians sing had passed me by.
From the first note, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
And this is where your columnist flounders. It is not possible to describe in words what Shavnabada gets up to musically.
Put it this way. The way Georgians sing – at dances, weddings, religious ceremonies, feasts, or going to war – is so strange it was recorded and sent into deep space in 1977 aboard NASA’s Voyager alongside Peruvian pan pipes, Bach, gamalan music and Navajo chants.
It’s often a bass or tenor drone, topped with the work of a cantor, a mosque’s muezzin or a yodeller or someone who manages a vocal scream or whistle.
There’s a bit of drumming and clapping and some plaintive or insistent notes on panduris or chonguris which are, I suppose, a bit like three and four-stringed lutes.
But the song structures, chords and disharmonies that dissolve and re-form before your very ears can’t actually be described.
They leave a feeling that you’re listening to something primeval, close to the first organised sounds ever made by human beings.
And yet I imagine the Georgian sound is just too weird for some people’s tastes. It does push the limits.
Try it and see: tap into Shavnabada YouTube.