From folk to jazz and rap

This chapter was published in the book “City Culture and City Planning in Tbilisi, Where Europe and Asia Meet”, edited by Kristof Van Assche, Joseph Salukvadze, and Nick Shavishvili, with a Foreword by Andre van der Zande. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2009.


As an expressive culture found among the rural Georgians, in the minds of most Georgian intellectuals and academics the Georgian polyphonic song is associated with the autochthonous and archaic Georgian identity. However, while the rural culture signifies ethnic purity and Georgian-ness, most villagers and village-originated lower working-class populations settling in the city of Tbilisi have practiced and consumed hybrid styles that have had little in common with the rural polyphonic song. These hybrid styles of the emergent urbanites are often perceived disapprovingly as cheaply erotic, kitsch restaurant music, influenced by the Persian-Turkish, Armenian and Russian low-taste popular music. These city styles have constituted what Georgian musicological scholarship labels as “urban music” [kalakuri musika] as opposed to ethnically pure “folk music” [khalkhuri musika].

This chapter examines the ways in which the urban-rural dichotomy became a historical anachronism and a geographical paradox generated in the elite urban discourses. In particular, the chapter attempts to demonstrate that since the 19th century rural polyphonic song, previously practiced exclusively by the villagers in rural areas, became embraced by the urban elites. In contrast, the hybrid and kitsch “urban” music became the feature of village-originated lower-class urbanites who migrated to the city. Polyphonic rural folk song has thus become an essential element of ethnic nationalism and elite city culture.

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