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Four men in three-piece navy suits stand on a staircase. One of them plays a guitar.
Ranina Quartet. L-r: Beka Kemularia, Soso Kopaleishvili, Saba Peikrishvili, and Tornike Kandelaki. Photo Courtesy of Ranina Quartet.

Homegrown Plus: Ranina Quartet

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Four men dressed in white shirts and blue vests; one of them plays a guitar.
Ranina Quartet. Photo courtesy of Ranina Quartet.

Welcome to the Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with Ranina Quartet, a music ensemble from the Republic of Georgia. The Ranina Quartet was created out of a love for Georgian traditional music, including urban songs, folk songs, and chants. The current members include Tornike Kandelaki (first voice), Soso Kopaleishvili (second voice), Saba Peikrishvili (baritone), and Beka Kemularia (bass). They have been singing since they were little children, and individual members have performed in many ensembles including such well known groups as Erisioni, Sakhioba, Didgori, Lasharela, Ertoba, Orbeli, Aghsavali of Mamadaviti church, the state choir of N. Sulkhanishvili, and others.

Four men in traditional Georgian garb
Ranina Quartet. L-r: Saba Peikrishvili, Tornike Kandelaki, Beka Kemularia, Soso Kopaleishvili, . Photo Courtesy of Ranina Quartet.

The quartet’s repertoire includes classic pieces from various genres including Georgian traditional folk songs, liturgical chants, and popular songs. Another source of inspiration is the American barbershop quartet, which bears a striking resemblance to the Georgian urban-song genre; both genres have roots in late-19th and early-20th century Italian harmony.

The group’s friend Nikoloz Kirvalidze from the Shvidkatsa ensemble must be credited with giving them the name Ranina, which comes from the series of vocable syllables upon which traditional singers improvise. The Ranina Quartet regularly performs in Tbilisi, as well as at international festivals, and gives master-classes and concerts for international tourists and choirs. Ranina is committed to popularizing good quality music as a form of social outreach, and the members are thrilled to sing in nursing homes, kindergartens, public schools, penitentiaries, and other venues where they can bring their music to vulnerable members of society.

We had a lot of help organizing the Ranina Quartet concert from ethnomusicologist John A. Graham, who also appears in the concert video. Since he has worked with us before, and has extensive knowledge of Georgian traditions, we thought we would interview him as well. So this blog will present three videos: the concert itself, our interview with Soso Kopaleishvili of the Ranina Quartet, and our interview with John A. Graham!

After all three videos, I’ll put in links to some further Georgian resources you can explore.  But by now, you’re ready to watch the concert. Rather than record a simple video of the group in concert, Ranina organized it into several scenes to show us some of the typical contexts for singing.  These include an outdoor cookout and indoor supra, or feast. See their video in the player below!

In our conversation, Thea Austen and I spoke with Soso Kopaleishvili of the Ranina Quartet. We spoke about Soso’s career as a singer; his teachers, including Anzor Erkomaishvili and Malkhaz Erkvanidze; and his process as a teacher. We also spoke about the political history of post-Soviet Georgia and its effect on liturgical music and folk music. We are very grateful to Ekaterine Diasamidze Graham, herself an accomplished ethnomusicologist, for her services as an interpreter–without her we couldn’t have done it! See the interview in the player below.

As I mentioned, there’s another bonus interview in this blog, with John A. Graham. In addition to presenting Ranina’s concert for us, John is a scholar, entrepreneur, traveler, and teacher who lives in Tbilisi, Georgia. He sings in a church choir, supports local musicians and NGOs with his voice in the Tbilisi community, regularly travels the region, and organizes performance tours in the United States for folk ensembles from Georgia. John holds a bachelor’s degree in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, and masters and a doctorate in historical musicology from Princeton University. (And yes, he is also Ekaterine’s husband!)

In our conversation, we talked with John about diverse topics in Georgian music. John has researched the repression of Georgian chant under first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, as well as preservation and revival efforts during those eras and since, so some of our conversation focused on those areas.  See it all in the player below!

You can find all of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link, the interview with Soso at this link, and the interview with John at this link.

This concert premiered on the same day of another Georgian concert by the women’s ensemble Ialoni.  That concert and an interview with band members can be found in this companion blog.

When we premiered these concert videos on Facebook, we also provided some links to additional Georgian resources that might interest anyone who enjoys the concert:

AFC has presented concerts and lectures about Georgian polyphony before including presentations by Malkhaz Erkvanidze, John Graham, and the Anchiskhati Choir. Find videos of those presentations gathered together in the blog post at this link.

Woman standing on a carpet, outside, near a tree
“Gruzinki [Georgian Woman],” ca. 1910, by photographer Serge Mikha lovich Prokudin-Gorskui [1863-1944], who pioneered the use of three-color separation to produce color photos. Prokudin-Gorski photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Find the full record here.
The Library’s Prokudin-Gorskii Collection contains color photos of the Russian Empire from 1905 to 1915. Find 141 photos of Georgia at this link. Or you can find out about that collection, and look at all the photos throughout the former Russian empire, at this link.

AFC’s Alan Lomax Collection contains approximately 100 recordings of Georgian traditional music gathered by Alan Lomax in Russia and Georgia in 1964. Lomax dubbed some of the recordings from the archives of Radio Moscow; copied some from the collection at the Georgian Conservatory of Music in Tbilisi, Georgia, with the help of the Georgian Union of Composers; and collected some at a traditional feast organized in his honor in Sidili, Eastern Georgia.

AFC included a polyphonic song from Georgia in a podcast on Winter Songs. You can download that podcast, read more about the song, and see a great picture of Georgian men dressed for a formal feast, at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, reading, and exploring! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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