What Tbilisi Sounds Like

World music hobbyist David Wilezol inaugurates his EthnoTraveler column with a selection of songs from Tbilisi, the sundry capital of the Caucasus republic of Georgia.

By / February 2012

Tbilisi, the rolling capital of the republic of Georgia, is one of the most aesthetically diverse cities in the world. Founded in the 5th century, Tbilisi passed back and forth between empires for most of its history. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Mtkvari River-nuzzled city has experienced a cultural revival. As a result, Tbilisi boasts a music scene as sundry and progressive as a Berlin or Amsterdam. Alternative rock, jazz, electronica, and even death metal scenes are bubbling, while traditional Georgian folk music continues to thrive. Here is a selection of must-hear music from this gem of the Caucasus.


1. SvanSikh: “T.U.L.A. (Hold Me Again)”

SvanSikh is a synth-pop outfit formed in 2010. Their latest single shimmers with 1980s nostalgia. When female vocalist Anano Sikharulidze lustily sings, “If you hold me now / we’re going to have a relation,” over a squelchy synth bass line, SvanSikh calls to mind early Pet Shop Boys.


2. Tiblisi Big Band: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”

The Tiblisi Municipal Concert Orchestra, or Tbilisi Big Band, has achieved significant critical and popular acclaim since its formation by the legendary Georgian composer Givi Gachechiladze in 1997. Featuring 18 ensemble musicians and a rotating cast of vocalists, the group won the Monte Carlo International Jazz Award for Best Jazz Orchestra in 2006 and has toured throughout Europe and Asia. Crooner Aleko Berdzenishvili joins them here for a fresh take on a Sinatra standard.


3. Andro Dgebuadze, Mamuka Gagnidze & Odzela: “Common Threats”

This troika performs an organic mixture of Italian aria vocal stylings with a side of jazz and traditional Georgian melodies. In “Common Threats,” the human voice is an instrument, not just a conduit of lyrics. Good look getting it out of your head.


4. The Benedicts: “Sound of Farm”

“Sound of Farm,” which the Benedicts released as a single in 2010, begins with Radiohead-like warbling from vocalist Sulxo Varshanidze and an acoustic melody that quickly segues into the friendly distortion of early-90s grunge and then some.


5. Okinawa Lifestyle: “Levan”

Okinawaw Lifestyle members David Datunashvili and Gigi Jikia produce soft, jaunty electronic music with a French touch, at times reminiscent of Digitalism or Fred Falke. “Levan” would work at the beach, the club, or the living room. Just don’t forget your sunglasses.


6. Mgzavrebi: “Gaigvidza Bunebam (The Nature Has Woken Up)”

One of the more popular groups in Georgia writ large, this 15-musician ensemble writes intricately layered folk tunes that incorporate non-folk instruments such as the trumpet and the digiridoo.


7. TeTe: “From Paris to Lille”

Credit TeTe for his devotion. Even a cursory listen of his brand of glitchy, ambient electro reveals painstaking detail. “I dream that the people are all speechless, watching me, a man, fly,” he once said of his process, adding, “[t]hat’s not a philosophy, more like primitive dream to make the music fly because I’m flying.”


David Wilezol is a radio producer, writer, and hobbyist musician who lives in Washington DC.