This hope-infused record is not to be ignored as it uses styles of the past whilst mainting a current and modern feel
On the border of Asia and Europe lies Georgia. A nation with a rich culture that comes from both continents, as well as their own native ancestral practices, Georgia is certainly not starved of engaging, enjoyable and interesting folk music traditions. Yet, as a nation that constantly seeks to evolve and modernise, like most countries after the turn of the 21st century, Georgia found it had vast numbers of musicians turning to Western pop and rock music as a way of appealing to the masses and proving themselves as ‘hip’ and cool as stars who made their name globally using styles that sounded nothing like Georgian folk music.
“This forward-looking optimism that is so apparent, is what makes the inclusion of older musical traditions and styles all the more beautiful.”
When actor, Gigi Dedalamazishvili, first formed Mgzavrebi, who started out as a trio in 2006, there was some resistance to the idea of drawing on folk as an influence from his fellow bandmates. Having used the three-stringed panduri, native to Georgia, on one of their early tracks, the band realised they had accidentally stepped on a musical goldmine. They could still make popular modern-sounding music, whilst at the same time doffing the metaphorical cap to their ancestors and making their music far more engaging and unique. As the eyes of the world currently turn to tensions heating up between Russia and neighbours Ukraine, one is reminded of Russian invasion into Georgia back in 2008. Though one cannot be sure whether there were any subconscious political intentions behind Mgzavrebi’s decision to play music with overtly native Georgian folk influences, one can hypothesise that the band’s decision to fly the flag for their country’s beautiful music culture certainly helped to popularise them in their homeland.
It seems that after working on the formula for numerous years, expanding the band to as many as 20 members at one point, Mgzavrebi seem to really hit their stride on their fifth album In Vino Veritas. The record really doesn’t put a foot wrong. Its music is innovative, memorable and more than anything else, it is uplifting. From the opening track Mjera right the way through to the end on Ar Shegeshindes I feel a sense of hope listening to it. Usually when we speak of uplifting music, we refer to music that is full of energy and often played with a great intensity, but in the case of Mgzavrebi it is the authenticity of the feeling behind the vocalists’ voices, as well as the superb musicianship of the band who know exactly how to play with their audiences’ emotions.
I vividly remember the first time I listened to the album there was some really difficult things occurring in the backdrop to my life that particular day. I didn’t have much, if any, expectations for the album, yet whilst walking in nature whilst listening to the album, the record completely took me out of anxiety I was feeling and made me connect to my surroundings in a way that will stay with me for a while. The sky seemed just a little bit bluer, the grass a little greener and the sun seemed to shine just a whole lot brighter thanks to being taken on a ride by Mgzavrebi, who managed to introduce a real sense of zest into my day. This is really the power of music.
Having gone back to the album on several occasions, I would say that whilst I would not say it is one of my favourite of all time, it is on a compositional level genuinely faultless. The introduction of traditional rhythms and instruments, in no way dates the album nor makes it boring, and in actual fact there is a whole other element injected into the record that ironically gives it a whole new lease of life – classical music. Though styles vary rampantly throughout the album - from the bluesy Dzala Ertobashia, indie summer vibes of Minda Gjerodes to the spoken word included on Emigrantebi - there is an influence of classical music that crops up often that I just adore. This shines through most on tracks such as the hauntingly beautiful Ramdens and my favourite track on the record Prarviomsya.
There is not a bad song on the album and there is enough variation to guarantee something for everyone on the record. Yet, this is not to say that the album is not great as a whole piece. There is a great flow on the record and one can almost forget about the differences between each track because they all seem to throw forward to the next with that same sense of hope that they each contain. This forward-looking optimism that is so apparent, is what makes the inclusion of older musical traditions and styles all the more beautiful. For this reason I’d go so far as to say that even though I may not be able to sing along nor understand the lyrics, In Vino Veritas is about as close to a perfect album as one can get.