Illustration by Hannah Kirmes-Daly, created on location

A greying evening in Bolnisi, a one street town an hour outside of Tbilisi protected by the skeletons of abandoned industrial buildings, hinting at both the hardship of economic collapse and the echoes of a once-prosperous time. In a dimly lit community and cultural centre with wooden floors and high ceilings a group of thirteen men shrug out of their black overcoats, rubbing the dust of the day’s work out of their eyes and enthusiastically greet each other.

Leaning into the circle to hear, each man holds a complex melody, weaving them together as the sound rises and falls as one.

These are songs which not only bring together a group of friends after a day’s work, but also represent a way to maintain the rich musical traditions which have been preserved through the generations, in defiance of Soviet rule, and which now underlie a strong national identity. This is Georgian polyphonic singing.