Sara Pascoe in Georgia

If you caught Sara Pascoe on BBC2 recently, you may have heard the Georgian Polyphonic singing that we talk about on our podcast, Voices of The Ancestors.

The premise of the show is, Sara travels the world in search of jobs that are endangered, so that she will survive as the last woman on Earth. In the most recent episode, she travels to the Republic of Georgia where she learns to drive a soviet train, patrol the border, and give a body scrub in the thermal baths. She then travels to the high mountain region of Svaneti to meet the Pilpani family, where songmaster Vakho teaches her a song. 

‘(Georgian singing) is a job that requires several very talented people, but it’s rooted in patriarchy, and a strict orthodox religion, so it’s not so appealing to the next generation of modern Georgians, and very few people can still do it.” – Sara Pascoe

Some of us Georgian singers in the UK were confused by this statement, because we have met so many talented Georgian singers and teachers over the years, who are passionate about sharing their country’s folklore. But it is true that not everyone in Georgia is so familiar with polyphonic singing, and we might have a bit of a skewed view!

Programme Name: Last Woman on Earth with Sara Pascoe. ep 2 (No. 2) – Picture Shows: wearing traditional costume in Georgia Sara Pascoe – (C) Talkback/Fremantle – Photographer: Production team

We did see singers of the next generation in the program though, and they were Vakho’s children. His daughter Eka did a great job looking out for Sara when they performed.

In fact, we are happy to know many wonderful young performers of Georgian folk music, including the new generation of Amer-Imeri, a children’s choir based in Tbilisi. The leader of the choir is Magda Kevlishvili, who was a member herself as a child! You can hear all about Amer-Imeri in our most recent episode, Christmas and New Year with Magda Kevlishvili. 

Although all the other jobs Sara tried were about to go extinct, she realised that the polyphonic singers act as a bridge between the new thriving tourism economy, and Georgia’s folk history. 

When we ask our podcast guests ‘What does Voices of the Ancestors mean to you?’ Many of them use the word bridge. In our most recent episode, Magda said ‘Voices of the Ancestors means that we are like a bridge, that connects us from the nowadays to the past time’.

If you have travelled in Georgia, you may have (many) warm memories from sitting around a feasting table, for a ‘supra’. The shared food, toasts and songs are a memorable experience, and Sara was clearly moved by the singing of the men around the table. 

Being surrounded by booming male voices can be quite a powerful experience, but still, some viewers may be left wondering ‘where are the women singers in Georgia?!’. We can assure you there are many badass Georgian women raising their voices in polyphonic harmony. You might just have to look a bit further than the BBC. 

Our podcast is specifically focused Georgian polyphonic songs and the women who sing them. You don’t need to be in the world of Georgian polyphony to enjoy the podcast, just take it from this happy listener:

Fascinating & beautiful podcast This is such an interesting podcast, featuring beautiful voices, stories and songs from Georgia. Full of emotion, heart and wonderful music. I had no knowledge of this topic before listening, but love hearing from the people, teachers and singers of these traditional songs – a hidden gem of the world. bee_franz 12.12.2020 5 star Apple Podcast Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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2 thoughts on “Sara Pascoe in Georgia

  1. I must admit I raised an eyebrow when she said polyphonic singing was dying out. The only sense in which I see it dying out is as a male-only activity. There was no mention of the breathtaking Gori Women’s Choir (which would have been a better use of the visit to Gori than the negative visit to the Stalin museum), nor the YouTube sensation Trio Mandili. And when she said “if only they had a pop star to replace Stalin” I thought, yes, if only they did have someone like that—someone like Katie Melua for example… if only! The show was entertaining but I felt she wasn’t taking Georgia seriously enough. I would love to see a musicologist like Howard Goodall do a more academic documentary on polyphonic singing.

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    1. Yes, that’s a good point Craig! I know a few of my Georgian friends were annoyed that she made such a big deal of the Stalin museum and wished she would show more positive aspects of the country – then again I guess that’s the gimmick of the show. Is that the price we have to pay for a prime time show about Georgia? I guess the Howard Goodall one would be more BBC4.

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