Ensemble Basiani are bringing polyphonic harmonies, complex rhythmic patterns, and great outfits to the Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) through Saturday. Taking place in the beautiful and intimate Historic Asolo Theatre, Ensemble Basiani performances bring an ancient yet modern-feeling choir experience to Sarasota.
The choir is comprised of men from different regions of Georgia who perform ancient folk songs and chants ranging from love ballads to ritual chants to work songs. The complexity of the ancient music, revived through a combination of research into ancient phonological and notated recordings, work with Georgian elders, and collaboration with ethnomusicologists and specialized musicians, provides a fascinating experience for those with music theory backgrounds. But a music background is not required to appreciate the complex sounds that the ensemble creates with their vocal chords. Many of the songs feature a crazy, intense sound from a yodeling technique that is incredible to hear. The various parts of songs and chants are all created in an a capella fashion and create an other-worldly sound that can be appreciated by any audience member for its complexity and beauty.
Thorough program notes provide a guide to each song, including extensive historical background. Having easy access to the history behind the chants and songs gives an extra dimension to the performance by providing an understanding of why the energetic opening song, historically used to mark the beginning of a celebratory dinner, sounds so different from the middle set of ancient religious songs. The words to the songs and chants are also in the program so that audience members can follow the themes including religion, oxen, and love. But be prepared to read the history and not the words for “Kali gadmodga mtazeda” a lyric love song historically used to convey spiritual experiences through unprintable “amorous-natured” text.
My personal favorite was the closing “Naduri, Shemokmedura,” an ancient work song with a wide variety of vocal sounds, including the amazing yodeling, in a traditional call and response format. Historically, the song brought villagers together for work and served a purpose of making the labor more cheerful. The song was a beautiful, complex, upbeat, and fun way to finish the performance. Having Ensemble Basiani at RIAF provides a great opportunity to experience fascinating ancient music performed by naturally talented and highly trained singers from an area with a rich folk music tradition.
Ensemble Basiani performs tonight, Friday, Oct. 12 at 8p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased through the RIAF website.