FEATURE BY Willard Manus

It’s astounding what twelve voices can do with a simple tune. For proof, just listen to one of the nine CDs which The State Ensemble of Georgian Folk Singing has released on the Ocora Radio France label, the most recent of which is “102 Georgian Folk Songs and Traditional Hymns.”

Even better is to be able to enjoy the group at a live performance, something Los Angelenos were able to do recently when the company appeared in concert at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

Twelve strapping men in Cossack-like uniforms took the stage and put on a miraculous display of polyphonic singing in the 3000-year-old Georgian tradition. Led by George Donadze and Zurab Tskrialashvili, ENSEMBLE BASIANI has a repertoire consisting of traditional folk songs and religious hymns from all parts of Georgia and diverse Monastery Chanting Schools. The Ensemble took on national stature in 2013 when the Georgian government began to subsidize and promote it. To date, the Ensemble has appeared at innumerable international festivals and concerts, drawing praise on almost every occasion (“stellar,” said the New York Times).

Among the folk songs that were sung at the Broad were “Mravalzamier,” a drinking song; “Tu Ase Turpa Ikavi,” a love song with a distinctive musical structure; and “Gandagan,” a comic ditty with dancing from the Aadjara region of Georgia. All told, a dozen folk songs were interpreted by the singers, some of whom also showed prowess on the balalaika, mandolin and goat-skin bagpipe.

In contrast to the lusty, foot-stomping folk tunes were the religious hymns: quiet, intensely felt statements of devotion and praise, some of which were delivered by a trio, others of which featured the full ensemble, whose voices wove in and out as they rose and fell in complicated, dazzling tonal patterns. It was a capella choral singing at its finest.
Ensemble Basiani is on tour in the USA, presented by David Eden Productions and Pemberley Productions.

Up next at the Broad are: “Nat Geo Live: Mankind to Mars,” a discussion with prominent Mars experts led by Andrew Fazekas; the stunning visuals are from Nat Geo Channel’s new mini-series, MARS (Nov 10-11); “The Slocan Ramblers,” a jazz concert by Canada’s famed roots-music group (Nov. 12); and “Beethoven, Bagels & Banter,” a classical-music breakfast get-together led by Robert Davidovici and featuring world-class guest musicians, lively conversations, and freshly made bagels (Nov 20 at 11 a.m).

(Broad Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Call 310-434-3200 or visit