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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 08:45 GMT
Choirs of the world: Georgian polyphonic songs
BBC World Service's World Today programme is looking at five different choirs and five different musical communities - all united by a common goal of maintaining or reviving their respective traditions and making these relevant to the present.

Rustavi choir
The Rustavi choir travel Georgia to record the country's musical heritage
Georgian polyphonic singing has been proclaimed by Unesco as one of the Oral and Intangible Masterpieces of Humanity - but it is under threat.

Rural exodus, industrialisation and the influence of Western-style music have meant the tradition has been in steep decline in the Eastern European country.

But one group trying to keep it alive is the Rustavi choir, set up in 1968.

"For 35 years, the choir has been performing traditional Georgian folk songs," the Rustavi choir's artistic director Anzor Erkomaishvili told BBC World Service's The World Today programme.

"For centuries these songs were passed down to generations orally, as a result of which we have inherited these songs in embellished, as well as complex, forms."

Children's interest

Unesco is now helping the Rustavi choir to remaster old recording to preserve the techniques of aging singers and rituals.

Mr Erkomaishvili has been travelling around Georgia collecting as much of the music as possible.

"Young people in Georgia are carried away by Western music," he said.

"In most cases, this is low-quality music, which has spread all over the world and which causes a kind of agitation in young people."

One example of the choir's work is a traditional Christmas song, Alilo.

The song is sung in different forms in all parts of Georgia, but all versions share the same lyrics.

Mr Erkomaishvili said Alilo forms part of a traditional Georgian Christmas Eve.

"The song celebrated the birth of Jesus," he said.

"Groups of singers go from door to door on Christmas Eve and, with this song, they extend their best wishes to families for Christmas.

"In return, the singers are given presents such as baskets full of bottles of wine, money, silver coins, sweets."

He added that the choir was now having some success at getting Georgia's youth to enjoy their country's folk heritage.

"Choirs have been set up, for example the Rustavi choir members have children's' choirs, myself included," he said.

"We teach them traditional Georgian songs. And young people like to sing these complex songs, which are very popular among them."

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Anzor Erkomaishvili
"Young people like to sing these complex songs"

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