Iberi: Supra

September 30, 2022

Song of the Centuries

Listening Post 359. High ground is supposed to be secure, but Georgia’s perch in the Caucasus Mountains hasn’t kept out invaders—from Romans to Russians, with other empires in between. Still, time seems to be on the country’s side. Georgians have a winemaking tradition going back 8,000 years and a heritage of polyphonic singing that predates their fourth-century adoption of Christianity. Wine, music, history and dedication to homeland all merge on Supra (Feast), the second album by the Georgian ensemble Iberi. Each of the 13 tracks is a song paired with an appropriate toast, adding up to a celebration of a civilization. They perform the chants—traditional work songs, romantic and historic ballads, sacred songs and lullabies, town melodies reflecting urbanization—in a range of regional polyphonic styles, some a cappella, others with guitar or chonguri (four-string lute) accompaniment. The songs are cultural threads, highlighting ideals and goals Georgians cherish and teach—family, respect, friendship, kindness. (Iberi’s roots are also goal-oriented: In 2012, injury prompted group founder Buba Murgulia to give up his dream of a rugby career and turn to his passion for music). The album opens with the rich harmonies of Kutaisi Mravalzhamieri (Blessings from Kutaisi, video 1), a hymn to long life and prosperity coupled with a toast to God’s glory. Sisona Darcia toasts ancestors and salutes the hero of Georgia’s defense against Ottoman invaders in the eighteenth century (video 2); while Kovel Sneulebaze (Harder Than Any Illness, video 3) is an early twentieth-century love song. Two twelfth-century pieces highlight values and history: Arkhalalo, a harvest song extolling good deeds (video 4); and Shen Khar Venakhi (You Are the Vineyard), a tribute to departed loved ones, penned by Demetrius I, the nation’s poet-king (video 5). In 2022, would-be conquerors still prowl. And in Iberi’s magnificent voices, the culture—always critical to defense—is as lofty as the terrain. (ARC Music/Naxos World)

Iberi: Supra / იბერი: სუფრა
Bidzina (“Buba”) Murgulia: Middle vocals
Aleksandre Birkaia: Middle vocals, guitar
Nikoloz Birkaia: Bass vocals, chonguri
Luka Chigvinadze: Tenor vocals
Tornike Dzadzamia: Tenor vocals
Archil Gibradze: Bass vocals
Giorgi Janashia: Bass vocals
George Kananadze: Bass vocals
David Kavtaradze: Bass vocals
Vakhtang Rikrikadze: Bass vocals

Note: Iberi takes its name from Iberia, the Greek and Roman designation for the kingdom that emerged in eastern Georgia in the fourth century BCE. Supra literally means “tablecloth,” but is also translated as “feast.”


Kutaisi Mravalzhamieri / Blessings from Kutaisi

From the album notes: A song from Kutaisi (Georgia’s third largest city, located in the country’s western Imereti region), offering blessings for a long life, happiness and prosperity. “The Lord is the one who created us, bestowing upon us the meaning of life and death. He gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves from the outside, to see who and what we are. He is the only one in this variable world that is not changing – he gives a solid foundation for earthly and everlasting life.”


Sisona Darchia

Album notes: Sisona Darchia was Georgian hero (from Georgia’s western Guria region) who fought against Ottoman invaders 18th century. “From the outside a man seems to be just one person, but all his past ancestors are a part of him too, and make him who he is today. Some ancestors we know and remember, but most are unknown to us first-hand. However, they all still prominently exist in our lives; we see them in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions.”


Kovel Sneulebaze / Harder Than Any Illness
Lyrics: Akaki Tsereteli / Music: Sisters Ishkhneli

Early twentieth-century city-folklore love song. “The world and its people were created with and for love. What has ruined the enmity will be rebuilt with love. Only love gives people the power to improve themselves day by day.”



A work song about harvesting, from the Kartli regionThere is a saying, “a body without a spirit is dead, so faith without deeds and goodwill is dead.” If you cannot do it for others, then give to others. Goodwill will be returned to you for what you have unselfishly done for others. “Whatever you give, that is what is not lost.”


Shen Khar Venakhi / You Are the Vineyard
Poem by King Demetrius I / Religious chant, dedicated to Saint Mary, patroness of Georgia

Remembering our departed loved ones: A church chant connected to the vineyards, . words by King Demetrius (reigned 1125-1156).

(From the Georgian lyrics)
You are a vineyard, newly blossomed
Freshly sprouted twig, kind, growing in Eden
You yourself are the sun, shining brilliantly



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