Monday, February 11, 2013

Georgian Gethsemane


A friend and I were searching the web for versions of Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) from Jesus Christ Superstar that might surpass Ted Neeley's from 2006. A mission impossible, but I happened to come across an adolescent getting quite near – on a Georgian Idol show.

The young man's name is Luka Zaqariadze and he won that season, to no surprise. He has passion and the voice to express it. That's a rare combination. He also does what is so rare in show business: he totally commits to the song and lives out the lyrics as well as squeezes the notes like the flesh of a lover in heated intercourse.

His version of Gethsemane still has some oddities in how he treats the words and the melody, probably stemming from his own very different musical and cultural background. But when he sings boldly about dying and being nailed to the cross, Luka Zaqariadze expresses the purgatory of puberty, which has no borders.

I had to check out his other performances, and there are several of them from the Georgian Idol 2012 season. Already in his interpretation of Gethsemane it's obvious that he has a metal heart. That also stands out in his version of Led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You, which is true to a long-gone time when rock'n'roll was allowed to take its time and the musicians played themselves and their audience into a trance. Here it is, linked from his own YouTube account:


The way the boy makes himself one with the pain and longing at the core of any real rock ballad is breathtaking.

And how about his version of Sting's Desert Rose, where Luka Zaqariadze and the orchestra comfortably mix influences from several cultures, having lots of fun with it:


But he also performed songs that don't translate as easily to the rest of the world. I don't understand any word in the below song, but I imagine it must have local traditional roots. It seems that Luka Zaqariadze is enjoying it just as much as any power ballad.


But what's this kind of song doing in an Idol show? The same can be asked about all the long and elaborate performances above, involving a symphony orchestra and extensive instrumental passages. I don't recognize it from either the Swedish version of the show or the American one. But I love it.

If other Idol shows, outside Georgia, dared the same musical explorations, they would keep me awake and lusting for more. Both in Sweden and USA (many other countries too, I bet), music and the pure joy of it have been brushed aside by business, and by the myth upheld by television executives that the audience can only consume nonsense.

Were it not for the wonderful Internet, we would never ever get to experience anything other than what our national show biz executives wanted to stuff us with. The songs above would never pass through that needle's eye.

So, what will happen to Luka Zaqariadze? He won the Georgian Idol. In the history of the show, that's almost a death sentence. The winners rarely get anywhere, probably because their voting fans soon move on to performers of the next season. How quickly they forget...

I learned as a rock critic for a Swedish newspaper that artists who remain are the ones with their own material, songs from their own hearts and minds. Covers are little more than karaoke. They hardly make history. Even voices and expressions as intense as that of Luka Zaqariadze are doomed if they don't have something unique on which to apply their gifts.

I know nothing about the music scene in Georgia, but I doubt that it's very different on the above account. Luka will need to come up with his own music or he will be forgotten as soon as the next Idol season begins in Georgia. On the other hand, if he finds an inner source from which to fetch his future music, he certainly has the talent to be an idol for real, even outside Georgia.

I end with an irrelevant note. His name made me remember this sweet sad song, whether it's applicable to Luka Zaqariadze's situation or not:

33 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article.I'm one of Luka's fans from Georgia.He is really an extraordinary performer and a very talented musician. But i think he needs support from outside Georgia as the Georgian show business is in a bad situation.. If he has any real support he can make his own songs.I am proud that he is Georgian and I hope his talent will be properly respected some day!Nobody in Georgia is going to forget him :)

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  2. He is our star ^_^ I'm very proud that he is georgian... he is realy talented and thank you for this article :))

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  3. მეამაყები !! <3 ვამაყობ რომ ქართველი ხარ! <3

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  4. Luka isn't only a georgian star. He is world star.

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  5. U can become a world star Luka! there is everything of music in you...

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  6. luka=real musician

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  7. I'm glad that someone out of Georgia found Luka's performances and decided to write about him. Thanks for that.
    p.s. in that Georgian folk song, there's not a single word with any meaning, it's just sound expressions :)

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    1. That's funny. Thanks for letting me know. Then I don't have to be frustrated by not understanding. Cool to perform such a song at an Idol show.

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  8. Thank you for writing about him on your blog, the more people know about him, the better his chances of making it to an international audience! Also I really think this 1st season of Georgian Idol was really special in terms of quality, compared to the other Idol editions around the world. Let's hope that the new season this spring will keep the quality high.
    Good Luck to this talented musician!

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    1. In the performances I saw, I was very impressed by the musical ambition and that they allowed the songs to be long. Usually in Idol, they make mini-versions of the songs.

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  9. This little boy touched me in my soul, and first in my life I became a fan. Thanks for this article, he really needs help.

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  10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cZCMVjkiQI
    and what about this? Another very talanted georgian. I am interesting your opinion about him..

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    1. It seems Gethsemane is a popular song in Georgia. And why not? It's a splendid aria.

      This singer is certainly very competent, but I am not as impressed as I was with Luka. He doesn't have as much nerve, and he cares too much about singing well, instead of getting lost in what the song is about.

      Really, Luka outshines him in just about every aspect, even those very difficult to pinpoint.

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    2. Of course Luka is special. and there is no doubt about it. I like him too much. He feels the soul of music and gives it to us. I was asking about singer, about vocal. I think that Niko is great vocalist too. he has very sweet and also very strong voice. you will agree that it is not easy to sing Gethemane. It is one of the hardest song ever. So very few people can do it. Especially as great as they are singing.

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  11. That was a very good article and Luka has my support and I am now a fan of his thanks to my girlfriend who is from Tbilisi, Georgia. Me? I"m American from New Jersey, USA. I'm a musician with a good ear for talent and music and based upon what I have seen Luka has what it takes and I enjoy not only his passion but his confidence as well. even though he has a mind for his own type of talent he can duplicate a song with the utmost accuracy. I believe if he could come to New York or California he would gain even more fame. anyway, I wish him more success as he is still young and he is a rising star for sure. I'm sure the world will be hearing more from him in the years to come.
    Barry in NJ...a Luka fan.

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    1. I think Luka needs two things for an international career: He needs his own material, original songs that he relates to, written by him or sibling souls of his - and he needs to want an international career, otherwise he will not put in the necessary effort. Maybe he's quite pleased with doing his music in Georgia. Nothing wrong with that.

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    2. I think, he really wants an international career; he said in an interview that only overseas is truly possible.

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    3. Then all he has to do is get his own good material... Not an easy task. Most musicians fail at it.

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  12. thanks for this article :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvPCsKBHOfY

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  13. Which is the best version of gethemane for you?

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    1. Well, it has to be this one: Ted Neeley
      Look at the whole cast listening in awe. No wonder.

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    2. I can not agree with you. For me Ian Gillan is the best.

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    3. Well, that's the original recording. Certainly impressive - but too much of a song and almost sweet, sort of like Paul Jones of the early Manfred Mann.

      Way back then, I learned about JC Superstar from the original record, before the film was released. At first, I was rather ambiguous about the film version - but now, so many years later, I think Ted Neeley surpassed Gillan even on the film. Not to mention decades later, when he let his life experience speak out in the song.

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    4. Here's another intense version:
      György Szomor
      It grabs me although I don't understand one word of Hungarian.

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    5. One more version, by a very skilled singer, obviously with profound opera schooling. He has the intensity, also his song is fascinating the way he moves between perfectly clear tones and dissonances, to express the anguish the song is about.
      Gerónimo Rauch

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    6. Now, a great and warm rock singer, with a strong version of Gethsemane:
      Peter Cmorik

      It's interesting to compare him to Luka, who has so much more nerve, agony, fragility and rebellion in his performance.

      Luka really expresses what the song is about: Jesus initially protests against his fate, almost like a rebel, and then reluctantly accepts it, pointing out what a terrible sacrifice he makes - for questionable reasons. That process is evident in Luka's version, painfully much so. Peter Cmorik and many others may hint on the same, but bother too much about singing it well - not living it but doing the soundtrack.

      The greatest artists may have splendid instruments, like a wondrous voice or dazzling skills with an instrument, but their main quality is that they have something to express and they do it, no matter how much it tears them up.

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  14. "I only want to say" new link:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlbE3wpdHXQ

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  15. what do you think about this song,perfomed by luka zaqariadze? i know that its difficult for you to understand what about is this song :) i will tell you that this song is about georgia...i am very interested in your opinion :)

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    1. i meant this song :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SP2xoluiB8

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    2. I saw that video, too, when I was writing the blog post. Quite intense.

      I hope his musical career progresses as he deserves it to do. But it's not easy.

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  16. After replying to the comment above, I googled Luka to see what has happened since I wrote the blog post. Not much, it seems. I fear that may mean he's already missed his opportunity.

    An Idol winner is news only until next Idol season begins. That short time needs to be spent energetically. As far as I understand (and I can't read a word of Georgian), he's not made a CD. That's odd.

    Normally, a record deal is what the winner of an Idol show is guaranteed, and they are very quick (often too quick) releasing it, to cash in on the momentary fame. Without a record, an Idol winner will have a very hard time keeping his or her fans.

    What I could find was a highschool prom concert where he did some rock covers with a band. Neither convincing in itself nor enough to get the musical career going.

    Frankly, doing covers of past hit songs is nothing but karaoke, and it never leads to anything. Luka must perform his own music, writing it himself (that's the best) or cooperating with song writers of similar souls. Otherwise, sadly, he'll have to learn to accept that he's had his Warholian fifteeen minutes of fame.

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