Ilia Zakaidze, one of Georgia's most famous folk singers of the 20th century, died sometime in early 2008. He had been suffering from cancer for some time and had been quite ill. I had visited him in 2006 and recorded a lengthy interview with him, hoping to use it for a CD of his songs. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more complicated than I'd hoped making such a CD due to the demands of the archives that hold the recordings, so nothing materialized before Ilia's death.
I had also wanted to help organize official recognition for Ilia as one of the soloists whose voices are soaring through the cosmos on the Voyager spacecraft, which was launched in 1977. This information had remained shrouded in uncertainty for years, since the recording of Chakrulo had been provided by Radio Moscow, and was credited only as "Georgian Male Choir." I was actually the first person to verify that it was, in fact, Ilia Zakaidze (top voice solo), Rostom Saginashvili (middle voice solo), and the Georgian State Ensemble, directed by Anzor Kavsadze. I determined this by locating the actual recording on the commemorative edition of "Murmurs of the Earth," the story of the Voyager spacecraft, which was issued in 1991 with a CDRom that included all of the sounds and images sent into space on the Voyager. I listened to the recording of Chakrulo and matched it to a recording I had from the Georgian State Archives of Zakaidze and Saginashvili, directed by Kavsazde. All three men were still alive in 2007, but to my knowledge, no media splash was made for the 30th anniversary of the launch. Sigh... anyway, at least we know, and I hope that somehow I'll eventually be able to make that CD (or someone will).
Ilia's voice was considered to be the quintessential Georgian folk model. One Georgian friend of mine told me that in the 1960s or 1970s, if you said "Georgian folk music," everyone would automatically think of Ilia. He will be missed. My first memory of him is actually quite an unusual one: I was in Georgia with The Kartuli Ensemble (the American choir I first began singing Georgian music with) in 1994. We had been invited to participate in the International Congress of Georgian Scholars and Expatriates Abroad, and we had a concert at the Tbilisi Philharmonic. The grand finale was Chakrulo (the same song that was sent into space on the Voyager), sung by Ilia Zakaidze (top voice solo) and Nugzar Kurtskhalia (middle voice solo) with the Georgian State Ensemble - they sang verse one - followed by Glenn Knickerbocker (top voice solo) and me (middle voice solo) with The Kartuli Ensemble on the second verse, and then all the tenors joining for the blowout blitz on the third and final verse. It was cathartic, and, of course, it was not until years later that I learned just who it was that I'd been singing with that night. It's a memory I'll treasure forever.
I have so much more to say about Ilia, but his voice can convey more than I could ever put in words. I'll leave this as a pale introduction for any of you who have never heard his voice:
Sing beautifully, Ilia.