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Letter From Ureki: Reinventing The Blues On Georgia’s Black Sea

Letter From Ureki: Reinventing The Blues On Georgia's Black Sea by EurasiaNet

I’m playing the harmonica solo to blues-great Jimmy Roger’s “Walking By Myself” on a makeshift little platform at a hotel in the grimy Georgian beach town of Ureki. In the audience are 25 representatives of the local government, sitting around a long table, feasting on traditional fare of mtsvadi (roasted, skewered pork), khachapuri (cheese pie) and herbed tomato-cucumber salads. They listen impassively to our band’s performance.

It’s not easy finding an appreciative audience for the blues in Georgia. Restaurants tend to favor a polyphonic repertoire or a singer-keyboard duo playing old, Soviet-era pop hits. Most bar patrons expect a live band to belt out standard favorites like “Pretty Woman,” Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

We don’t play those songs, and we don’t masquerade with Raybans, black hats and skinny black ties. We have played a few restaurants, but khinkali (meat dumpling) eaters make bad listeners and blues is an interactive form of music.

In Ureki, the guests, a polite, middle-aged bunch from Russia, Armenia and the capital, Tbilisi, are sitting and watching us as if we were a TV set. At least the children, the most honest audience in the world, are dancing.

Our drummer, David Manizhashvili, has been trying for years to get me to perform with our band, The Natural Born Lovers, in Ureki, a down-at-the-heels hamlet located between Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi. But I’ve shared a small room and bath with my four snoring bandmates at a resort before. I also have a day job and am picky about gigs.