Batonebo: Personal Reflections on Georgian Choral Music

Written by Matti Weisberg

Batonebo ska loblebo
Naninana batoneibs na na na o
Da tki bi tki bi lada batono

Strewing rose petals around the beds of their sick children, Georgian mothers and grandmothers would sing these words in gentle tones, hoping to soothe the agitated spirits inhabiting the bodies of their kin. I learned this simple harmony in a weeklong workshop with a man named Bernard Burns, a former software developer who now leads Matzpindzeli, a Georgian choir based in London, England. Of all the the songs we learned that week, Batonebo has stuck with me for its delicate grace. It recalled my first musical memories of my mother and sister singing me songs to help me fall asleep.

When I first met Bernard, his plain dress and dorky demeanor charmingly obscured his deep, empathetic warmth and his mastery of this special vocal tradition. Over the course of the workshop with my friends Gryphon and Heloise, Bernard taught me some beautiful techniques for finding my voice, from resonating previously dormant cavities in my head and chest, to physically leaning on my friends to embody the trust that their voices would support mine in the the mix. It was a surprisingly important lesson in the power of singing, and in the months since I have often caught myself singing Batonebo out loud when I am in a moment of pain. This happens often enough that I now use it as a signpost to recognize that I am feeling anxious or hurt.

Examples of this scene from my daily life:

Is my desire to shed gender labels an inherent manifestation of my gender identity or a desire to distance myself from the public perception of the default toxicity of manhood?….batoneboooo….Can I truly, actually be pansexual, or as many people have told me, am I lying to myself in one way or another and eventually I’ll “pick a side”.....skaaa looo bleeeeboooo….Will the Earth reach 4oC above pre-industrial temperatures in my lifetime? Am I powerless to stop the erasure of people, places, animals, plants in the name of personal profit…..naninana batoneibs na na na ooooo….Is my self-esteem really so low that I would allow someone for two years to undermine my belief in myself, abdicating all of my own ideas and deferring to their worldview so deeply that splitting up required rebuilding my entire self…..daaaa tki bi tki bi lada batonoooo

At the heart of my musical practice is a simple fantasy of sitting around the house playing music for my grandkids, filling their hearts and minds with wonder and tenderness. I never had grandparents, which is maybe why I have dreamt of having my own grandchildren for as long as I can remember. Sadly this feels like a terrible time to create a new life. I know apocalypse narratives have existed in human culture for millennia, but this feels different. The daily dose of environmental grief coming from my news feed is a powerful contraceptive. The deep hopelessness I feel listening to billionaires calmly state their plans to desert this inevitably failing world sucks the hope of creating a family right out of me. Among the injustices caused by resource extractive capitalists, I particularly despise them for this. Sometimes I sing Batonebo to the wind, hoping it will carry the song to their ears and soothe the spirit of greediness that drives them to our mutually assured destruction.

In a different world, I’d be a stay-at-home parent, content to pack lunches and unpack feelings, to take care of things around the house and support my partner. Sadly, our profusely-misogynistic and-capitalistic strive culture tells me that homemaking is a kind of failure, and parenthood could only be crammed in the margins. I have a potentially lucrative degree from a prestigious university, why would I waste it on just being a parent?! That simply doesn’t make sense! It’s really a shame because I think I would make a great mom. Not to diminish the difficulty of carrying children, but I can’t help but feel a deep sense of loss for never being able to host another lifeform inside me, to watch my body grow and swell, to feel its moods, to have it feel mine, to feed, breathe, live together. It’s been an interesting exercise sitting with the acceptance that the thing my body wants most unselfconsciously in the world cannot possibly ever happen.

Instead, I professionalize my natural caring instincts into more socially acceptable forms. I adopt other people’s children for 60 minutes at a time, teaching them to cook and to love themselves. I brainstorm Youtube channels to make with my little cousin Gia. I write love songs and confessionals that I hope will get spread widely so that someone else might not feel alone. And I write grants to go to England to learn Georgian lullabies, with the secret hope of one day singing to my grandchildren while blessing their rooms with a ring of rose petals.

Matti Cicero Weisberg is a sound artist and educator based in Monterey, MA.