It’s Thursday night at the Soviet-era House of Culture in Agudzera, a village outside Sukhumi, the capital of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and three Abkhaz rock bands are setting up for a concert. The lighting and sound system is professional and right out of the box, but guitarist Alexander Tsamruk of the band Ferumage must adjust the levels because there is no soundman.
“I can’t hear myself,” shouts a guitarist on the stage. “Don’t worry,” Tsamruk replies. “It’s normal.”
The 15-year economic blockade on Abkhazia has all but snuffed out opportunities for local musicians to perform publicly. Most bars and nightclubs disappeared after the separatist region’s 1992-93 war with Georgia, while the most talented musicians – like opera singer Hibla Gerzmava – emigrated. Even Russia’s decision to recognize Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia in late 2008 brought no relief for local rockers.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, where he leads The Natural Born Lovers blues band.