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Letter from Ureki: Reinventing the Blues on Georgia’s Black Sea

The entrance to an old Soviet-era hotel remains quiet and empty in the once-popular beachside sanatorium town of Ureki, on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. (Photo: Paul Rimple)

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.
 

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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.

Letter from Ureki: Reinventing the Blues on Georgia’s Black Sea

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