The Untold Story of How “Chakrulo” Ended Up in Space
25 September, 2014
The Untold Story of How “Chakrulo” Ended Up in Space
“High-ranking Soviet politicians did everything they could to get the popular Russian song ‘Moscow Nights’ (Podmoskovniye Vechera) included in the project. Despite their attempts, Mrs. Druyan and her friends didn’t consider it a masterpiece worthy of inclusion. They turned to Alan Lomax, a legendary American folklorist, for advice. He instantly discarded the Russian song and had them listen to the Georgian song ‘Chakrulo’ instead.” – says movie director Ramaz Bluashvili.

– I doubt there is a single Georgian who hasn’t
heard about “Chakrulo” being getting sent into space. During feasts, one frequently comes across toasts to “Chakrulo, which breached the galaxy!” All Georgians are intensely proud of this fact, but very few know the real story of “Chakrulo” leaving earth.

My father is a director of the “Erisioni” ensemble. He has been involved with it for 38 years and accordingly, I have heard the story of “Chakrulo” constantly throughout my entire life. Everyone knew that this amazing song was sent into space, yet several versions existed regarding which ensemble or band performed the song that was actually sent. There were many hypotheses – some said that it was performed by “Rustavi” ensemble; others said legendary Hamlet Gonashvili did it and so on. But I don’t remember anyone ever asking about how a Georgian song ended up on Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977.

– So how did it happen?

– First let me tell you briefly about the project itself. By the end of the 1970s, legendary American scientist and TV presenter Carl Sagan had the idea of developing a project together with NASA. The project involved launching a probe that would contain a lot of information regarding Earth and its inhabitants. A so-called “Golden Record” was created, and a plethora of information was recorded on it. Aside from mathematical formulas, photos of humans, animals and natural occurrences such as sounds of thunder, the disc also carried 27 musical recordings, which took a lot of effort and consideration to select. Today, Voyager 2 is 16 billion kilometers away from Earth and continues its journey towards the infinite.

My research of the life and deeds of the Georgian-American aircraft designer Aleksandre Kartvelishvili has frequently brought me to NASA. During one such visit, I asked about Voyager 2 because I was interested in how Georgia’s “Chakrulo” was included in that historical project – especially in Soviet times, no less. I was given the e-mail address of Mrs. Ann Druyan and told that she was the only person with the knowledge to answer my question. Naturally, I contacted her immediately and the reply I received two days later stunned me. According to her, high-ranking Soviet politicians did everything they could to get the popular Russian song “Moscow Nights” (Podmoskovniye Vechera) included into the project. Despite their attempts, Mrs. Druyan and her friends didn’t consider it a masterpiece worthy of inclusion. They turned to Alan Lomax, a legendary American folklorist, for advice. He instantly discarded the Russian song and had them listen to the Georgian song ‘Chakrulo’ instead. Mrs. Druyan remembers the emotions she experienced when listening to this song. By the time she had finished listening, “Chakrulo” was guaranteed a spot in the project.

This is how, without any Georgian involvem­e­nt whatsoever, “Cha­krulo” ended up in one of the most important projects in human history. The song was performed by the National Song and Dance Ensemble of Georgia (nowadays known as “Er­is­ioni”) under the guidance of Mr. Anzor Kavsadze, and its vocals were done by Ilia Za­kaidze (now deceas­ed) and Rostom Sagi­na­shvili, who splendidly performs “Chakrulo” still to this day.

Email sent by Ann Druyan to Ramaz Bluashvili

Dear Ramaz Bluashvili,

Thanks for you kind inquiry regarding our decision to include “Chakrulo” on the NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Record. At first, Soviet officials did their best to foist a popular song called “Moscow Nights” on us. My colleagues and I all felt that it was not the best choice to represent the rich musical tradition of that part of the world. At the suggestion of writer Jonathan Cott, Voyager Record Producer Timothy Ferris and I consulted with legendary musicologist and musical theoretician, Alan Lomax. He played “Chakrulo” for us and when we lit up with excitement at its stirring, soaring sound, he grinned, exclaiming, “See, that’s the music that people who have enough to eat make!!”
It was an unforgettable moment, one that still echoes in my soul. From then on, its place on the record was secure.
Our shameless ignorance about Georgian and too many other musical traditions and the short time allotted to select the Voyager musical pieces, made for many a sleepless night. I am relieved and delighted that you and your fellow Georgians are pleased with our choice.
I hope you’ll feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Ann Druyan
Creative Director
Voyager Interstellar Message.

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