Nino Katamadze has been given many titles, from “jazz-diva” to “the Georgian Janis Joplin.” Her experimental, genre-defying work makes it not only possible but sensible to compare her to jazz artists and rock stars alike. Katamadze and her band Insight (together known as Nino Katamadze & Insight) are renowned across the globe, performing almost non-stop at concerts and festivals since 1999. She writes nearly all of their music, describing it on her website as a “synthesis of Georgian and modern world music” that you “may define as jazz, rock, pop and psychedelia.”
Katamadze was born in August 1972 in the town of Kobuleti, Adjara in what was then Soviet Georgia. In 1990, she began studying music at the nearby Batumi Music Institute where she specialized in vocal performance. She continued to pursue music after graduation, steadfast in her belief in the power and importance of the art form. “Music is the relationship between people,” she describes, “and that’s why live music is so important, because you share your impulses, love and way of life with people.”
In 1999, a few years after leaving school, she formed her band with three other musicians: guitarist Gocha Kacheishvili, bassist Ucha Gugunava, and percussionist David Abuladze. Together, Insight began to perform throughout Georgia and abroad. The Kyiv Post names their big break as their 2002 performance in Great Britain, where “the public fell in love with her.”
She has been awarded numerous awards including an Ovation Prize in 2002 for Best Female Vocalist as well as a Presidential Order of Excellence for her contributions to culture, awarded in 2011 by then Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Nino Katamadze & Insight’s first album Ordinary Day was released in 2004. This was followed by Nino Katamadze & Insight, a double-album with one white album cover and one black one. This use of color to represent albums inspired Katamadze. “I thought, why not title our following albums in a similar way?” she recalled. True to that idea, all subsequent albums were titled with color names: White (2006), Black (2006), Blue (2008), Red (2010), Green (2011), and Yellow (2016). The band creates “titles that resonate with [the album’s] overall sound and mood,” Katamadze explains. “The album title is the continuation of its sound in color.”
Just as Katamadze uses color to portray mood, she plays with vocalizations in order to evoke particular emotions. One of her most popular songs, “Olei,” features lyrics that are not words at all. “I don’t sing in words,” she explains, “I sing in feelings. My improvisations during concerts are melodies from the very depths of my soul.” She calls her particular genre “art jazz,” and her songs often include these improvised compositions. “Musical motifs appear in my head unpredictably,” she says. Ever-ambitious with her craft, she describes her work as “complicated, intelligent, outlandish music” that serves as “a detailed philosophical description of human life.”
The band’s repertoire also includes original arrangements of Georgian folk music, and Katamadze strives to represent Georgia to the world via her unique mix of musical styles. “What I aspire to do,” she describes, “is to demonstrate synthesis of the old and the new. I dream for each of our concerts to go with subtitles of the translated texts we use in our works. These are the texts by Otar Chiladze, Vazha-Pshavel, Nato Ingorokva and other outstanding (Georgian) poets.” Unfortunately, this sort of work is hard to accomplish, both “technically and financially,” Katamadze continues. Nevertheless, she embraces other ways in which her music can be used for good. “I love classical music,” she says, “because within these seemingly strict frameworks an unlimited freedom prevails – in every note and pause. When I want to protest against many inequalities and I think of how to do it, I understand that my language is music. I choose it again and again.”