'The most important thing is that we chose the right side'

Georgian stars Trio Mandili to perform throughout Israel in show of post-Oct. 7 support

Virally popular threesome of women singers, considered their country’s best-known musical export, to also put on charity concert for displaced Israelis while touring June 4-8

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Trio Mandili. (Courtesy)
Trio Mandili. (Courtesy)

A few weeks after the October 7 Hamas rampage into southern Israel, Trio Mandili, a folkloric music group sometimes called “Georgia’s ambassadors to the world,” released a video covering a traditional Jewish prayer, in quite good Hebrew, while wearing blue and white.

“We could not stand aside after the tragic events in Israel on October 7. After what happened, we recorded a video for the song ‘Adon Olam’ and posted it on our pages on social networks. Many users wrote us very offensive things and even unfollowed us,” the group wrote in an email exchange with The Times of Israel.

Trio Mandili, three women who sing in the traditional polyphonic Georgian style and language, became international and social media stars several years ago after some of their early videos went viral, garnering many millions of views on YouTube. Currently on a tour through several European countries, the trio arrives in Israel next week for five concerts around the country.

“We toured Israel not only last year, but several times already, and we always feel at home here. We have always helped and will continue to help people who suffer in conflicts, and this has nothing to do with politics,” the group said.

Key ingredients to their success are their viral videos, which are informal performances, shot with a selfie stick, of the trio singing traditional songs while strolling through rural Georgian landscapes. Most of them are well under three minutes long.

“We don’t change with time and continue to be natural, spontaneous and original… people appreciate that. They just feel our energy. You don’t even need to understand the Georgian language,” said leader Tatuli Mgeladze, who added that “tens of thousands of tourists” have decided to visit Georgia after seeing the group’s videos.

The music is minimalistic, without modern touches or electronic production. Their complex three-part polyphonic singing is accompanied only by a panduri, a traditional three-stringed Georgian instrument reminiscent of a ukulele. The trio, on video or in live performance, are full of smiles, laughter and cute interactions, giving the project a playful, wholesome air.

Over the years, Trio Mandili and Mgeladze, who has a business degree, have turned their videos into a mini-empire, harnessing social media for promotion, organizing international tours and collaborations, and selling merchandise on their website.

They are now considered Georgia’s best-known musical export, bringing the unique polyphonic singing of Georgia, a style recognized by UNESCO on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritages, to fans around the world.

“Many people say that it’s all about luck. But that’s not true. Of course, luck too, but not only luck… The main key to success is work. Daily work on yourself. And love — love for what you do, and love for those for whom you do it,” Mgeladze said.

A helping hand

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the group established “Mandili Cares,” a charitable organization helping Ukrainian refugees in Georgia, Poland and elsewhere in Europe. The trio has organized and participated in “several dozen humanitarian missions for Ukrainian refugees and our activities are still ongoing,” providing food, medicine, clothes and other necessities, the group said.

The trio has also contributed to relief efforts in Israel, post-October 7.

“We have been helping Ukrainian refugees for two years and know very well what it is like to lose everything at once. What happened in Israel — it is terrible and horrible! People whose homes were destroyed actually became refugees within their own country,” Mgeladze said.

In a press release ahead of their arrival in Israel, the group said they would give a donation to internally displaced Israelis on their visit, and “raise additional donations for the residents of Israel who were affected by the terrorist attack on October 7 at our concerts in Israel and around the world.”

The October 7 assault saw thousands of Hamas terrorists stream into southern Israel, killing over 1,200, often gruesomely, and taking over 250 captives back to Gaza. The subsequent Israel-Hamas war, still ongoing, saw at one point up to 200,000 Israelis displaced from their homes bordering Gaza and along the northern border with Lebanon, the latter due to near-daily rocket fire from Hezbollah.

Although they have a busy schedule, the group also plans to hold a special event for Israeli evacuees, organized in conjunction with the JNF, who said in a statement that it warms the heart “to see support for Israel from such a famous Georgian band, with millions of followers on social networks all over the world.”

Israeli vibes

International artists coming to perform in Israel in recent years have often faced organized campaigns calling for them to cancel their visits, efforts which have sometimes been successful.

Currently, with the Israel-Hamas conflict ranging and anti-Zionist activism trending in the artistic, literary and academic worlds, Israeli music lovers don’t expect the usual summer fare of concerts and festivals, although Radiohead singer Johnny Greenwood was just in the country for a performance with rocker Dudu Tassa, part of their joint “Jarak Qaribak” project.

The Georgian group seems unfazed by the potential fallout from their embrace of Israel. “We were shocked and devastated by what the terrorists did and we wanted to express our solidarity with Israel. A huge number of followers from Arab countries unfollowed the band’s page, but we don’t regret it. The most important thing is that we chose the right side,” said member Tako Tsiklauri.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that there already has been quite a bit of online interest in Trio Mandili’s upcoming performances, which will take them to venues in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and Rishon Lezion.

“We will sing our famous hits and also new songs from the new fourth album that was completed [recently]. And we will certainly please the Israeli audience with songs in Hebrew,” said member Mari Kurasbediani.

During international tours, Trio Mandili has released several collaborative videos with local traditional music ensembles, shot in the same folksy style, and has independently released songs in multiple languages besides Georgian. However, during this visit, the group is not sure that it will be able to do something similar.

“We will be in Israel for less than a week, we have concerts every day and will not have time to travel… It will be just the three of us on stage, [but] we are open to any suggestions and would be happy to do something together with Israeli musicians,” they said.

Trio Mandili performs on June 4 at Besarabia Bar in Jerusalem, on June 5 at Gagarin TLV Club in Tel Aviv, on June 6 at GAG21 in Haifa, on June 7 at Bella Chow Bar in Rishon Lezion, and on June 8 at the Culture Hall in Netanya. For more information see here.

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