Changamire at GIFT: Part 2-3 - Changamire's Gift
I am Changamiré, a Jazz/R&B singer in Washington, DC, USA. This story is about my performance at the 8th Annual Georgian International Festival of the Arts (GIFT), the weekend of June 11, 2004, in the warm and charming city of Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. I have always wanted to perform abroad, and Tbilisi was the perfect city to first partake of such an endeavor.
Changamiré at GIFT
While touring the old city our first day, we saw a street lined with people selling wares. Marina had told us it was the Dry Bridge. Tati and I decided to check it out on Friday. It would be our first sightseeing venture without escorts.
My performance was at 10:00 PM with an 8:00 PM sound check, so around 1:00 in the afternoon, Tati and I headed out on our way to Dry Bridge for some shopping. Georgians speak Russian as well as Georgian, so Tati was able to get directions for us as we walked closer and closer to Dry Bridge. We passed the U.S. Embassy, which was closed because of the U.S. national mourning of Ronald Reagan. After walking down steep steps through the landscape surrounding a bridge, we landed on the street filled with craftsmen and painters, and were in heaven. We bought small ceramic hanging pieces with "Tbilisi" on them, handmade purses and clothing, pottery, and horn sculptures.
I was at the hotel realizing that my performance was upon me. Nerves were settling in. Tati and Clifton had ventured out; I stayed in my room and ordered room service. After eating, I practiced scales and got my minidisc recorder ready for the show. My vocal chords felt good, and I thought I sounded pretty strong. My red Ralph Lauren gown needed pressing, but the hotel had a 3-hour turnaround to do this and I only had one or two hours before time to leave the hotel, so I pressed the gown.
Tati returned to the room and began getting dressed. Her friend from Moscow, Kaha, had arrived in Tbilisi. Kaha was a native Georgian in town on business, and he wanted to take us to dinner after the performance. Near 8:00 we knocked on Clifton's door to let him know we were going to the lobby to meet our driver. Clifton came out in a black suit and a tie with his dreadlocks tied back into a ponytail. He looked so handsome and different because he had worn tee shirts and his hair out up to that point. Tati and I showered him with compliments and snapped many pictures of him. Then we left for Hotel Old Tbilisi.
Once there, Clifton and I took to the stage and warmed up. Keti was there, beautifully dressed, smiling ear to ear, and told us that she was receiving lots of calls about the performance and was expecting a full house. Shadow Productions, a Georgian production and publicity company, adjusted the sound and rearranged our positions on the stage. Andro, head of the company, put my minidisc recorder in place to record the show. He explained that he would record the audience a few minutes prior to Keti introducing us, to give the whole feel of the concert.
Then, management of Hotel Old Tbilisi directed Tati and I to the dressing room. Occasionally, Keti would come in and get me to introduce me to someone who had just arrived. I would see the performance room filling up, and this made me more nervous. But I would return to the dressing room with Tati to continue dressing and makeup. Eventually, Clifton knocked on the door and joined us, and Tati left and sat in the audience. It was show time.
We could hear Keti speaking Georgian to the audience then English. Then she introduced us, and Clifton and I took to the stage under a warm applause, with Clifton in his handsome black suit and me in the red gown. We opened the show with "Summertime", which brought greater applause after the first lyric. We went on to perform "Killing Me Softly", and "Only Human". Then Clifton played two solo pieces, "Equinox" and "Prelude to A Kiss". We continued
We could hear Keti speaking Georgian to the audience then English. She introduced us and Clifton and I took to the stage under warm applause. We opened with "Summertime," which brought greater applause after the first lyric. We went on to perform "Killing Me Softly," and "Only Human." Then Clifton played two solo pieces, "Equinox" and "Prelude to A Kiss." We continued this way for an hour, where at concert's end, we took our bows under great applause. So, we performed "God Bless the Child" as an encore. Keti's husband brought a beautiful bunch of calla lilies to me on the stage and another gentleman brought a bunch of red roses during the applause.
Clifton and I left the stage for the dressing room, and Tati joined us soon after. Then, Clifton returned to the room with the audience so that I could undress. But he soon knocked on the door and said photographers wanted to take pictures. So I put the gown back on and Keti introduced me to the wife of the Netherlands Ambassador to Georgia. She was lovely and beautiful. As we chatted, photographers took loads of pictures. Then, reporters shoved small recorders at my mouth asking all kinds of questions. The same was happening for Clifton, across the room. It was incredible.
Once I finally was able to change, Tati reminded me that her friend wanted to take us to dinner. It was about 11:30 PM, and we were dying to go. I had heard so much about Georgian feasts and knew I was about to experience one. As we left Hotel Old Tbilisi, Keti invited us to join GIFT's website launch event on Saturday at 1:00. I told her I was considering going back to Rusudan's art gallery, so I would let her know in the morning. But most importantly, we were going to have another performance Saturday evening and wanted to be fresh and relaxed for it, which may mean missing the website launch.
The Return to Georgia
CD's were playing as we rode to dinner in a minivan with Tati's Georgian friends, Kaha and Serge. One CD, with its young lead singer, sounded like the Jackson 5 with a modern groove. Except for the language, it sounded American. Kaha wanted to know if we liked it, and we did. He played other CDs of party or dance music, and they all were groovin' and sounded American.
But during our trip to dinner, our attention was directed more towards the dark road. It had unimaginable potholes. There were very few drivers on the road that night, but those that were, including Serge, knew how to drive it. Soon, we arrived at the restaurant. Our two hosts had us remain in the car while they checked the restaurant for available seats. They returned and told us that the kitchen was closed - after all, it was practically midnight. We continued down the dark obstacle course to another restaurant that the two men thought we would enjoy. Again, its kitchen was closed. Kaha asked that we please bear with him as they check one more restaurant further down the road. We complied. This time, the drive seemed very long. Tati, Clifton, and I began concluding that the area must have been the outskirts of Tbilisi, since the road was so bad and dark and buildings were so scarce. We arrived at the last restaurant, and its kitchen was open.
As we approached the elaborate, wide, concrete staircase to the restaurant's door, we saw outdoor patrons dining and talking at white cloth-covered tables under a huge colorful tent that was surrounded by exotic plants and bushes of roses. The tent was large enough to accommodate a reception. The night and weather was beautiful and perfect for outdoor dining. To the left stood a lighted, villa-looking building with loud music and festive singing. People were standing around it and going in and out. It seemed like a wedding or some similar celebration, but in hindsight, it may have just been dinner.
A view of old Tbilisi with Marina Klebanskaia, gracious guide and GIFT Executive Manager.
A white-coated waiter escorted us into the restaurant, but there were no small round tables set up. Instead, there was one long table. We were in some sort of private room with a grand fireplace and a table for twelve. It was as if the room was built around the massive, wood table.
With Tati translating Russian, Kaha asked for me to choose wine, for which Georgians are worldly famous, or champagne to celebrate the evening. I knew that being around the table was an important Georgian custom, so as much as I didn't want to offend Kaha and Serge, I told him that I don't drink and asked him to choose. They both blurted something out, saying that I must choose. So in light of our musical performance and the present warmth around the table, I said, "Well champagne, of course!" In addition to champagne, Kaha asked the waiter for dishes off of the menu and the waiter left, returning soon through the door of our room with wineglasses and bottles of champagne and juice.
We talked and laughed as the waiter continued to enter the room, every 15 minutes or so. He brought in several dishes each time. Kaha and Serge told us about the food and the Georgian toast. They said it was customary for each person around the table to make a toast. So Serge toasted first to the well being of our families. Tati toasted to how special it was meeting Clifton and I that she hopes we return again and come to Moscow. Her words were much more touching than this, bringing me to tears. Neither Clifton nor I made a toast. I was too overwhelmed. I think he was too. Considering the food and company, this was the best dinner I had had in my life.
We were taken back to the hotel and thanked Kaha and Serge for a lovely evening.
The Last Day
I woke up Saturday morning around 10:45AM, fifteen minutes before the end of breakfast. I shook Tati to wake her, but she decided to sleep in. I called Clifton, and he decided to sleep in, too. So, I washed up and threw on some clothes and raced to the hotel restaurant.
Again, our sweet waitress attended my table. I reminded her that I wanted her to come to my performance in the hotel that evening. She said she could not, but I insisted and she complied. Then, I told her that the silver ring on her finger was very pretty. Without hesitation, she took it off, extended her arm, and said, "For you." I couldn't believe it yet could have cried behind the gesture. I took the ring because I really loved her spirit ever since our initial encounter, and I saw this as a way of keeping a part of her with me. But I could not let the gesture go unrewarded. I finished eating, dashed for the door, and told her I would be right back. I returned with a gift bag from SJ's Elegant Expressions with a Only Human CD in it and gave it to her. Her eyes were just as surprised as mine had been when she gave me the ring. Unfortunately, this was the last time I saw her, and I never asked her name.
Around 1:00 PM, Tati, Clifton and I left the hotel to check out an art gallery on the same street as the hotel. We got only a few feet away when we saw a gift shop window, filled with art and handicrafts. We went in and saw paintings, textiles, handmade jewelry, ceramics, books, and horn sculptures. We practically bought some of everything. I had fulfilled all of my gift needs and wanted to return to the hotel, but Clifton and Tati continued down the street looking for the art gallery.
Back in my room, I began packing my suitcase and practicing vocal scales for the evening show. As I finished packing, Tati returned and went to sleep. She was so tired. I believe we all still had not gotten over jet lag, in addition to hanging out late hours. At 6:00, Clifton and I had a sound check for the evening's performance. The restaurant was set up theater style, with a tall, gothic candelabra placed next to the shiny, black grand piano. We sang through a song or two and made adjustments. The wait staff watched and listened as we rehearsed. Andro of Shadow Productions told us to return at 8:30 to perform. He showed us where to wait for his call to enter the restaurant.
On to Part 3 ...
Changamiré can be reached through her website at www.whensunnygetsblue.com . The multimedia, full-length story about her experience in Tbilisi is also posted there.