The history of the Pankisi Ensemble began in the early 2000s, when a large number of refugees arrived at the gorge fleeing the violence from nearby Chechnya. The refugee crisis attracted a number of foreign aid organisations, including the French Doctors Without Borders.
“French from Doctors Without Borders lived in my brother-in-law’s house,” Mutoshvili recalls. The aid workers rotate, when one group left, a new one would arrive and I would help to organise a goodbye supra (‘feast’). I would also bring my friends and we’d sing for them. They loved it and one doctor, Eric Comte, vouched that soon he’d bring us to France. That gave us the idea to create an ensemble.”
The ensemble indeed ended up touring in France soon afterwards, performing fifteen concerts in different cities, and it also met Chechen refugees in the country.
With an array of instruments, including balalaika, panduri, Chechen dechig-pondar, and a drum called doli, Bela tries to find balance between being able to make her family’s living with music and ensuring the music’s survival.