Joseph Jordania (born February 12, 1954 in Tbilisi, Georgia, former Soviet Union) is an Australian-Georgian ethnomusicologist and evolutionary musicologist. In some early publications his name was spelled as Zhordania. He is a Honorary Fellow of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne, Professor, Head of the Foreign Department of the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony at Tbilisi State Conservatory, and is known for his model of the origins of human choral singing in the wide context of human evolution. He was one of founders of the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony in Georgia. From 1995 he lives in Australia, maintaining close professional contacts with his native Georgia and the polyphonic centre.
Jordania’s academic interests include study of worldwide distribution of choral polyphonic traditions, origins of choral singing, origins of rhythm, origins of human morphology and behaviour, cross-cultural prevalence of stuttering, dyslexia and acquisition of phonological system in children, study of the cognitive threshold between animal and human cognitive abilities. His primarily expertise is Georgian and Caucasian traditional music and vocal polyphony. From the middle of the 1980s he started cross-cultural comparative study of the phenomenon of vocal polyphony and came to the conclusion that polyphony is not a late cultural invention, but rather an extremely ancient phenomenon, designed by the forces of natural selection as a part of the defense system for early hominids on African Savannah. He advocates that natural selection, not sexual selection, was the central force in human evolution, including the evolution of human musical abilities. His 1989 technical book "Georgian Traditional Polyphony in an International Context of Polyphonic Cultures (published in Russian) was dedicated to the comparative study of world distribution of vocal polyphonic traditions. His 2006 book "Who Asked the First Question?" was dedicated to the problems of the origins of human intelligence and language (the ability of asking questions is suggested as the central cognitive ability of Homo sapiens, and the decisive element of forming of human language), articulated speech (Jordania suggested that after leaving African cradle and settling in different regions of the Old World, different populations of early humans shifted to articulated speech in different epochs), stuttering and dyslexia (Jordania suggested that the existing differences in the prevalence of stuttering and dyslexia might have genetic nature and might be the result of the shift to articulated speech among different human populations in different epochs). Jordania also studied the evolutionary function of humming (humming as human contact calls designed to maintain audio contact within the group and to warn members of group about predators), and the distribution of singing behaviour in animal species in different natural environments (he suggested that only arboreal and aquatic species sing, but no terrestrial species apart from humans, sing). His 2011 book "Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution" is dedicated to the evolution of human morphology and behavior through the aposematic model of human evolution.
Jordania was born in Georgia (former Soviet Union). He received a BA degree in ethnomusicology from Tbilisi State Conservatory in 1978. During 1979-1983 he was elected as the President of the Board of Creative Youth of Tbilisi. In 1982 he received his PhD degree in musicology-ethnomusicology from Tbilisi Theatrical Institute, and served as lecturer, senior lecturer, assistant professor, and professor at the Department of Georgian Traditional Music at Tbilisi State Conservatory. For one year (in 1984) he served as a dean of the Faculty of Musicology. In 1991 he received the title D.Mus from Kiev Conservatory. From 1988 until 1995 Jordania was the head of the Musical Sector of the Centre of the Mediterranean Studies at the Tbilisi State University. He published his first monograph on choral polyphony in 1989. In 1984 he was instrumental in organizing the conference "Problems of Folk Polyphony". This conference became the beginning of the series of biannual international conferences (1984, 1986, 1988, 1998, 2000) and symposia (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010) on traditional polyphony, and led to establishing the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony at Tbilisi State Conservatory in 2003
In 2009, in recognition of "his contribution to systematic analysis of folk polyphonies of the world, proposing a new model for the origins of traditional choral singing in a broad context of human evolution" Jordania was awarded the Fumio Koizumi Prize for ethnomusicology.
Jordania family connections to the first president of independent Georgia (1918–1921) Noe Jordania were a key factor for the persecution of Jordania family members by communists. His grand-grandfather and grandfather disappeared during the 1937-1938 repressions under Joseph Stalin, together with most of their relatives. His father, Mindia Jordania (1929–1979) survived repressions only for being of a young age in 1937, gradually becoming one of the leading Georgian ethnomusicologists. His mother, Neli Imedashvili (b. 1931) is a noted piano teacher with internationally performing students. He has a younger brother, Nugzar Jordania, also an ethnomusicologist. During 1981-1995 he was a guitar performer of Georgian State Philharmonic Society (concerts, TV, radio appearances, recordings). He has two daughters (Megi and Nana), one son (Alexander) and two grandchildren (Niko and Manana). From 1988 he is married to ethnomusicologist Nino Tsitsishvili, author of the book National Unity and Gender Differences in Georgian Traditional Music (2010). From 1995 Jordania lives in Australia, Melbourne, maintaining close contacts with Georgia.
On the origins of choral polyphony
Jordania is known within ethnomusicology for his theory of the origins of choral singing and polyphony and his criticism of the widely accepted theory of the late cultural origins of choral polyphony. In Who Asked the First Question? Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech he suggested that human choral singing is an adaptation, created through the forces of natural selection during the millions of the years of competition with the African lions in African Savannah. He suggested that early humans took a tradition of loud rhythmic dissonant polyphony to different regions of the world (where it still survives in the most isolated mountainous places like in Nuristan, Tibet, Papua New Guinea, North Vietnam, Ainus, Balkans, Caucasus, Andes, among Pygmies. After the shift of human communication to articulated speech, which according to Jordania happened in different populations in different epochs, choral singing lost its primary survival importance and started to disappear.
Audio-visual intimidating display
Jordania promotes the idea that music (as well as several other universal elements of contemporary human culture, including dance and body painting) are the result the forces of natural selection, not sexual selection. He suggested that rhythmic laud singing and drumming, together with the threatening rhythmic body movements and body painting, was the core element of the ancient audio-visual intimidating display, which was used to scare away predators (primarily lions) and competitors. Audio-Visual Intimidating Display (or AVID) was a key factor also to put hominid group into an altered state of consciousness which he calls "battle trance" where they would not feel fear and pain, and would be religiously dedicated to group interests. Jordania suggests that listening and dancing to the sounds of loud rhythmic rock music, used in many contemporary combat units before the combat missions is directly connected to the primordial evolutionary function of music as an important psychological factor of defense. Apart from the defense from predators, Jordania suggested that this system was the core strategy to obtain food via confrontational, or aggressive scavenging.
Singing among animals species in different natural environments
Jordania suggested that singing behavior is very unevenly distributed among animal species, living in different environments (on the ground, in the water, on the trees). Most of the singing species live on the trees (like many bird species, or gibbons), some live in the water (whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions), and there are no animal species who live on the ground and sing except for humans. He suggested that this uneven distribution of singing is crucial for our understanding of the origins of the singing behavior in animals and humans. Jordania explains this fact as the result of the pressure from natural selection. Singing is a very costly behavior, not only because of the energy to produce sounds, but primarily for the security reasons, as all the possible predators can easily learn the whereabouts of a singing animal. Singing species that live on the trees are in a much more favourable situation, as trees allow different species to live according to their body weight. So different animals with different body weight live on different "levels" of the tree branches. Therefore tree living (or arboreal) species feel quite secure to sing or to communicate with a wide range of vocal signals. On the other hand, all the ground living (or terrestrial) animal species, despite the huge weight differences between them (ranging from rabbits to lions and elephants) live on the same "ground level", and maintaining silence is crucially important for them. Even most of the birds, the most ardent singers, stop singing and producing other sounds when they sit on the ground. Therefore, predator threat might be a primary reason why tree living species are generally much noisier than ground living species.
Jordania suggested that humming could have played an important role in the early human (hominid) evolution as contact calls. Many social animals produce seemingly haphazard and indistinctive sounds (like chicken cluck) when they are going about their everyday business (foraging, feeding). These sounds have two functions: (1) to let group members know that they are among kin and there is no danger, and (2) in case of the appearance of any signs of danger (suspicious sounds, movements in a forest), the animal that notices danger first, stops moving, stops producing sounds, remains silent and looks in the direction of the danger sign. Other animals quickly follow suit and very soon all the group is silent and is scanning the environment for the possible danger. Charles Darwin was the first to notice this phenomenon on the example of the wild horses and the cattle (Darwin, Descent of Men, 2004:123). Jordania suggested that for humans, as for many social animals, silence can be a sign of danger, and that's why gentle humming and musical sounds relax humans (see the use of gentle music in music therapy, lullabies) Cannibalism as a predator control mechanism in hominids and early humans
In his 2011 book "Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution" Jordania suggested that prehistoric cannibalism could have a function of predator control. Readily available human corpses during the epidemics and wars are known to increase the number of man-eating animals and also the number of the predator attacks on humans, so the practice of cannibalism could be a strategy to deprive predators chances to eat and to get used to human flesh as a part of their diet. According to Jordania, even after the fatal attacks of predators on hominids or humans, being superb at aggressive scavenging, hominids and early humans would attack the predators in groups and fight back for the dead body of the killed member of their group. Later they would cannibalize the body of the dead fellow member in a ritualistic manner. Although very costly and risky behavior, this behavior eventually taught predators that it was very costly to prey on hominids and humans.
Collective identity and the first ritual practices
Jordania suggested that in human evolutionary history reaching the state of the "battle trance" or a specific state of collective identity was crucial for the physical survival of hominids and early humans. He argued that as individual hominids were too weak and slow to survive predators on their own, in the most critical for survival moments (predator attacks, combat situations, mortal danger to your children) humans enter the altered state of consciousness where they do not feel fear and pain, do not question the behavior of other members of their group, and are ready to sacrifice their lives for evolutionary more important goal (like the survival of their children or the group). According to Jordania, human ability to follow the rhythm in big groups, to sing together in harmony, to dance for many hours and enter the ecstatic state, as well as the tradition of body painting, were all developed as the parts of first ritual practices in order to reach the state of collective identity. In the state of collective identity the needs for the group (keen) survival are overriding the instincts of individual survival.
Cognitive threshold between animal and human abilities
Jordania suggested that the ability to ask questions is the central cognitive element that distinguishes human and animal cognitive abilities. Enculturated apes Kanzi, Washoe, Sarah and a few others who underwent extensive language training programs successfully learned to answer quite complex questions and requests but they so far failed to learn how to ask questions themselves. Jordania suggested that the ability to ask questions is often assessed in relation to comprehension of syntactic structures, and this is not justified, as (1) questioning is primarily a cognitive ability, and (2) questions can be (and are) asked by young children without the use of syntactic structures (with the use of specific question intonation only, at the pre-syntactic, one word stage of language development). Jordania suggested a Latin motto Interrogo ergo Cogito (I ask questions, therefore I think) and considers the origin of questioning behaviour in human evolutionary history as the beginning of human cognition and language.
Stuttering, dyslexia, acquisition of phonological system
Jordania proposed that the asynchronous shift to the articulated speech in different populations resulted in significant cross-cultural differences in different speech- and reading-related pathologies (like stuttering and dyslexia), as well as the acquisition of phonological system by young children. He argued that there is a positive correlation between the presence of strong traditions of vocal polyphony (like in sub-Saharan Africa and some regions of Europe) and the higher rate of stuttering and dyslexia. He argues that these differences between populations might have innate character. He initiated studies of some understudied regions (for example study of stuttering prevalence among Chinese populations).
Some of Jordania's ideas are considered controversial by experts of different disciplines. Big part of musicologists considers polyphony as a relatively late cultural invention, not an ancient pre-cultural phenomenon. Big part of the speech pathologists consider that stuttering prevalence is same in every human population, and that there can not be any genetic differences between different populations in predilection towards stuttering. Expert of dyslexia consider that the reasons for the existing cross-cultural differences is the differences between the writing systems, not the differences in genetic predilection of different populations towards dyslexia. Most of the experts of educational system also consider that the reasons of the notable differences in higher literacy achievements of East Asian school students in comparison of many underachieving western (European, North American, Australian) students is the difference in cultural attitudes and educational system, not the genetic factor, as Jordania suggested.