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18 January 2023

Legendary Georgian Vakhtang ‘Buba’ Kikabidze Dies at 84

Legendary Georgian singer and film actor, Vakhtang Kikabidze, has died at the age of 84. He was famed for his Soviet-era performances but also for his vocal political support of Georgia and against Moscow’s post-2008 aggression.

Legendary Georgian Vakhtang ‘Buba’ Kikabidze Dies at 84


Vakhtang ‘Buba’ Kikabidze, who died this week aged 84, was a celebrated Georgian singer, songwriter, film actor, director and screenwriter.   

In Soviet days, he was valiantly forthright when it came to speaking his mind against that background. Decades later, he stood for parliament in 2020 and must have been one of the oldest politicians ever to have been elected as a Georgian MP when he won his seat just over two years ago.   

Under the stage name “Buba,” Kikabidze’s singing career started in the mid-1960s with the group “Orera,” whose music straddled Georgian multi-voice harmonies and Latin-inspired soft-jazz. Considered daring in its day, Orera has been cited as the USSR’s first “vocal-instrumental ensemble” and was influential across the Soviet Union. The group allowed Kikabidze to develop a national following well beyond the borders of the Georgian SSR, emerging as a popular solo artist from 1979 as he started recording in Russian.   

Buba's crossover into film started quite early in his career with acting parts in “Do not Cry” (1968) and “Melodies of the Verian Quarters” (1973). His best-known role was as the homesick Georgian pilot, Valiko Mizandari, in the 1977 movie “Mimino.” He went on to direct films and write scripts for others.   

His popularity continued across the post-Soviet sphere in the ’90s, but after Moscow invaded Georgia in 2008, he ‘cut ties’ with Russia and never performed there again. His lyrical response to that war was a song whose title translates as “You Disappointed Me,” though he said at the time that the target of the song was not so much the politicians as the Russian intelligentsia who had failed to speak out against the aggression. He continued to perform in many other post-Soviet countries.   

In October 2020, Buba was top of the electoral list for the pro-Western United National Movement, the party of Mikheil Saakashvili, which is now the main opposition force in Georgia.   

Tributes have poured in from across the globe, notably from the president of embattled Ukraine, who described Buba as a “great man of the people” and the “legend we all looked up to.” However, the Russian press predictably took a very different view, suggesting that he had blackened his once great reputation by his later statements, such as his avowed delight that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and his staunch anti-Moscow stance following the 2008 conflict. “You Disappointed Me” is now apparently working in both directions – Buba would have been proud.