TIRANA, November 25
One gets the feeling of heavy longing and heroic spirits when listening to Lab Iso-Polyphony, Eqrem Cabej would say. Such description points to another Albanian practice, according to which when great men died people would not wail. They would sing songs of lament instead. There is a thin line between laments and folk Iso-Polyphony. While both express sorrow for someone’s absence, Iso-Polyphony can also be about historic moments, legends, love, satire, harvest festivals, and social events. This unique value of Albanian folk culture was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on November 25, 2005.
Traditional Albanian polyphonic music can be divided into two major stylistic groups as performed by the Ghegs of northern Albania and the Tosks and Labs living in the southern part of the country. This way of singing has been considered mysterious and instinctive and often an attempt to imitate nature’s sounds.
According to UNESCO’s description, over the last few decades, the modest rise of cultural tourism and the growing interest of the research community in this unique folk tradition has contributed to the revival of Albanian iso-polyphony.
“However, the tradition is adversely affected by poverty, the absence of legal protection, and the lack of financial support for practitioners, threatening the transmission of the vast repertoire of songs and techniques. The rural exodus of young people to the bigger cities and abroad in search of jobs compounds this danger. Given these conditions, at the present time, the transmission of this tradition is maintained through professional folk artists, rather than within the family structure, UNESCO highlights.
Therefore, even though every village and town might have its band of Iso-Polyphony, it is essential to support its promotion and revitalization. Cultural tourism, researchers, and educational programs can give a major contribution to the preservation and promotion of Iso polyphony.
While Iso-Polyphony has been mentioned by travelers, historians, and poets such as Evlija Celebi, Byron, Pouqeville, or painted in frescos by Konstandin Shpataraku and Zografi, the first music recording of Iso-Polyphony date back to the early 20th century. It might be not known to many, but the first recordings of famous songs such as ‘Vajza e Valeve’ or ‘Moj neperka pika-pika’ were made at Pathe Records in Paris and written or performed by Neco Muka and a group of singers from Permet.
Three beautiful polyphony laments on the legend of the walled-in woman and emigration are available here.
The beauty of Iso-polyphony has attracted even foreign singers like this group of French artists singing Janines C’i Pane Syte, originally performed by Lapardha Band during Gjirokastra Folk festival in 1983. This song has been also performed by the British Polyphony Group at the Houses of Parliament.
Photo credit: Argjiro Polyphony band in Gjirokastra