"When you travel alone you are alone, when you travel in two you get into a fight but if you travel in three you will surely start singing" (ancient Albanian proverb from the Përmet region)
Music is a powerful means of influencing both the psyche and the human soul through its significant and emotionally involving themes. For the character of the characters, for the passions that dominate them and for the feelings they express, the music speaks directly to the soul of the singer and the listener, reflecting and celebrating universal values.
The world panorama of musical masterpieces is essentially constituted by the phenomena and manifestations of the spiritual cultures of different peoples, which play an important role being at the base of the culture of the whole humanity and distinguishing themselves for the spirit and the unique genre that each of them represents .
World Heritage Site
In this context the Albanian Iso-polyphony entered the list of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity the 25 November of the 2005, thus joining the other riches of the Albanian culture already protected by UNESCO as the National Park of Butrint, the city of Gjirokastër And that of Berat.
The important recognition that is made to the Albanian Iso-polyphony worldwide, aims to facilitate the safeguarding of this extraordinarily interesting and unique musical form for the multi-vocal tradition it possesses, focusing in particular on its dissemination and transmission to the new generations to keep it alive.
Hence the need to educate to the knowledge and appreciation of this musical genre also because through education we acquire the tools and skills to access this rich heritage that distinguishes us, but unfortunately it is going to be lost since the new generations of today - bombarded by commercial music - they feel it very distant and far from their interests.
When we talk about traditional Albanian vocal music and its context, we must specify that while in the north and in the center of the country, this particular language of sounds is found mainly with a single voice and is called "homophonic", in the southern part it appears generally with more voices and is called "polyphonic".
While the term "iso" refers to the hum that accompanies the polyphonic song and its origins date back to distant and forgetful times. The hum, which appears as a finely decorated resonance, is performed in two ways: the first is continuous and is sung on the syllable 'E' using breathing arranged in stages; the second buzz is sometimes sung as a rhythmic and harmonic tone performed together with the lyrics of the song. It is sung by both women and men but mainly the performance is male and traditionally accompanies a wide range of important social events, such as weddings, funerals, harvest festivals, religious celebrations and various folk festivals.
Iso-polifonie lab and tosk
Iso-polyphonic music, which is a sophisticated form of group singing, is part of the musical repertoire of an area that covers almost all of southern Albania and from an ethno-cultural point of view, is typical of two large areas, that of Toskëria and that of Labëria.
The Iso-polyphony Lab
It takes its name from the term of the geographical extension with which the south-western part of Albania is called and includes the regions of Vlora, Tepelena, Gjirokastra, Saranda and the district of Mallakastra in Fier. From the people of Labëria itself, the polyphonic song is considered mysterious and instinctive, and in general, as a phenomenon that carries within it the reflections of nature, the voices of the night, the voices of the earth and the sea of Labëria.
The Albanians of Labëria lived and lived in a land of high rugged and rocky mountains bordered to the west by the Ionian sea, and in general this region has a mountain climate with cool summers and harsh winters, but here and there even Mediterranean with the hot and dry summer and humid and mild winter. The impact of these natural conditions obviously could not fail to be particularly reflected also in the polyphonic singing Lab, in the various representative ways of this music articulated in the region.
We find it geographically starting from the right side of the Vjosa river and continuing up to the Shkumbin river, and as well as in that Lab, even the Tosk one is sung by both men and women. The iso-polyphonic music of the regions of Përmet, Leskovik, Kolonja, Korça, Devoll, Mokra, Opar, Skrapar, Shpati, Myzeqe, Librazhd, Gramsh, Berat presents itself more or less as a theme with variations of type 'Tosk'.
We also find this genus outside the state boundaries of Albania, which includes the Albanians who live in the eastern part of Lake Prespa, on the west coast of lake of Ohrid, on the left side of the Black Drin river and near Struga, where they sing with one, two and three voices. Also, we find the Tosk type of polyphony also in southern Italy, where the Arberesh who left Albania during the Ottoman occupation around the 15th century live, and also in Çamëria, in southern Epirus, once inhabited Albanian territory by the Albanians and today part of Greece.
Both Lab and Tosk polyphony are both rich in form and content, including ballads and historical songs, lyric songs, songs of mourning, love songs, humorous songs, songs about emigration, lullabies etc. But a specific place deserves the ballads and historical songs that in addition to being sung are also danced in groups.
Among the most typical testimonies of the historical genre are the songs of "Skënderbeu trim me fletë", where we note the alternation of the solo voices that create the harmonic cord that supports the whole song; "Gjorg Golemi" or as it is recognized among the Arberesh "Gjergj Arianit Komneni" which dates back to the times of Scanderbeg, "Skënderbeu një menatë" sung by the Arberesh communities that still continue to preserve and pass on the language, traditions and culture of their ancestors; "Dhoqina", otherwise known as "Doruntina", is a song we find located in a vast area of south-central Italy that includes Durres, Gramsh, Pogradec, Korça, Permet, Libohova, Argirocastro, Berat, Fier, Vlora, Saranda, Çamëria etc.
Safeguard and enhancement
Currently the only scientific institution dealing with the study of Albanian folklore is the Institute of Popular Culture of Tirana, which includes the departments of ethno-musicology, ethno-choreology and ethnography. The Institute periodically publishes a magazine on Albanian popular culture, and there is a very rich archive in it which collects 60.000 works from all over Albania. The main popular organizations operating in this field, mostly created in Albania after the 1990, in order to support folklore and popular traditions in general, are: "Dora d'Istria" in Permet, "Demir Zyko" in Skrapar, "Folk Society" in Gramsh, "Nightingale Group" in Vlora and Gjirokastër, "Tirana Association" in Tirana, "Kastrioti" in Kruja, etc.
The main artistic activities of Albanian folk are the National Folklore Festival held every five years and its beginnings date back to the 1952 in the cities of Lezha and Tirana and then move to the two cities museum of medieval architecture, Gjirokastër and Berat; the National Festival of the Popular Folk Song that takes place in Elbasan; the meeting of the Rapsods of Lahuta in the city of Lezha; the meeting of the Orchestras in the city of Korça; the meeting of the Polyphonic Groups in the cities of Vlora and Gjirokastër; the meeting of Folk Groups and Societies (NGOs) in the city of Saranda.
The study of the phenomenon
There are many testimonies and studies of the various writers and scholars concerning Albanian Iso-polyphony but we will limit ourselves to mentioning only a few starting with George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) in his work "Child Harold's Pilgrimage", Marie Wortley Montagu in "Letters and Works", F.
C. Pouqeville in his book "Voyage en Moree, in Constantinople, in Albanie (pedant les annees 1789-1801) which gives us this observation regarding the sung dance of the Albanian polyphony:
"... these inhabitants of the mountains join the dances with the songs, which derive from the glorious centuries of Scanderbeg, used to throw discredit on the Ottomans",
JC Hobhouse "A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey during the year 1809-1810", Zef Jubani (1818-1880) in the article "On Albanian poetry and music", Thimi Mitko in "The Albanian Bee" published in 1874, Auguste Dozon in "Manuel de la Langue Chkipe ou Albanaise" (1879), Spiro Dine in "The Wave of the Sea" (Bulgaria, 1908), Eqrem Çabej "Studime gjuhësore-V" (Prishtina, 1975), Spiro Shituni "Polifonia labe" (Tirana, 1989), Beniamin Kruta "Polyphony dy zërëshe and Shqipërisë Jugore" (Tirana, 1991), Sokol Shupo "Folklori muzikor shqiptar" (Tirana, 1997), Vasil Tole "Folklori muzikor -Polifonia shqiptare ”(Tirana, 1999) and“ Folklori muzikor - Strukturë dhe Analizë ”(2000), etc.
We find some beautiful traces of Albanian polyphony also in the field of visual arts, as evidenced by various frescoes and paintings by Albanian and foreign painters. Among the Albanian painters we have two 1744 frescoes: the first, painted by Kostandin Shpataraku in the church of St. Thanasi in Voskopoja, shows us a small shepherd playing the pipe; while the second is a work by the Zografi brothers and presents two shepherds, one of whom in the background accompanied by the cattle plays the flute in a typical pastoral environment. Among the foreign painters, it is worth mentioning Alexandre Decamps (1803-1860) with his work "Albanian dancers", Leon Gerome (1824-1904) and K.Udvil (1856-1927), both of which with the same title entitled their paintings "Albanians singing", etc.
The ancient roots of Iso-polyphony
The sound material of this music in general was born and developed over time, in a land fed for centuries by a strong local tradition, thus taking advantage of remarkable original features and, simultaneously, reflecting the different aspects of the history and life of the Albanians. All this plays an important role not only artistic-aesthetic but also of education, a role obviously influenced by the collective or individual interpretation.
In this sense, this music presents itself as the instrument that helps and promotes the diffusion of different knowledge and, having as its object the physical nature of musical sounds and their configuration, it becomes a privileged place where the different disciplines of life find their application by transforming themselves so in a codified knowledge.
This is why the Iso-polyphony was sung by the Albanians in any place, both on occasions of joy and disgrace, in weddings and funeral lamentations, before and after the battles, inside and outside in open nature, animating the days of routine and during the holidays. Instead of instruments, the voice of the human being is the clear expression of the soul transmuted into art.
The existence in polyphonic folk music of different genres, such as polyphonic songs with mythological origin or "dance rituals", shows that it was a permanent traveling companion for the Albanians during their history. Listening to this form of singing the first thing that immediately catches your eye is the ancient stratification of mythological origin with epic resonances, linked to a series of exclamations that bring to mind the ancient practices of magical and pagan rituals. In the book by Lorenzo Tardo "L'Antica Melurgia Bizantina", published in the 1938, we find an interesting quote that makes us understand the antiquity of this musical form:
"... The Albanians, hating Ottoman slavery and leaving their homeland, did not bring with them either the final musical model of Constantinople, or even the academic art of refined Protopsalti, rather they brought with them their provincial, mountain and musical tradition. archaic that dates back to the 4-5 century AD, at the time of the Basilei and can also be antecedents ”.
Its antiquity is also demonstrated by the pentatonic mode-tonal construction of this musical culture, which is recognized as the most archaic musical form in the world history of popular music.
Albania, this mountainous and laborious land, has been for centuries a typical area where historical, archaeological and cultural relics were proudly guarded by its inhabitants, keeping the archaic traits of a social organization in store as a common thread with antiquity , cultural, spiritual and material fortunately still intact. In front of the story of an antagonistic living-dying that at the same time tries to affirm and dissipate to reconfirm a continuous series of closure-opening, which not necessarily has a negative value, the art of polyphonic singing was a powerful means of communication and its executor a great communicator of emotions and feelings, sprouting from the deepest meanders of the subconscious of this people.
Further Reading: Link to the UNESCO website