A lot of work is needed. Not simply to do something usually, but to preserve that national wealth that can disappear very easily, although valued and defended by UNESCO.
Istref Dobi, director of the Cultural Center of Vlora and of the National Folk Festival of Isopolifonia, raises the concern for the risk of the loss of the values of the isopolifonia and, in an interview for "Shekulli", expresses his disappointment for the Ministry of Culture, which must first contribute to its preservation.
Vlora is now known to be one of the stops where "the table is prepared" of isopolifonia. How was the idea born? And for what reasons does the festival return here year after year?
From 10 years Vlora has become not only the stage of the "multiplicity of voices", but also a solid base to propose and "catapult" new groups and elements that deal with this folk genre. Since the beginning of the festival, in 2001, my main goal has been to preserve and pass on to new generations this priceless value that comes to us after centuries, and to be honest, from the 1990 to the beginning of the 2000 has had a stagnation a bit worrying, since most of the groups had started to move away from the scene and to go to the recording studios.
It is known that, in most cases, the directors of these studies were not specialists nor connoisseurs of folklore, let alone the "multiplicity of voices". A considerable part of the recordings of this period shows the significant lack of the melodic trait, emerging from the furrow of tradition, and with texts that are sometimes without value; furthermore, the quality of the recording and transmission left much to be desired.
Therefore, together with a group of musicians and folklore specialists, we decided to start a festival of this kind, bringing these groups back from the studies to the scene. The first edition of the festival took place in May of 2001 at Sheshi i Flamurit (Piazza della Bandiera). Although modest, together with the festival "Oda Dibrane" organized by the Cultural Center of Peshkopia, it is today the most long-lived festival of our country, which over the years has seen around 300 groups of the isopolyphonics labe and tosca tread the scene, and it was at the base of the two Argirocastro festivals, that of 2004 and that of 2009.
We know of the emerging trend of modern currents towards folk. Has it also occurred in isopolifonia?
In reality, referring to the "multiplicity of voices" models, today a considerable part of the composers has written and elaborated many of the most beautiful songs of this genre. The initial challenges date back to the 50 years, when the well-known artist from Valona, Themistokli Mone, undertook the reworking of some of them and brought values that have resisted and will last over time into the song of the city of Valona. We can also mention Reshat Osmani, Haxhi Dalipi and others.
After the 90 years, with the numerous interferences and above all with the "creative freedom", some of the values of the "multiplicity of voices" were deformed. Both in the "multiplicity of voices" and in those accompanied by instruments, there have been numerous deformations, which, to tell the truth, our festival has tried to correct. Today from the reworkings of the "multiplicity of voices" labe, composers such as Adi Hila, Edi Bilali, etc., have created very successful songs, sung with mastery by young and experienced singers, such as Aurela Gaçe, Mariola Kaçani, Rovena Ibrahimaj, Poni, Silva Gunbardhi, and some others.
I note with pleasure that the creations based on the "multiplicity of voices" are among the most visible in today's Albanian music market and I proudly affirm that today the song of the city of Valona is among the melodies with the least interference of all Albanian music , as the well-known composer Agim Krajka also recalls, who recalled it in a television broadcast with the words "beati i vlonjati".
What are the challenges of isopolifonia today?
As you can see, I have not mentioned in any case the word isopolifonia or polyphony. From here begins the first challenge of the "multiplicity of voices" labe and tosca, from the denomination. The other challenges are numerous, starting from the lack of rhapsodists to the lack of the popular customs of the area. The state must intervene precisely on this point.
It is true that the Municipality of Vlora finances this festival to a modest extent, and that there are also specialists in Vlora and in the Cultural Center of the city; however, is this enough to preserve and pass on this invaluable value, such "living archeology" to future generations? Shouldn't we all commit ourselves to encouraging this kind of group, senders and recipients as well?
Do we know that the best rhapsodies of Vlora, starting with the great Lefter Çipa, Feti Brahimaj, Muhamet Tartari, Nexhip Seraj, Pelivan Barjami and many others, are over the age of 60 years? Who will write and do research on these "multiplicity of items" groups between 10-15 years? Therefore, these and many others - from the lack of places for tests, lack of funds, forgetfulness of the municipalities and above all of the districts, places where the "singularity of voices", the removal of performers of this kind from their villages to the cities, etc. - they are difficult challenges with which the "multiplicity of voices" tosca and labe clashes.
In a recent media conference, you stated that there are problems with conducting such activities. What are they?
Not only in this type of activity, but in all cultural and artistic activities, there are problems. But let us dwell on our situation: a cultural activity cannot be carried out as a duty exclusively with the support of the Municipality or some donor; similar loans, to be honest, are very modest.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sport (MTCGS), of the ten festivals held, has funded only two, has contributed with paltry sums to two or three others, and in the last few years absolutely nothing. I do not mean that the Ministry must necessarily design, plan and implement any cultural event.
According to world experience, these activities are supported by municipal or private cultural centers. In recent years we have turned to the MTCGS and since the 2008 no project has been approved for us, neither for the Festival of Multiplicity of Voices, nor for the Festival of Mediterranean Folklore; in the 2010, after we had been promised a sum of one million lekë, we had even included the MTCGS as a festival sponsor in all the promotional messages.
As well as in Vlore, the Festival was also held in Saranda and Fier, and once again the director of this Ministry did not consider it possible to finance these activities. So, with a better collaboration between the MTCGS and the municipalities and districts, which strive in all ways, not only to reinvigorate the cultural and artistic life of different cities and areas, but also to jealously preserve the folk values, without looking to the fact that the municipality or the district is left or right, but considering the values of each project presented in the direction of the spiritual patrimony as a priority, I believe that steps could be taken.
"The Albanian popular isopolifonia" is part of the list of "Masterpieces of the Oral Cultural Heritage of Humanity", protected by UNESCO. Currently, it enjoys the due attention
here in your home to hold such a statute?
First of all, we must thank those who deal with the preparation of the documentation and the implementation of this great project, the academician Vasil Tole and the others, which makes it possible and guarantees not only the safeguard but also the dissemination and continuation of this priceless value of our people. Six years have passed since its establishment.
Actually, taking care of the Isopolifonia Festival every year, I thought it would be done more. I was among those who have proposed since the 2005 to create the "National Network of Polyphony Associations". I note with regret that it has not been possible to carry it out despite some attempts have been made. Some festivals have taken place in Tirana, Fier and Mallakastra, but they too have sunk without having a good start.
I believe that in the MTCGS there must be a specific office for the coordination of these values, both in Albania and in collaboration with UNESCO. This office can also be upgraded with specialists in the "Epos of Kreshnikë ", because soon this value will also pass under the protection of UNESCO. Requests must be made not only at the offices of this organization but also at others, to stimulate, enhance and perpetuate this "precious testament" that our ancestors left us.
The Cultural Center of Vlore as organizer of the National Festival of Isopolifonia will work with all its human and artistic possibilities to preserve it and transmit it also in the years to come and especially next year, the year in which the 100 anniversary of the Proclamation of the Independence of Albania, and in which Valona will undoubtedly become not only the historical but also cultural and artistic arena of Albania.
Feti Brahimi: it takes a lot of work"Janinës ç'i panë sytë" (That they saw the eyes of Janina), sung by the group of Lapardha, always includes six virtuous masters, who accompany with harmonic voices the heroic legend of the battle of Janina for the defense of Albanian lands. The specialists performed with "6 violins in a perfect symphony", becoming part of the pearls of Albanian folklore. The verses are ancient, but the composition shows the year 1983. The rhapsode and creator Feti Brahimi says he kneaded old flour with new flour.
How did you act for the labe songs?
Pieces of history have been taken in order for the song to become artfully. It took advantage of the beautiful voices of the singers. Nazif Çela (first soloist, "receiver"), Golik Lika (second soloist, "responder") and Iso Selim Lika, Ylli Merkaj, Remzi Lika. I say to Golik, key of sol. That song I consider it as the "icing on the cake" of the song labe, of polyphony labe. There are many other values that have come to the fore over the years. Rare compositions are difficult, like Çelo Mezani. These are large executions that give life to these products. Many tests must be done. It takes people who think for a long time and get involved, because it's not easy. A super-power does not fall from the sky and does not come from the earth. They are carried out by working diligently. It only takes preparation ".
He said it takes a lot of work. Where did this song start from?
Our song started only from the desire to sing, since the village of Lapardha has the tradition of the song labe. Surely, all Labëria has this tradition, but there is a sort of "competition" between the villages, there is a certain pride, therefore we also want to always be there and keep ourselves at a high level. For example, there are Tërbaci, Piluri and also other areas that give luster to the polyphonic song. It worried me, so we proposed songs from our village with a long 150 story. To return to high quality again. They require effort. Like the churn work when it gives buttermilk. The more milk there is, the more butter comes out.
What stands out in this activity is the fact that there are very good new executions. Young guys. Surely there is also the old generation, and I do not call it a discord, because in it the young suck the nectar, but I would like all the young, since the novelty always comes from the young.
The turbo-folk? It is the fault of the listener.
Katina Beleri (inspector of Education and Culture in the Municipality of Himara) is known as one of the particular voices of the Himara area. Who was not surprised by "Vajza e valëve" (The Girl of the Waves) and by the rare voice that interpreted her? What worries the singers of these "hits" today is the approach with the young, but also the deformations.
She is one of the rare and peculiar voices of isopolifonia. How do you carry on the tradition of isopolifonia in the area of Himara and the coast? In our area attempts are made with elementary school students. I have created groups for small children and middle schoolers, insisting that he be taught what is Heariota polyphony, the polyphony labe, the Albanian polyphony. But we need commitment, attention, tenacity.
Because the years pass and the young people have mostly forgotten a bit about polyphony. "Vajza e valëve" (The Girl of the Waves) remains a "hit". How are similar pieces preserved? Singing them often, accepting invitations to participate in festivals, polyphonic events, singing them often, but also creating them. We also have authors in Himara. There is Odise Agora. Even though he lives in Greece, emigrated to a distant land, he has never stopped feeding the polyphony, creating various texts, in which he inserts anxiety, suffering, migration, love. There's Lefter Çipa, with his lyrics.
In some currents there has been no lack of tendencies to rework traditional songs. Is the isopoliphony clean or does it also have borrowed elements?
For the turbo-folk I have a unique answer. I condemn more those who listen to the turbo-folk, not that they sing. The greatest blame is on those who hear it. I am categorically against. It completely damages the image of isopolifonia. Of this clean and crystalline polyphony we have. My heart and my mind are in polyphony. I'm probably a little fanatic in saying it, but I think I condemn even those who listen to it, and not so much those who sing it.
The isopolifonia, a long-standing tradition in Vlora, "lights up" the hall of the Labëria palace.
At the end of November in Valona the National Festival of Isopolifonia was organized, part of the annual tradition and calendar of the most important cultural events in the city.
Supported by funding from the Municipality of Vlora, the festival has reached the tenth edition of the coastal city. The organizers of the Vlore Cultural Center conceived its development in two evenings in the great hall of the "Labëria" culture palace, to continue in the following days with the performance of the best groups in outdoor settings in the city.
18 competing and three representative groups participated in the festival.
The interest was tangible in the rooms of the palace of culture, where during the two evenings of the 25-26 November, the show was closely followed by hundreds of art lovers, from Valona and beyond. In the first evening the groups of Tragjasi, the youth of Brati, i
the group "Ylberi", the youths of Tërbaçi, "Ballkoni i Vlorës" (The balcony of Vlora), the youth of Lapardha, the group of Dukati, the group of the Himara, the group "Jehona labe" (The echo labe) . Many of the proposed songs have been applauded for a long time, and the groups of the isopolifonia have lavished heat and emotion in the room.
On the second evening the groups of Saranda, the "Golemi" of Argirocastro, the youth of Tepelena, the group of Mallakastra, the group of Progonati-Tepelena came up on the scene. Together with them also three groups of the tosca polyphony performed: the group of Ura-Vajgurore, the group of Gramshi and the group of Ladorishti, from Struga in Macedonia. The latter's repertoire was considered one of the Festival's surprises.
To give a geographical extension to the circulation of national folkloric values, in the edition of this year the artistic and cultural association "Zana and Ulqinit", the folk ensemble of Fushë-Kosova and the group "Çipini ”With stars of polyphony. Dressed in red and black during the performance of the flag vallja, the young men of Fushë-Kosova's group were applauded for the duration of their performance on the scene. With as many long applauses, well-known names of the Albanian polyphony of the Çipini group were also welcomed.
The peculiarity of this festival was the participation of young people, both on stage and in the hall, a positive demonstration that this priceless value of our people's cultural heritage is also being transmitted to the new generation.
As per tradition, the festival was awarded six prizes by a chosen jury, headed by Ermir Dizdari, an ethno-musicologist leader.
The third prize was awarded to the groups of Ura-Vajgurore and Gramshi and to the group "Golemi" of Gjirokastra.
The jury awarded the second prize to the group "Ladorishti" of Struga and "Kaonët" of Delvina.
The “Jehona labe” group from Vlore was honored with the first prize.
Article by Anila Peçi. Published in the daily Shekulli of 5 December 2011. Original title "Isopolifonia, kur ministria harron vlerat kombëtare".Translated for Albania News by Giovanna Nanci.