V/A - Albania - Vocal and Instrumental Polyphony (1988)

So it looks like I've been terribly lazy with this blog again... Not to worry! In comes a guest post (all good blogs have them!) from a friend whom I will simply call Mr. IX, but who is also known to those who, err, know him as 'He with the vast music collection' or 'He of encyclopedic connoisseurship'. He even deigned to write a little blurb to go with it, and threw in some video links. Thanks, Mr. IX! Here goes.

As a kid I heard music from the Balkans and Anatolia but it took a while out of the parental home to start rediscovering it. The public library was the place to explore in those days and one day I got the Chants Du Monde release "Albania: Vocal And Instrumental Polyphonics". It hit me as one of the weirdest and grimmest traditional musics I heard until then, way before drone became fashionable again through Sunn0))) and the revival of the experiments in that field in the sixties and seventies. Yet, this was no experimental academic music but regular folks singing incredibly subtle harmonies dense with pain and dissonance (not as dissonant as some other traditions I learned later, like Georgian gurian style  and gange singing from Croatia, but that stuff is even more alien and hard to relate to). I've heard a bunch of collections of this style of singing and this still stands as my favourite. Especially "Legend Of The Walled-In Woman" is nothing short of breathtaking.

From Unesco.org:

The traditional Albanian polyphonic music can be divided into two major stylistic groups as performed by the Ghegs of northern Albania and Tosks and Labs living in the southern part of the country. The candidature file id dedicated to the iso-polyphonic music performed by the Tosks and Labs of southern Albania. The term iso is related to the ison of Byzantine church music and refers to the drone, which accompanies the polyphonic singing. The drone is performed in two ways: among the Tosks, it is always continuous and sung on the syllable ‘e’, using staggered breathing; while among the Labs, the drone is sometimes sung as a rhythmic tone, performed to the text of the song. It can be differentiated between two-, three- and four-voice polyphony.

Two-voice iso-polyphony represents the simplest form of Albanian polyphony and is popular all over southern Albania. Iso-polyphony is practised mainly by men, but there is a number of female singers, too. The music is performed at a wide range of social events, such as weddings, funerals, harvest feasts, religious celebrations and festivals such as the well-known Albanian folk festival in Gjirokastra.

Albanian iso-polyphony is characterised by songs consisting of three parts: two solo parts, a  melody and a countermelody with a choral drone. Four-part singing is found less often and only among the Labs. This form consists also of two solo parts, but is accompanied by a double drone, one choral and one solo. The structure of the solo parts differs according to the different ways of performing the drone, but there is also a great variety of structures within the two drone types, especially in the pedal style that is popular with all groups performing this music.

Over the last decades, the modest rise of cultural tourism, along with the growing interest of the research community in this unique folk tradition, has contributed to the revival of Albanian iso-polyphony.



  1. thanks for this, it's amazing music

  2. The pain in these songs is beautiful somehow. It has gushed down through the generations as folklore....