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By Gerd 72 (talk) - Own work - Wikipedia
Photo by Gerd 72 (talk) - Own work - Wikipedia

Iso-Polyphony: An Albanian Song Treasure

I sought to write this article about one of our artistic heritages that is, at
the same time, a very exclusive part of Albania’s history. It is not often nowadays
that these gems of folklore are renowned and cherished. So here I am taking the
opportunity to try to somehow hype the amazing form of art that is the iso-poliphony. 

  • By Tesi Vila, Raiffeisen Bank in Albania

Iso – the traditional authentic Albanian sound

Traditional Albanian music of the southern region has a reputation for its authentic sound that we call the “iso”. Iso refers to the choral drone, which is basically the uniform voices that extend and accompany the support of the main voice in the multiple voices’ song. It is mainly sung in the villages of the region called Labëri, such as Pilur, Dukat, Himarë, Tërbaç and Tragjas, but also in Gjirokastër’s Lapardha and its neighboring villages, Bënça, etc.

The iso-polyphonic music is sung by four voices: the receiver, the thrower, the turner and the iso-er. 

Old age of musical tradition

It is also worth mentioning that “iso” is believed to date back to the Thracian-Illyrian era, based on the analysis of the specific features of the polyphony such as the tonal structure, the vocals, the singing style with the presence of calls, shouts and a cappella elements. All these features suggest an old age of musical tradition.

This unique value of Albanian folk culture was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO on 25 November 2005.

In Albanian, we refer to the singing of iso as bearing the iso. I think that’s probably because it is such a difficult act that you have to somehow bear it. I have had the immense pleasure of meeting people, who are genetically gifted and can bear the “iso”. Most of the time they are happy to sing for any kind of audience and witnessing that is such an overwhelming experience. Goes without saying that I had goosebumps all along. I was proud and impressed at the same time when foreigners who have also enjoyed the “iso” had the same reaction to it.

See here a video made by UNESCO on iso-polyphony in Albania:

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