Cultural Corridors of South East Europe

Heritage by Type / Intangible Heritage

Albanian Folk Iso-Polyphony

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Albanian Folk Iso-Polyphony

About the site

Corridor: Via Adriatica
Country: Albania, Northern and Southern Albania
Type: Intangible Heritage
World Heritage: Intangible Heritage Masterpieces
Intangible HeritageIntangible Heritage Masterpieces

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.