Although there is great dissent and discussion amongst those of us who attend WOMEX, (the European World Music Expo) about its inclusion of so many hybrids and pop manifestations, we always know that there will be a helping of something starkly ethnic that will please the most demanding purist ear. This time it was Hysni (Niko) Zela and the Albanian Iso-Polyphonic Choir.
The polyphony of Albania is one of the most hair raising and hauntingly gorgeous sounds made by the human voice. Strong words, but I stand behind them. I first heard this kind of music back in 1995 when I was putting together a compilation of music from formerly Soviet “satellite” nations. It sent me roving through what for me turned out to be Terra Incognita on multiple levels. I remember trying to get recordings from the State owned radio station in Tirana and coming up against a surprising language barrier; my English and French were of no use—either I had to speak Albanian or I had to speak ….Italian. Plus there were several layers of Albanian song, depending on the region. But at last I found a recording of a polyphonic group singing “The Legend of the Walled in Woman” and I knew I had found something precious and important. It literally sent shivers down my spine, and that does not happen often.
So here is my video, and excerpt from the concert. This choir is true to the tradition, and they sing magnificently. Mr. Zela looked blissed the entire time he was performing, he was most definitely “in the zone.”
Here is the information about the songs as I received it from their management:
1 – Zura nje bilbil me vese – I caught a Nightingale – love song very rich of metaphors
2 – Syzeza – Black eyed – love song
3 – Shoke nat e shoke dite – Friends of nights and days – dramatic song a la Romeo and Juliette
4 – Dola nje dite nga mali – Wander in the mountain – love song
5 – Legjenda e ures – The bridge legend – while the title is referred to the bridge it is dedicated to the Rozafa castle legend. The girl that accepted her sort to be a human sacrifice (buried alive in the walls) for the castle and that asked to leave out one breast to feed the toddler and one leg to rock the cradle.
6 – Dollandyshe vogelo – Little Swallow – Love song 7 – Mu thane syte mu thane – My eyes are dry – Dramatic migration song of a mother that has run out of tears because the son came back home dead right before the wedding ceremony.
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