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.”
As I post this, I am still awaiting the information on the songs; their titles and meanings, and will update this post as soon as I receive it.
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