Centres of Polyphony


Albanian polyphony was very late to come to the attention of European scholars. It was only during the 1950s that Ramadan Sokoli brought southern Albanian part-singing tradition to the attention of scholars. Soon scholars from the then- East Germany, with the help of Ramadan Sokoli, recorded and then published one of the best collections of post-war Europe (Stockmann et al., 1965). Soon it became clear that Albanian polyphony is one of the richest in the Balkans.
Albania is traditionally divided (by the river Shkumbin) into two roughly equal parts – North Albania and South Albania (called respectively Gegs and Tosks). Polyphony is found in both regions, although the distribution is unequal. In northern Albania polyphony is relatively rare, and is mostly found in the western part of northern Albania, among the high mountains. This region is known for the survival of older singing styles, with narrow-range melodies and strained styles of singing, common to most of the singing styles of the central Balkans (Sugarman, 2000:994). The population of this region is known as Malisori. Characterizing northern Albanian music and particularly polyphony, Jane Sugarman wrote: “Though most older styles of women’s singing are monophonic, women in Southwestern Kosova and western Macedonia also sing two-voiced polyphony. Against a narrow-ranged melody sung by a soloist, one or more women sing a lower vocal line that sometimes duplicates pitches of the melody and sometimes strikes a pitch a second or third below it. Men in the same districts in Kosova sing only in unison, but in western Macedonia men have their own polyphonic styles of singing, consisting of a melodic line sung against a drone” (Sugarman, 2000: 995).

Southern Albania is one of the richest regions of vocal polyphonic singing in the Balkans, and possibly in Europe or even the world. Southern Albania is divided into four main regions: Toskeri, Myzeqe, Chameri, and Laberi (Ahmedaja, 2005). These four regions are sometimes grouped into two styles: Toskeri (containing Myzeqe and Chameri styles) and Laberi.
The Laberi style (the most mountainous part of south-central Albania) usually has three or four different parts. The polyphony is based on a drone (iso), and together with iso three other soloists participate. The range is usually not wide (within a fifth, sometimes reaching a seventh), and sometimes there is a very small space for clashing four parts within the fifth. Dissonances are quite common. The scale is mostly pentatonic. The songs are rhythmically and metrically quite strictly organized. The drone is mostly rhythmic, although it can be pedal as well.
The style Chameri (the border region with Greece) was particularly well researched by a group of German scholars (Stockmann, Fiedler, Stockmann). This style has quite a few differences from the Laberi style. Two leading melodies are sung against the background of a pedal drone. The melodies have quite a wide range (usually an octave). The mastery of the performers is mostly shown in the rich ornaments and glissandos in the lead melodies. Rhythmically and metrically the polyphony of Laberi and Chameri is also different. Chameri songs are mostly in rubato (free rhythm). This style consists almost exclusively of three-part polyphonic songs, although as the two leading melodies are often sung in a responsorial way, the real sound is often two-part:
Two other polyphonic styles (Myzeqe and Toskeri –Southwestern and Southeastern parts of Albania) are closer to the Chameri style. Myzeqe and Toskeri polyphony has some common traits with the polyphonic styles discussed above. The first is the type of polyphony – a drone (on “E”). Another common feature is the wide use of dissonances. Besides Myzeqe and Toskeri polyphony is also mostly three-part, and the top melodic lines are always sung by the soloists.
Two-part polyphony plays a more important part in the polyphony of Myzeqe than Toskeri. They are mostly performed by women in the following way: the first part is sung by a woman soloist, and then the group responds. The responding group usually consists of ano t) is particularly important, as it may follow eri and La older m n often sing in a more subdued, dignified manner” (Sugarman, 2000:991). ontemporary Europeanized styles of polyphony, mostly based on two-part polyphony, where the parts move in parallel thirds and sixths, are particularly popular in southern Albanian cities. ther soloist and a group (drone) (Ahmedaja, 2005). Ahmedaja differentiates the polyphonic types of Myzeqe and Toskeri according to the relationship between the top parts. The role of the second soloist (second top par the first soloist, or may gain independence. In some rare types of songs every part (drone and the leading melodies) are performed by groups of women in unison. Three-part songs constitute the main part of women’s singing as well. In contrast to the Cham beri songs, in the three-part songs of Myzeqe and Toskeri the two top parts often move in parallel thirds. The term iso is widely used for the drone part throughout Albania, but there are more local terms as well (for example, “mbajne kaba” – “they hold kaba” among Myzeqe and Toskeri).
Sugarman notes interesting differences between the singing styles of Albanian men and women (Sugarman, 1997). The men’s songs are more energetic, rhythmically free and more ornamented. Women’s singing is more subdued, rhythmically more strictly organized, and less ornamented. Interestingly, as they age, their behavior changes: “as women age, better singers may adopt virtuosi features of the men’s repertoire, whereas older m n often sing in a more subdued, dignified manner” (Sugarman, 2000:991).
Contemporary Europeanized styles of polyphony, mostly based on two-part polyphony, where the parts move in parallel thirds and sixths, are particularly popular in southern Albanian cities.

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