Polyphonic Singing in Epirus

Polyphonic Singing in Epirus, one of the most significant examples in the repertoire of world polyphonic music, is a living tradition and an element of the cultural identity of the populations of the borderland region of Epirus and the Greek minority of Albania. It was developed in parallel with byzantine music, whereas it shares affinity with other forms of polyphony, such as the Albanian. Researchers have classified Polyphonic Singing in Epirus as being encompassed in the broader arc of regions in which polyphony is practiced that includes the Balkans, Caucasus, Northern Iran, Afghanistan, Northern India and Indonesia.

Polyphonic signing is marked by local variations in style and structure. A polyphonic group usually comprises five to seven singers that take on specific roles. The soloist is the partis (taker) who begins the song and coordinates the group by setting the rhythm and singing the melody and determines the relation with the other voices. The gyristis (turner) (or tsakistis: crimper or koftis: cutter) answers back the melody, which the partis sings, improvising, while the klostis (spinner) performs the songs developing a high voice. The klostis (spinner) and the gyristis (turner) do not sing together and the choice between the two is made depending on gender (women normally spin more often) as well as the style of the song. The isokrates (iso keepers) keep the ison (drone), thus saturating the song. A role that emerged during the 20th century and is not found in all regions is that of the richtis (dropper) who lowers the pitch of the partis at a specific point of the song by an interjection.
Depending on the region, homophonic, two-voice and polyphonic songs without drone, three-voice and four-voice songs and also songs accompanied by instruments are encountered. Their subjects may pertain to love, immigration, history, marriage, the carnival, children etc.
The power of the genre is associated with the directness of the expression, the plain character and the intensity of the performance. It has always been an indispensable element of the daily life of the inhabitants. It accompanied their occupations, their joint work in the fields and stock farming, the customs and landmark events in their lives. Over the last decades polyphonic songs are performed mainly in celebrations of the local communities, preserving their character as songs that relate to the cycle of traditional customs (festivals, marriages, christenings etc.).
The establishment of the local societies, the significance of the family, the role of the two genders in the various different stages in the development of the genre and also its value code relate to the structure of the groups, the allocation of roles, the collective discipline and self-regulation in the way the group interprets the songs. Its transmission from one generation to another was based on oral tradition, whereas nowadays, younger people are familiarized with it through cultural events, international meetings, music festivals, courses and music performances.
The first acoustic evidence in recording the genre dates back to 1928 already. Later, polyphonic groups of Ktismata village in Pogoni were recorded by Simon Karas and Domna Samiou. In 1993 the first courses at the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments Phoebus Anoyanakis were organized, whereas from 1996 onwards notable polyphonic groups emerged. In 1999 the International Polyphonic Song Festival was institutionalized and simultaneously the 1st International Meeting of Polyphonic Singing was held at Pogoni and Filiates. In 2003 the Archive of Polyphonic Song was founded, whereas the International Meetings have been renamed Polyphonic Caravan.
The dynamics which have characterized the genre over the last years underline the wealth and diversity of the ventures associated with Polyphonic Singing in Epirus, thereby denoting the collective expression of new communities.