Męski Zespół Polifoniczny Argjiro powstał w Gjirokaster, mieście na południu Albanii. Założyciele – bracia Kastriot i Landi Çenko – dali o sobie znać na początku lat 1980, kiedy tworzyli trzon „Grupi i të Rinjve” (Grupy Młodych) – zespołu wyróżnionego pierwszą nagrodą na Narodowym Festiwalu Folklorystycznym w 1983 r. Koncertowali w wielu krajach Europy. Oprócz nagrań dokonanych w kraju, powstała również kompilacja ich pieśni, wydana we Francji w ramach Światowego Dziedzictwa Muzycznego. ARGJIRO kontynuuje najlepsze tradycje wcześniejszego zespołu. Zachowując trzon starego składu, ten zespół jest uważany przez specjalistów za jeden z najlepszych w Albanii. Do repertuaru pieśniarzy wchodzą przede wszystkim pieśni z tradycji śpiewu w Gjirokaster, które cechują się długim monomotywem oraz płynną melodycznością, ponadto w ich repertuarze znajdują się pieśni wywodzące się z innych lokalnych tradycji śpiewu polifonicznego w Albanii.
Albański śpiew polifoniczny można włączyć do całej tradycji śpiewu w basenie Morza Śródziemnego (Grecja, Sardynia, Korsyka). Jednak w tym przypadku wielogłosowość pojawia się na kilku poziomach głosowych, a sami pieśniarze oceniają wartość śpiewu zarówno poprzez jakość każdego z nich, jak i umiejętność ich przeplatania. Bazę tonową tworzy tzw. iso, czyli głos podstawowy (burdon) tworzony wspólnie przez większość pieśniarzy. Śpiew jednak tworzą trzy głosy: pierwszy (marrësi), drugi (pritësi) i trzeci (hedhësi). Jeśli głos podstawowy stanowi kanwę pieśni, to właśnie kombinacja tych ostatnich decyduje o jej melodiczności i natężeniu emocjonalnym. Ten sposób śpiewania jest rozpowszechniony na południu Albanii, przede wszystkim w regionie Labërii (stąd nazwa po albańsku: labçe), Gjirokaster, ale także w regionie Korçy. Zdarza się często, że pierwszy głos to kobieta, dzieje się tak szczególnie w pieśniach lirycznych, miłosnych lub w lamentach. Natomiast pieśni epickie na ogół są śpiewane przez mężczyzn. (gardzienice.art)
The Vocal Group from Gjirokastër stands apart from many other groups of the region, both in its high work standards and in its deep consciousness of belonging to Lab culture. Thus, while performing in Albanian and foreign festivals, this group continues to perpetuate traditional practices in a community context.
The group came together spontaneously in 1978, when a small group of friends decided to followed the trail already blazed by their parents and meet regularly to sing. Within two years, the final form of the group had been constituted: eight singers, comprising four soloists and a choir.
The celebrations to which these singers are generally invited include baptisms, engagement parties and weddings (funerals are accompanied only by the lamentations of the women).
When a baby is born, the parents invite everyone to a party at which time the child is given his name. There is a large dinner for relatives and friends. Seated on rugs on the floor, surrounded by dishes of meat and vegetables, jugs of yogurt, baskets of fruit and bottles of raki, the singers mingle with theother guests in a very casual atmosphere. Between conversation, toasts (gezua!) and the usual jokes, the singers start up a song and the others join in. The repertory is broad, but evidently songs of birth dominate, along with songs of praise and good wishes (band 8).
Engagements are also an occasion for a large feast organized by the parents of the young woman. The fiances sit against one of the walls of the room, saying practically nothing, and the singers start off the performance.
Weddings normally last four days. They begin on the Thursday, with pastry day. In both families, the women get together to knead and roll out the pastry which will be used to make the large savory pies eaten at the wedding feast. As they work, they sing; the men get together in the meantime in another room and invite the singers to join them. They take part in the wedding meal on Saturday in the bride's home, to which the members of the two families are invited. On Sunday, the feast unites the same persons, with one addition: the bride herself, in the bridegroom's home. On this occasion there are love songs, songs of advice, satirical songs (bands 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 16).
And for each of these occasions, the singers receive no other remuneration than the meals to which they are invited.
National holidays and local festivities are the best opportunities for performing the songs which are epic-historic and patriotic. These holidays are organized by town halls, particularly for Independence Day (to commemorate 28 November, 1912) and to commemorate the liberation of Gjirokastër (18 September, 1944). On these occasions, the singers are paid by the local arts center; they perform for important members of the community and an invited political guest. They may also participate spontaneously in memorial ceremonies in honor of this or that martyr of the Ottomans or the Italian/German occupation. Vocal polyphony constitutes one of the expressions proper to the South of Albania; it is unknown in the North. These polyphonies are of two types, depending on whether they come from the Tosk country (Toskëri) or the Lab country (Labëri). In either case the song is performed in several voices harmonized over a drone which serves as a tonal basis.
Each Lab group consists of three or four soloists: the marrësi or taker, the kthyësi or answerer, and the hedhësi(s) or pitcher(s); these voices enter each stanza one after the other in this order.
The taker or marrësi starts the song. This singer is chosen for the relatively high tenor range and the resonance of his voice. The answerer or kthyësi responds. This voice, characterized by ornamentation in counterpoint, is either baritone or else sung in falsetto, in any event so as to contrast with the voice of the marrës.
The pitcher(s) or hedhësi(s) sing in the high pitch range; their voices are particularly taut and great physical effort is required to obtain the proper effect. A certain characteristic vibrato may be noted, especially in the songs of the Himarë style (a coastal region).
The soloists are sustained by a small four-part choir which performs the kaba, a drone which is rich in tone and skillfully vocalized (in the phonetic meaning of the word).
The execution is characterized by the contrast between the homogeneity of the group, due to the complicity among the singers, and the differences in the ranges of their voices. Enunciation is slow and very clear, making it possible to hear the particularities of each voice and the frequent dissonances which occur as voices meet.
The scale used is pentatonic anhemitonic (G-A-B-D-E), but it is not unusual for one of the singers to introduce an additional degree or for the pitch of some of the degrees to be slightly modified, introducing an effect, for instance, of a neutral third or a minor second. The range rarely exceeds one octave, and each voice, with the exception of the taker's, moves about within an interval of a fourth, a fifth at the most. As for the rhythm, it seems mostly to be dictated by the versification and the meter of the text, although sometimes the reverse is the case. Thus, for example, in Qaj me lot vasha jetimë (band 1), the word jetimë is broken between the last note of the taker (je-) and the first two of the group (timë). Thus one may note the frequent occurence of anapestic (˘ ˘ –) and especially iambic (˘ –) feet. Example: Zogë e Gjirokastrës Doc musical.
The songs are constructed on specific, wellknown melodic motifs which are few in number. Thus, the specific motif introduced by the taker will determine the response of the answerer and the way in which the pitchers and the drone are organized. The motifs are grouped together into different types according to the repertoires: epic, historic, or lyric – these latter divided into serious or humorous – and according to vocal styles.
On this recording, a distinction is made among four main styles, according to origin. The Gjirokastër style is considered to be calm, serious and wise, and their lyrics are particularly full of images. The Libovë style - from a small village opposite Gjirokastër - is more or less similar to the preceding, and famous for lyrical songs. The Vlora style, which is also the most fixed, does not allow for improvisation; this is also the most rhythmic style, with hard-sounding voice effects. The Vlora tradition gives the lion's share to heroic songs, and during the Communist period, these texts were widely politicized; one notable exception is the marvelous song Janines ç’i panë sytë sung in five parts in a style marked with great sweetness so that the drone, being lightened, does not overpower the solo voices. The Himarë style, from a mountainous town located on the coast to the south of Vlora i marked by taut, high-pitched voices, "due to the altitude, the singers live closer to the heavens". A similar style may be found at Laparda, a small village close to Himarë and as yet inaccessible by car. (Pierre Bois)