The Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
Isokratisses and Christopher C. King
LocationASCSA, Cotsen Hall, 9 Anapiron Polemou, 106 76 Athens
Contact210-7210536 (ext. 301)
Isokratisses is a vocal ensemble of eight women who was formed officially in 2015 and carry on the ancient tradition of polyphonic songs from Epirus. The ensemble's name “the women who sing the iso (the drone)” comes from the musical term isokratema, the iso, which is the basis of polyphonic singing. The song begins with a soloist called the partis (taker), who presents the narrative and whose musical choices structure the performance. The turner (gyristis) sings responsively, commenting on and expanding the song, dipping to the subtonic and providing atmospherics and embellishments. The iso, the drone, serves as an anchor, as one or more singers weave the tonic (first note) or its octave through the song. A fourth role, the launcher (richtis), sometimes appears, rising the melody to unexpected heights.
Born and reared in the Greek-speaking villages around Deropoli and Politsani of the Greek minority in Albania, the women of Isokratisses were nurtured by this archaic music that passed down from generation to generation, listening to and singing songs with their family and friends since childhood. Their music reasserts the primacy of female voices in the southern Balkans while revitalizing the art. The polyphonic songs of Epirus are part of an ancient oral tradition, social music that has long been woven into the fabric of poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised communities of the area. Many of the songs are variations of mirologia – songs of fate, songs of mourning – that were once sung throughout the southern Balkans but have largely disappeared except for Epirus. Isokratisses (Anna Katsi, Artemis Isou, Sofia Isou, Panagiota Tseliki, Maria Gkika, Ilektra Kiera, Agathi Tzouti) have just returned from their successful tour of the United States including a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and a release of their first album entitled “Cry With Tears: Greek-Albanian Songs of Many Voices” with 13 songs on Jack White's Third Man Records label. They have also performed in Utrecht (2019), at the Polyphonic Song Festival at the Petra Theater in Athens (every year since 2016), at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation (2022), in Albania, etc.
Their friend, GRAMMY® Award-winning producer, musicologist, archivist, and author Christopher C. King (Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe's Oldest Surviving Folk Music) will present their music. At the Gennadius he will play 78s of polyphonic singing from the 1920s through the 1950s and describe the context of polyphonic singing in Epirus. This is a rare opportunity for fans of traditional music and the culture of Epirus to participate in such a musical celebration.
The presentation and discussion will be moderated by Andreas Zombanakis, President of the Board of Overseers of the Gennadius Library. [In English with simultaneous translation into Greek]
The songs are sung in Greek with translation of the lyrics on the screen. Free admission.