Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity

February 29th, 2012 § 1 comment


Have you ever heard of such a thing? I certainly hadn’t, until I bought “Polyphonic Voices of Georgia” by the Anchiskhati Choir, which was released by the World Audio Foundation (a division of Soul Jazz Records) in 2009. I like music like this – during a visit to Greece in 2006 I was struck by the church singing of the Orthodox Church, which I first heard on a broadcast on TV in a hotel in Athens. I cannot claim to know a lot about it, but it seemed like a service was being led by one minister/priest who was singing from what I guess was the bible, while around 4 men sung different melodies and words at the same time. Later during that trip I heard the same thing coming from a tiny church on the island of Spetses.

Anyway, the blurb with this CD explained how Georgian polyphonic singing had been proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Oral and Intangible Masterpieces of Humanity. Wow! I should know about these masterpieces of humanity! So I looked it all up and ended up on the UNESCO website for Intangible Heritage. From what I can gather, since 2001 various conventions have been signed to recognise these cultural contributions by countries across the world to the general heritage of humanity. Some are called masterpieces, some aren’t. There is a list here of all the additions to the list/s (List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding/Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) since 2008. There are some wonderful things on these lists, each with a bit of info and a wee video. Incidentally, there is very little from western Europe, though I wonder if that is because our cultural heritage is in what is deemed to be a healthier state than other parts of the world (France try to protect their diet, the Belgians try to protect street games – “Ludodiversity” – nothing in the UK). Here are some of things I have seen and enjoyed since learning of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity:

1. SAMAN DANCE OF INDONESIA

This is a form of dancing and singing practiced by men and women generally from the Aceh province of Sumatra, Indonesia. People sit on their knees in a row and sing, dance, play their bodies as percussion in unison – its brilliant, and is done by young children as you can see in the UNESCO video.


2. TSIATTITSA POETIC DUELLING OF CYPRUS

I am sure you have seen ‘Slams’ of poetry/rappers in the past, probably that one of the English teacher and his ‘pupil’. Well it seems Cypriot’s have been doing something similar for years, musically accompanied poetic slagging matches. Check out the big lad with the stick and the tash…

3. BECARAC SINGING FROM EASTERN CROATIA

A lead singing “batchelor” followed by 2 or 3 part backing, who sings baudy songs of singledom with a cheeky look in his eye. Women do the same. Great stuff.

4. THE Kırkpınar OIL WRESTLING FESTIVAL OF EDIRNE, TURKEY

Introduced by a pageant of drums and flags, following the carrying of a golden belt into the city of Edirne, men get oiled up and wrestle in fields.

5. SUTARTINES MULTI-PART SINGING OF LITHUANIA

Multi-part singing, a bit like weaving songs – mostly only oldster’s singing it now – some nice wooden horns. The young women dancing in the woods sounds great.

6. THE RADIF OF IRANIAN MUSIC

Don’t believe everything you are told about Iran – here is some incredible music, more than 250 melodic units, called gushe, are arranged into cycles, with an underlying modal layer providing the backdrop against which a variety of melodic motifs are set – all of which is related to the days, weeks and months of the year.

7. KATTA ASHULA – “BIG SONG” OF UZBEKISTAN

Men sing while waving plates in front of their mouths, which seems to create a kind of vibrato effect.

8. SETO LEELO – POLYPHONIC SINGING FROM ESTONIA

Women singing in the woods again, sounds a bit like its backwards. Most choirs are composed wholly of women, and the most notable lead singer is crowned on Seto Kingdom Day as the King’s ‘Mother of Song’.

9. THE DUDUK & ITS MUSIC – ARMENIA

The duduk is a kind of clarinet thing, with a wooden sound, which is very pleasing and is made from an apricot tree. I heard quite a lot of music like this in the films of Sergei Parajanov. It’s quite a mournful sound and causes the player’s cheeks to inflate to ridiculous lengths.

10. GEORGIAN POLYPHONIC SINGING

And here is the music that led me to all these things…

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