Isokratisses

 (Greek for "women who sing the "iso" or "drone") is a vocal ensemble comprised of eight women who carry the ancient tradition of  polyphonic songs from Epirus: a region in northern Greece and southern Albania.  Born and reared in the Greek speaking villages around Deropoli and Politsani in Albania, the women of Isokratisses have sung these songs since childhood. The group ranges in age from 19 to 56 with some sisters in the group as well as an aunt. They were nurtured by this archaic music, listening and singing it with their family and friends. The songs were passed down from generation to generation. 

The group started its artistic activity in 2015, after the singer Anna Katsi took the initiative to encourage the younger members to perform regularly. The communal nature of polyphonic singing is a way of revitalizing an art that has declined in recent years and to reassert the primacy of female voices in the southern Balkans. Singing these songs builds an invisible bridge that connects the present with the past, the memories of childhood travel with the immediacy of daily life. 

The members of the group meet often in different places throughout Greece to celebrate this unique musical language. In 2019, they collaborated with Christopher King to perform at Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, Holland—their first performance together outside of the borders of Greece. In 2022 Third Man Records plans to issue a full album of their solo polyphonic songs, produced by Christopher King, the Director of the International Centre for Traditional Music in Epirus.

The polyphonic songs of Epirus are part of an ancient, oral tradition passed down from generation to generation in the mountains and villages of southern Albania and northern Greece. It is social music, woven into the fabric of poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised communities. Many of the songs are variations of mirologia (songs of fate, songs of morning) that used to be sung throughout the southern Balkans but have largely disappeared on an informal cultural level except for Epirus. Structurally, the songs are pentatonic (five notes with no semitones) and are composed of three or four distinct melodic voices that weave together in an organic yet unexpected way. The remaining members of the group provide the iso or “drone” that is the low tonic note of the melody.