Argentina has Tango, Portugal has Fado, China has the Beijing Opera, and Austria has Viennese coffeehouse tradition recognized by UNESCO on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Switzerland announced last month that it wants the international body to give yodelling protective status as well.
Yodelling started as a way of communicating from mountain to mountain, eventually developing into song by the 19th century. Today the yodel song is usually sung in two-, three- or four-part harmony accompanied by an accordion (Schwyzerörgeli). Each year, yodellers compete in regional and cantonal yodelling festivals. A national festival—with over 200,000 attendees—is held every three years.
The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was approved in 2003 by the member states of UNESCO and went into effect in 2006. It aims to protect and promote intangible aspects of culture such as music, culinary traditions, and festivals, and is seen as a counterpart to the better-known UNESCO World Heritage List.
Switzerland was late in ratifying the Convention, doing so only in 2008, but is now eager to promote various aspects of Swiss culture. According to Agence France Presse, the Swiss plan to submit a dozen traditions to UNESCO in 2015, including not only yodelling, but also watch making, graphic and typographic design (think Helvetica font), the Alpine livestock season, Easter processions in the town of Mendrisio, and the Fête des Vignerons (the Winemakers’ festival) in Vevey, held every 20 years.
Want to learn more about yodelling in Suisse Romande? Check out the website of l’association romande des yodleurs ARY (available only in French and German)
Edna Ayme is a writer and corporate communications specialist living in Geneva