Lost links & Re-ups

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Slinging tuneage like some fried or otherwise soused short-order cook

25 April 2013


Well, I don’t know about all of you, but this journey so far has been quite the learning experience for me. I’ve listened to musick that I’ve never heard before now, learned about the history & politics that aided or hindered the creation of musickal ideas. I had fun with the Valkenvanian April Fool’s & the Secret search beneath the Vatican (What did anyone expect? Unknown punk or death metal bands in the world’s smallest & most unilaterally religious country? C’mon.). Finally reached the last country in Europe. Nestled in the midst of the Middle Earth Sea, what a place to catch my breath before setting out on a safari into the Musick of Africa. Out of respect for this passage of discovery, I’ve decided to post up some Old Skool punk rawk & some ancient/modern traditional folk melodies here on the island of Malta.

Let us travel back to 1979. Like the true punk foremoshers from jolly old England, Erich il-Punk, the crust behind Abstrass, started out jamming with friends at his house. This lasted only long enough for all the neighbors to complain to the Marsa Police station boys about ‘noise pollution’. Then it was out on the streets for Erich.

Shortly Erich was crashing in the streets or at the fortress. He hung with the other punks at the time at their hangouts at the Valletta lazy corner, on the Triton Fountain, at the Imperial Cafe’, or at the squatted fortress of Tigne’ point in Sliema. Tigne’ Fortress had been used for storing torpedoes during the occupation of the British forces in Malta. Later on the Maltese government & some cultural association gave permission for local bands to take the huts & turn them into rehearsal rooms to form the Rokarja AST project. Every year most of the bands that rehearsed at Tigne’ participated in a three day Rock-A-Buzz Festival. At the time, Maltese punk was simply chaos & noise. So amongst the bands that rehearsed at Tigne’ Fortress, there were violent clashes with the skinheads & rockabillys, with the ‘Teds’ & the ‘New Romantics’.

Erich wanted what all good punks wanted at the time…he formed a band. As you can imagine, the scene in Malta was very primitive. There were only four punk bands at that time: Abstrass, The Unemployed, the Rifffs, & Davey Jones (who played ska & new wave punk). At that time there were only a handful of gigs happening.

Unfortunately, by the mid-80s apathy had taken over the still infant scene. The old veterans from the scene died, left the country, or went into hibernation. The punk scene nearly vanished. If not for Abstrass doing their occasional gig, the scene probably would have completely vanished. Performances at the Rock-A-Buzz Festival, Manoel Island, Rock Café, The Edge & the Rebel Riders Festival in 2002 maintained the Abstrass tradition of sporadic but keenly expected (not to mention well-attended) live performances, partly due to Eric’s particular vocal style & spur-of-the-moment onstage antics. Over the years Abstrass went through many line-up changes. By the summer of 1986, the line-up had firmed to a core trio consisting of Erich il-Punk – vocals, Ray il-Bahri – guitar & vocals, & Ray il-Hamiemu -drums with someone different on bass until 2001 when James in-Nemlu joined for good.

As it was, it took 25 years to release their only cd entitled Hard to Understand. Strangely enough for a crusty street punk band, Hard to Understand is a concept album.The tracks on the cd revolve around the world of an ordinary individual’s struggle to get through the day while trying to cope with all sorts of worries, ranging from social injustice, spiritual tension, & impending global issues. The cd went over really well with the local punks because Abstrass had mixed their 80s style with new tunes that still remained faithful to their old school punk rock style.

Abstrass – Hard to Understand, Reciprocal Records, 2005.
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Tracklist –

Hard to Understand
Wish I Never Be (Existed)
Under Pressure
The Bastards’ Lies
Going Underground
Murder in the Vatican
Malta’s Burning
Blair’s Bullshit
Make Love not War

Bonus tracks –
Generation Terrorist
World Downfall
(Bomb) Conclusion


Etnika is one of Malta’s leading modern folk bands, founded in 2000. The four founding members were composer Ruben Żahra, traditional instrument maker Ġużi Gatt, researcher Steve Borġ, & musician Andrew Alamango. The project’s roots started forming in 1999, when researcher Steve Borġ identified a collection of old Maltese songs at the library musical archives at King's College London. The melodies had been published by Welshman Edward Jones around 1807.

Borġ presented the material to Żahra & the others. They were intrigued with the idea of reviving these forgotten songs.

Composer Ruben Żahra had just returned to Malta after years of academic studies at the Conservatorio di Musica di Frosinone, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome & the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena.

Folklorist Ġużi Gatt at almost the same time was intrigued by an article he had discovered written in 1977 by two British students J.K. Partridge & Frank Jeal, entitled 'The Maltese Żaqq' which they published in The Galpin Society Journal. The article detailed the demise of the Maltese bagpipe, the żaqq. The article remains one of the most scholarly & informative works written about the instrument. The authors also noted that the Maltese people in general showed little interest in their own folk culture, with little or no interest in preserving its own native bagpipe. This fact deeply disturbed Gatt, a traditional instrument maker by trade. He sought out Toni Cachia Il-Ħammarun from Naxxar. Toni was one of Malta's remaining Maltese bagpipe builders & musicians. Well into his eighties at the time, he had been playing the traditional instrument since the late 1920s. Cachia agreed to help Gatt in his quest of saving the żaqq from extinction.

All these diverse developments converged to form Etnika, under Żahra’a musical guidance. They gave their first public concert during the Evenings on Campus Festival on August 29, 2000 at the Atriju Vassalli at the University of Malta. From this performance, their debut release Nafra came to life.

The album has eleven instrumental tracks, three of which were taken from the Edward Jones's publication of 1807 that Steve Borġ had discovered in London. Etnika focuses on the resurrection of Maltese traditional instruments & music. The idea is to use the ancient instruments together with that of other classical & modern instruments in order to create a new Maltese repertoire. The music portrays a unique synthesis between ethnic timbre & contemporary composition.

Among the instruments used are: żaqq (bagpipe); zummara (reed pipe);  flejguta (whistle flute); zafzafa (friction drum); & tanbur - (a drum). These are combined with flute, clarinet, violin, guitar, piano, accordion, tuba & percussion to create a totally new way of making Maltese music.

Nafra features Ruben Żahra on żaqq & other traditional instruments, Godfrey Mifsud on clarinet, Mario Frendo on violin, David Grech on guitar, Tricia Dawn Williams on piano, Jason Fabri on drums, & Joe Camilleri l-Bibi on percussion. Original compositions are by Ruben Żahra, using the traditional melodies as a starting point, but expanding them in the tradition of Piazzolla, Copeland, Ives, & Bregovic.

Etnika is an ongoing process, which is committed to the promotion & awareness of Malta’s music heritage. It is based on the hypothesis of an instrumental form of music, which was played in the past by roving musicians, on instruments indigenous to the islands. Central to this program is the faithful reconstruction of ethnic Maltese instruments & their projection onto a contemporary platform through performances. Most of their work now falls under the catch-all banner of Soundscapes, which includes: Nafra – a new band of Ruben Żahra’s that is the international performing arm of Soundscapes; Crossbreed – another band that blends traditional & contemporary musical styles, consisting of some members (like Tricia Dawn Williams) from the original Etnika 2000 show; & two projects, Icons & Pan – multimedia productions combining music, theater, dance, & video under the musical & artistic direction of Ruben Żahra. They are working diligently to preserve & revive a near-dying musical heritage.

Etnika – Nafra, self-produced, 2000.
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Tracklist –
Raghaj (rai)
Interludju II
L-Ghanja tal-Mewg
Interludju III
Hidden Track (Gheluq)

Adios Europa,

1 comment:

  1. Abstrass