The most well-known style of traditional music in Malta is called Ghana. No, not like the African country. It’s actually written with a horizontal line through the top half of the H. And the ‘Gh’ is silent, so it’s pronounced “AH-nuh.” Now that you’ve thoroughly wrapped your head around the word itself, what is it?
Well, there’s two types: formal and informal. Both types are essentially the singing of rhyming verses. But let’s start with formal ghana where there are three sub-categories. Bormliza, named after the city of Bormla where it was popular, is characterized by male singers singing as high as they can in a soprano register without breaking into falsetto. It’s seldom practiced now. Ghana tal-Fatt is a more of a ballad: recounting stories, folktales, or legends. It can either be sad or humorous. Spiritu pront is a style originating from informal song duels. In these duels, the singer has to know a wide range of socio-political topics as well a keen command of the Maltese language. The singers in these duels, which last about an hour, must respond in a rhyming poetic style, and the singers are accompanied by three guitarists.
Informal ghana uses both men and women performers and often utilized day-to-day scenarios, such as peasant life and farming. This informal style of music was a form of gossip among women as they did their housework, but it was also just a way to pass the time while working. This style of singing and housework went hand-in-hand.
The cuqlajta is a percussion instrument. It’s closely related to a ratchet or clapper. Another instrument is known as the ilqarn, which is essentially made of a horn. These horns had a variety of functions. The bedbut, zummara, and the flejguta are types of flutes or wooden whistles. They also played the tanbur, a type of tambourine, and the iz-zaqq, a type of bagpipe played here made from the skins of animals.
Outside of various functions, the Maltese make quite a big to-do over the carnival festival. Introduced by the Italians during the 1500s, carnival quickly made its way as one of the most important holidays in Malta. Typically, the festivities last during the week before Ash Wednesday and include late-night parties, masked balls, parades with elaborate floats, marching bands, competitions in a variety of categories (fancy dress, grotesque masks, music, etc.), people dressing in costumes, and a number of other events. It’s also a time for music and dance. One dance that is danced during this time is the parata. The parata is based on a light-hearted war reenactment of when the Knights were victorious over the Turks in 1565. A court dance known as the il-Maltija is also performed during carnival time.
As small as the country is, there have been quite a few musicians to come from Malta. Not to mention the number of Eurovision Song Contest winners and high-ranking participants from Malta. I came across a lot of Maltese musicians on Spotify. They have quite a few indie rock bands, like Beangrowers, Chasing Pandora, and Stalko.
Rock and alternative rocks I listened to include Bitterside, Insurgence, NoSnow/NoAlps, Red Electrick, and Winter Moods.
I even found a couple of metal bands. Abysmal Torment and Beheaded were both the type of metal bands that are really intense with a lot of screaming.
I came across several pop and dance/electronica artists such as Fabrizio Faniello (more of a pop singer), Jo Micali, Miss Roberta, and Tenishia.
There were several musicians I came across that didn’t really fall into one of the categories above. Some of them played more of a traditional sound like Kantilena and ManuTapu. Renzo Spiteri makes music based on pitched percussion instruments; some of it almost sounds gong-like. He utilizes other instruments as well, like flutes, but it almost gives it an East Asian or Southeast Asian sound, like something you might hear in a Buddhist temple or something at times. It was very relaxing. Although Roger Scannura was born in Malta, he has studied, performed, and recorded Spanish flamenco guitar since the early 1990s. He has a song called “Marissa” which is my daughter’s name (minus one S).
Up next: the food