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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Always Coming Back to You

A couple of days ago I found out that Brooks McNamara, one the most influential and supportive professors I had during my graduate studies at NYU, has died. I was saddened not only by the fact that he had been sick and passed away, but also because it took me a couple of weeks to hear that he died just a few days after Augusto Boal.

Brooks retired about a year after I started working on my PhD, so I was unable to have him supervise my work, which eventually moved away considerably from what it would have been with him. However, I will always treasure how he taught me that there's great significance in giving due importance to alternative performance forms, particularly popular entertainments. He also made me appreciate amateur performances much better than I ever could ever have done without his guidance. The very first piece of academic writing I published (a book chapter I co-wrote with Vicki Ann Cremona about carnival and panto in Malta under British rule) started out as a paper for one of his classes.

In many ways, my current research interest in Maltese music owes a great deal to Brooks McNamara. I can feel his guiding hand in several of my decisions as I think through a way to bring together my academic work with my passion for Maltese music, amateur performances, hybrid forms of entertainment, and the plethora of scattered documents in the archive I long to create for future generations.

My weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast has become ground zero for all this, from my perspective. It is my notebook for the work that needs to be done to preserve and promote Maltese popular music. The 164th MMI podcast clearly demonstrates the broad spectrum of work that no radio station or record store in Malta really bothers to capture in any significant way.

Sasha Vella and Sam Hayman have released a number of new tracks on their website. Apparently a CD is in the works. I've had the great pleasure of playing their songs on previous MMI podcasts various other times. Sam even helped me out by pointing out a broken link on last week's show notes. You could say that my decision to play Nina as this week's opening song is simply a way to say thanks to Sam, or just another excuse to hear Sasha's lovely songs. Either way it's a win-win proposition.

Maltese-Australian singer Renee Cassar has finally released her debut album. If you follow the MMI podcasts regularly, you'll know that I've featured her songs on various previous editions. She is quite good and surprisingly makes for addictive listening. She has also produced a video for the song Dreary Day, which is one of the new songs on the album. I'm not sure why she's not well known in Malta yet. She produces exactly the kind of songs that Maltese radio stations like to play whenever they say they play Maltese music, without including any Maltese-language tracks on their playlists. Perhaps this album will finally get her the attention she deserves back on the rock.

I'm extremely pleased whenever a Maltese band that has been gigging for some time releases a recording. This is what happened a few days ago when the Retrophytes announced that they will be releasing their debut EP this summer. They're previewing a couple of tracks from this EP on their MySpace page. Virgin is the one I've selected to include on this week's podcast and it shows how and why the band keeps gathering a greater following with every live show they do. I have a feeling that they may be the next alternative Maltese band to go mainstream. If they do I'm sure more recordings will keep coming our way in the coming years. So it's all good.

Anyone living in Malta this weekend shouldn't miss this year's edition of the GħanaFest at the Argotti Gardens in Floriana. With tickets at just €2 it's almost as if there's no entrance fee. Festival coordinator Ruben Zahra has assembled an amazing programme featuring three consective evenings of traditional Maltese għana, contemporary Maltese folk, and various guest acts from around the Mediterranean. In marking this event on my podcast, I've included a track by his own band Nafra called Tlaqna.

The amazing Brikkuni will be playing at GħanaFest tomorrow at 8:45pm. I'm sure many of their fans will be heading out to the Argotti Gardens for this concert. In the process they will also be exposed to all sorts of other delights during the last day of this 3-day festival. Brikkuni's L-Eletti is a very appropriate way to close this week's podcast as we enter the final week of electoral campaigning ahead of next weekend's European Parliament and Local Council elections.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page or on MySpace. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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