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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tea for Two

The series of music podcasts I started last week continues with a second episode. Creating these podcasts is a very pleasant experience for me. I'm beginning to sense that my joy is shared by listeners too. The RSS feed circulation is still quite low, however, I'd rather have a small appreciative audience than a mindless mass of listeners.

The second show
starts with the title track from Dance Dance Baby by the Beangrowers who are currently on tour in central Europe. They were here in the UK earlier this week and now have moved on to Switzerland. Over the next two or three weeks they'll also play in Germany, Belgium and Austria. It seems that the Beanies are doing quite well on the gig circuit. Their years of hard work are clearly paying off. The Beangrowers never stuck me as a band in search of super-stardom, yet they are possibly Malta's most successful band in terms of overseas performances and record sales.

The one Maltese rock musician who has certainly achieved the most personal success is Marc Storace. Before becoming a metal demi-god as the lead singer in Krokus, Marc sang with another Swiss prog rock outfit called Tea. To mark the Beangrowers gig in Switzerland today I decided to include Tea's Cool in the Morning as the second track in my second music podcast. Krokus are back on the road with Marc now and after a recent trip to New York and Moscow, they're now heading to Stockholm next weekend.

The power of the Internet to change the way we listen to music, new and old, is truly amazing. I say this not only with regards to the potential I believe it has for music from Malta, but also beyond that, of course. One non-Maltese act that has caught my attention through the Internet is the duo Nizlopi. Hip-hop folk is a term that's thrown around to describe the music by these two British guys. Still, it's the sort of thing you really need to hear to appreciate. They may even hit the mainstream UK charts this Christmas. Meanwhile, if you like what you hear from them on my podcast you should really check out their video for JCB, the song they're unleashing for the upcoming season of cheer when the world economy marks the birth of Jesus.

To keep it fresh and current, this week's podcast includes a nod towards the CHOGM. I was seriously tempted to play Freddie Portelli's Viva Malta, even though the version I have is not as magical as the original from The Malta Bums. Instead I chose to play Malta by Xtruppaw as the closing song for this week. What can I say that I haven't already said about Xtruppaw? I'm a great fan of this new band. I was tickled pink when Noel, the band's singer, emailed to tell me that they're planning to record their debut album in early 2006. To put it mildly, I'm really looking forward to that!

Thanks for the comments about last week's podcast, to those who sent them in. Please keep them coming either directly on the blog or through my website. I will try to find some of the stuff you ask for, if at all possible. I will also continue to make it my mission to delight you with little gems and rarities that perhaps you wouldn't hear by other means. I already have a couple of amazing recordings lined up for next week.

The RSS feed for the podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Welcome to the Jungle

I could have posted an entry about the weather today, just like Athena did. The first day of snow in England this season. I was also very tempted to post nothing and continue paying tribute to my dear departed friend Antoine Camilleri.

Instead, I'd like to invite everyone in the Maltese blogosphere to give a nice warm welcome to Martin Debattista who has finally taken the plunge and started blogging.

As some readers of this blog already know, Martin is MaltaMedia's editorial director. Our network of websites has continued to grow over the past 7 years because of his loyal dedication to the vision we shared when we first started working together back in 1998. His personal blog is a work-in-progress, so for now he has chosen to run it outside MMON. However, Robert Micallef managed to rope him into a guest blogging spot on Wired Temples this weekend. I must confess that I played a part in this maneuver.

Martin started the weekend by blogging about the CHOGM. It appears that he was seriously tempted to overlook this over-rated topic, just as the UK media has, to a large degree. (Thanks for keeping your eye on this David.) What difference does it really make that all those politicians have gotten together with Queen Elizabeth II in Malta for a few days? Doesn't it say it all that most people in the UK have never even heard of the CHOGM, nevermind know that it's happening in Malta right now?

Live 8 will not be remembered for helping to make poverty history but for giving the world a Waters-Gilmour Pink Floyd reunion after 25 years. At best, the 2005 CHOGM will be remembered as that time something happened in Malta to overshadow the passing of the leading Maltese artist of the 20th century but not Britain's foremost footballer.

Working on the second podcast in the new music series will help me shake off the ghosts. Meanwhile I look forward to more of Martin's blogging as I walk around my apartment yelling "iċ-ċogim...iċ-ċogim!" at the top of my voice like a deranged mourner. And this too shall pass.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

As promised, a couple of video clips from the TV series Bricolage (1998) featuring my on-screen meeting with my friend Antoine Camillieri. The first one is a visit to his studio. The other is a chat over lunch by the sea at Haywarf in Floriana.

Get QuickTime You need to have the QuickTime plug-in installed on your computer to view these video clips.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Purple Haze

I just heard that my friend Antoine Camilleri has died. This is a sad day indeed. I can't write more now, but I will later. Antoine was a very special person. He will be missed very much. May he rest in peace.


[later]: My parents will be attending Antoine's funeral on Thursday afternoon. The best I can do is use this blog to convey my sympathy with his family. While I was quite close to Antoine when I lived in Malta, I only knew some of his children and family members casually. Some of them may come to read this blog, so at least this may serve as a way to communicate with them.

I last saw Antoine in March, during my most recent visit to Malta, just a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday. I had not seen him since 2000. We visited him at the St Vincent de Paule Hospital and Residential Home for the Elderly, where he had been living for a while since our previous encounter. He was not miserable. Antoine always made the best out of any given situation. However, he was not pleased to be surrounded by geriatric maladies and death. He tried to paint in the makeshift studio he managed to have fixed up for him in the ward where he was residing. Still, he confessed to me that he felt uninspired to create new works. It wasn't that he didn't have anything else to say or show but rather that the surroundings and the lifestyle at St Vincent de Paule's did not move him towards creativity. The wild horse in him had been tamed by the ravages of other people's old age and the way Maltese society deals with old people. I cried my eyes out when we left him that day. I knew I would probably never see him alive again, even though he seem far from his death bed.

Antoine hated the cold and damp winter of Malta. He complained of an almost-constant runny nose from November to February. I find great solace in thinking that he check-out right before the onset of another wintry season.

Besides a plentiful supply of memories (both happy and sad) I have many artifacts to help me remember my dear old friend. First and foremost my small collection of works by this great Maltese artist. Some were gifts from him. Others I bought, when I managed to overpower his insistence to "just take it" or "it's yours...just say you paid X for it, but I don't want any money from you." I even (stupidly?) turned down a lithograph of St Francis of Assisi he wanted to give me, simply because he would not let me pay him anything for it, not even the lunch we had later that day. He was so much more than a friend to me.

Luckily, I managed to capture our friendship on tape twice; once on audiotape in a lengthy interview I conduced at his studio in Zachary Street in Valletta in 1993, the other on videotape for my TV series Bricolage in 1998. I plan to digitize one of these two tapes now and upload it here as a tribute to my good friend Antoine.

I'm sure we'll meet again in that heaven for wild horses you once told me about.

Antoine Camilleri in 2005

Antoine Camilleri appears here with me and Mary Ann Caruana in March 2005.
She is the model in one of his paintings from 1984, which hangs in my bedroom.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Do It Again

As promised, I'm back with another series of podcasts. This is the very first series of Maltese music podcasts. While Archibald and others bemoan the state of live shows from visiting artists in Malta, the local scene continues to produce interesting works. Many of these works go almost unnoticed by the mainstream or enjoy a very limited underground cult status for many years.

Most, if not all, radio stations in Malta fail to see how interesting Maltese music can be and instead play the most run-of-the-mill pop trash, if/when they play any Maltese music at all. My new podcasting series attempts to address this by bringing anyone who cares to listen a weekly look at some of the most interesting music from and/or by Maltese musicians. The series is called Mużika Mod Ieħor, which can either be translated as A Different Kind of Music or as Music by Other Means.

The first show opens with the music of a band I consider to be the most exciting thing on the current local gig scene. The boys in Xtruppaw have a special vibe around them and they make me feel the same sort of warmth I felt for bands like The Rifffs and The Subverts many years ago. Their raw music coupled with Maltese lyrics is very energizing and leaves me wanting more. Thankfully, they have a great website too. If you've never heard Xtruppaw and like unpretentious Maltese rock then you'll love Xtruppaw. They are simply fantastic.

Although my plan for this series is to present as much of the music from Malta that's already on the Web, I will also include stuff from my personal CD and/or tape collection. One such CD appears on this first podcast. It's Jason Fabri's lavishly produced From Where I Live by the Jason Paul Band, featuring Jes Psaila on guitar and Bernard Scerri on acoustic bass. To my knowlege, this CD from 2002 remains the only one ever released on Chubby Records.

Just a few days ago Ira Losco launched her second CD, Accident Prone, sponsored by Vodafone. No, I have not included a track from that in this podcast. I bring up Ira's CD because her new band has Adam Bonello on guitar. Adam played with The Characters for a while in the 90s and then moved down under. Most recently he lived and worked in New Zealand where, among other things, he produce and co-wrote a top 10 hit called Wonderful. You can hear that on this podcast.

Websites by Maltese musicians are plentiful. Just have a look at the large number of sites linked from the music section. Among the ones I was very happy to discover is that from Vince Fabri. Vince has become a household name since he started appearing weekly on Xarabank. His work on that TV programme is perhaps one of the better things about it. Still, no enough people know about the beautiful songs he wrote around 1990 with the poetry of Oliver Friggieri entitled Mal-Fanal Hemm Ħarstek Tixgħel. This podcasts comes to a close with the first track from that album, Poeta, featuring the voice of Phyllis Anne Brincat and the best use of a harmonica (played by Paul Camilleri) I've ever heard on a Maltese recording.

The plan is to have the next podcast in this series appear sometime next weekend. If all goes well, I'll continue to produce these podcasts regularly into the foreseeable future. Any musicians who have a website that's not listed on should submit their site by using the online form because that will enable us all to discover music from Malta by other means than the traditional media, which seem uninterested in championing the best of Maltese music beyond the obvious.

The RSS feed for the podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Walk On the Wild Side

The following open letter from film-maker Michael Moore to George W. Bush reach my email inbox yesterday. I opened it today, and now I'm sharing it with you. While I don't feel there's a need to comment further, please feel free to comment below.


Dear Mr. Bush:

I would like to extend my hand and invite you to join us, the mainstream American majority. We, the people -- that's the majority of the people -- share these majority opinions:

1. Going to war was a mistake -- a big mistake. (link)

2. You and your administration misled us into this war. (link)

3. We want the war ended and our troops brought home. (link)

4. We don't trust you. (link)

Now, I know this is a bitter pill to swallow. Iraq was going to be your great legacy. Now, it's just your legacy. It didn't have to end up this way.

This week, when Republicans and conservative Democrats started jumping ship, you lashed out at them. You thought the most damning thing you could say to them was that they were "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party." I mean, is that the best you can do to persuade them to stick with you -- compare them to me? You gotta come up with a better villain. For heaven's sakes, you had a hundred-plus million other Americans who think the same way I do -- and you could have picked on any one of them!

But hey, why not cut out the name-calling and the smearing and just do the obvious thing: Come join the majority! Be one of us, your fellow Americans! Is it really that hard? Is there really any other choice? George, take a walk on the wild side!

Your loyal representative from the majority,

Michael Moore

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We are the champions

I have a feeling that Pierre J. Mejlak is suffering from a serious hang over this morning. He was at the 15th Annual Malta Journalism Awards ceremony last night, where he won the e-journalism category. I blogged about the awards at Wired Temples yesterday morning (that was my final entry in this round of guest blogging)...and predicted Pierre's win. He deserves it.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Jacques has already blogged about how The Times is gloating about winning 6 awards. Should MaltaMedia feel elated that it had all the final nominations in the e-journalism category? Jacques is right about competition.

Here's a picture of Pierre (left) at the glorious moment during yestsday evening's ceremony in Hamrun.

Pierre J. Mejlak receives the Malta Journalism Award for Best E-Journalism in 2004

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Voice

I'm working on a new series of podcasts. My plan was to release the first episode of the new series this weekend, but I lost my voice yesterday and I sound terrible today. So the new podcast will probably appear by Monday.

It's been a while since I last lost my voice. Back when I worked as a professional radio presenter I lost my voice regularly, usually about a month before the Christmas season, as the weather started to change. One year, probably 1989, I continued to broadcast even without the decent-sounding voice. This was mostly possible thanks to the fact that I co-hosted most of my shows with Ray Bajada at that time. I have a cassette recording from that time and I sound terrible! I wonder why no one told me to go drink some warm honey and sleep it off for a couple of days? Or maybe they did and I just don't remember. Yes, those were the bad old days.

I do remember that in June 1991 my voice was so badly shot from a summer cold that I had to ask Charles Caruana to replace me half way through my radio series marking Cole Porter's 100th birthday. That series was a follow-up on others I'd done about George Gershwin, Jim Morrison and John Lennon. Do you see the connection between all these people? I certainly do.

My new series of podcasts is about music. Since I'm no DJ, and never really was, even when I played one on TV, don't expect me to play music just to fill up some free time.

More as soon as my voice comes back.

Friday, November 11, 2005

You've Got a Friend

Today, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I started guest blogging at Wired Temples. My first post is about marking one year since Mozilla's Firefox was launced, with a Maltese perspective of sorts thrown in for good measure.

While I use Firefox on my Apple PowerBook, and plan to switch to Firefox on my office PC very soon, I still use Netscape on my old PC at home. I've used Netscape since it first appeared about this time ten years ago. Microsoft's IE did not exist back then. The only other graphic web browser was called Mosaic. And while I liked Mosaic (which was eventually acquired by Microsoft to develop IE) it was clear right away that Netscape was a superior web browser. Through very controversial practices, Microsoft's IE has come to dominate the browser market, but Firefox is thankfully gathering momentum as an alternative browser in ways that Netscape never could after it was taken over by AOL.

Anyway, I just wanted to post a little note here to let you know that I'm guest blogging at Wired Temples until Monday. I don't know whether I'll post anything else here this weekend. Perhaps I should just make sure that my contributions on WT are different than the sort of thing I'd post on my own blog. So, we'll see how it goes.

I'm glad Robert invited me to be the first guest blogger on WT because I haven't posted as a guest on anyone's blog before today and I want to see what it's like. I must say that it felt different writing about Firefox for WT this morning. I know that if I were writing on my personal blog rather than on WT I'd very probably have written in a slightly different tone.

Tomorrow I plan to post about something I wouldn't care to write about on my blog...but I think it's perfect for WT.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Grow Old With Me

I've been a fan of Odin Teatret for about 15 years. This year they're celebrating their 40th year together as a company. Their UK tour for 2005 comes to an end today with another performance at Manchester Metropolitan University's Alsager Arts Centre, after stops in Brighton, Exeter, Bristol, and Lancaster.

Yesterday we took a group of students from our Theatre & Performance Studies students at the University of Hull's Scarborough Campus to watch Odin in performance. The trip from Scarborough to Alsager is about 3 hours each way. We've done this before, with a different group of students, and the trip is quite alright when planned well. It's a long trip, of course, but not too long...especially if you're going to see Odin Teatret.

The performance we saw is called Inside the Whale's Skeleton. It is billed as variation on Franz Kafka's parable Before the Law. The title refers to a verse from the Gospel according to Matthew: "Our evil and adulterous generation demands a sign. But no sign will be given to us, except for the sign of Jonas."
Inside the Whale's Skeleton
One sentence from the description in the tour brochure truly captures the essence of Inside the Whale's Skeleton. "This is a performance about the essence of rituality in theatre, that which remains when theatre has lost everything except the skeleton of the action: the underlying stories which guide the actors, the relationship between actors and spectators, the search for contact and silence in which each individual can capture a personal meaning."

The personal meaning I captured from watching this performance was of a theatre troupe at its pinnacle, sharing their experiences and the aging process. When you've dedicated your entire adult life exploring theatre and performance away from the mainstream, as all the members of Odin Teatret have, that search becomes very evident in your work. If this performance is Odin's swan song (and I'm not saying that it is or that it should be) it's a very appropriate way to bring decades of work with Eugenio Barba, the company's founder and director, to full maturity.

The last time I saw Barba and Odin in person was about 5 years ago in New York. They were therr for their second visit to the city. During a talk Eugenio Barba gave to a small gathering at New York University's Department of Performance Studies, he explained that the main reason he had returned to New York with Odin was because he was urged to do so by Jerzy Grotowski. Visiting old friends in New York and sharing the change aging has brought on the company seemed to be among the purposes of that visit. Barba lamented about the quality of shows on Broadway he went to see, like Cats and Rent, as well as the use of electronic technology by the Wooster Group, the foremost NY-based performance group operating in the wake of Grotowski's residence in New York more than three decades ago.

The New York encounter was very present in my mind last night as I watched the performance. This was partly because I sat between two performers who spent all their formative years in New York. To my right I had Tim Miller, who is currently visiting us in Scarborough for a brief residence and some work with our third year students on autobiography in performance. On my left sat Nancy Reilly, formerly with the Wooster Group, who teaches at the Alsager Campus. A search for contact and silence was indeed what I experienced before, during, and immediately after the performance.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Brass in Pocket

Nigredo is guest hosting MaltaGirl's monthly carnival this month, and I think he's done quite a nice job of it. Check it out.

Meanwhile, it's been a very busy couple of days at the MaltaMedia Online Network. Like every other month since October 2000, every new month brings with it another issue of the newsletter. Malta Budget 2006Besides this, we also had the Malta Government's Budget to deal with this time around. Once again MMON has produced a comprehensive feature to mark what is possibly the most-followed parliamentary session in our country.

Of some interest to webbies like me is the video stream of yesterday's press conference by the Prime Minister that the Department of Information has made available online. Aside from the so-Azzjoni Kattolika expression that PM Gonzi uses far too often (i.e. jekk il-bambin irid) the most risible aspect of the video stream is Mark Sciberras' name embedded in the meta tags for the video file. I have no idea who Mark Sciberras is, but according to the DOI website he is the Senior Information Officer (Publishing Unit). His name may forever be enshrined as the encoder of the press conference video if the files are retained for posterity by the DOI. And why not? Why don't you tell me? Just post a comment, if you must.

Still, even more pathetic is the single-camera coverage of the press conference itself. In an age where high-quality digital video cameras cost so much less than TV cameras used until about 5 years ago, I just can't believe that the national broadcasting company doesn't use more than one camera to bring its viewers such high-profile events. Once again, I'm afraid its a case of bad old ways getting the better of Malta's public broadcasting service and/or simply another instance where the people running the service are just out of touch with ways and means in 21st century broadcasting.