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Thursday, December 29, 2005

See Saw

I originally planned to write my last blog entry for 2005 on the final day of the year, but I'm traveling between Friday and Saturday and I have a feeling I'll be quite jetlagged come New Year's Eve. So here it is.

I will always remember 2005 as the year I started podcasting. The fact that the term 'podcast' has been declared Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary validates my personal sense of accomplishment even more. 'Bird flu', 'sudoku', 'ICE' and 'rootkit' are among the runners-up for this year. Speaking a few weeks ago, Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, said that 'podcast' "was considered for inclusion last year [in 2004], but we found that not enough people were using it, or were even familiar with the concept." I believe that more Maltese people will catch up with podcasting in 2006.

Aside from this somewhat personal highlight (along with some other moments I'll get to in a minute), I have a feeling that I'll remember 2005 as a not-so-great year. The destruction caused by the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami, which left more than 230,000 people dead or missing, marked the early part of 2005. Furthermore, the hurricanes in the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast, as well as the earthquakes in Iran, Pakistan and India, made 2005 a year we all want to forget.

I'm not saying it was an uneventful year. I doubt that such a thing is actually possible. All I'm saying is that there weren't enough positive memorable aspects. Malta's ever-growing crisis with refugees and illegal immigrants became very evident in 2005. The suicide bomb attacks on the London transport system in July, which killed 52 people, spoiled any long-term jubilation that could be drawn from the Live 8 campaign. And that's just two of all sorts of other things I'd rather were different about the last 12 months.

The change in pontiff at the Vatican dominated the news in April. Such a turn of events always has a bitter sweet character. However, many argued that this time the sweetness was quite lacking. I suggested that we would only really know after some time. Several months have passed now and I'm still waiting for some sugar from the new pope. Perhaps I'm expecting too much or maybe I don't really care that much either way.

I've blogged about most of the things I just mentioned. 2005 was the first full calendar year for my blog. I was greatly flattered when a handful of friends decided to mark the first 12 months since I started blogging in 2004. One way to pay them back the compliment was to invite them to bring their own blogs to the MaltaMedia Online Network. Robert Micallef's Wired Temples and Pierre J. Mejlak's Blog (formerly known as Book and Beans) have now joined my blog on MMON. Just a few weeks ago, we added another one, called Real Virtuality, from Martin Debattisa. Something tells me that we'll continue this trend in 2006, especially if Wired Temples keeps attracting guest bloggers the way it has in recent months. It is also in this spirit that we have collected entries similar to this one on MaltaMedia's end of year review.

Last year I presented a partial, most subjective, list of blog entries from 2004 to mark the highs and lows in my year, as chronicled on my blog. I think I'll try to make that a personal tradition by doing the same thing this year too:


  • Patti Smith concert in Central Park
  • The day I met Ġużé Stagno [see also: his version]
  • Writing about things that no one else will
  • My favorite waste of time
  • hack/prank
  • No Direction Home
  • Mużika Mod Ieħor
  • Odin Teatret in the UK
  • Pierre J. Mejlak wins E-Journalism Award
  • Howard Stern quits terrestrial radio

    10 DOWNERS
  • Violent incidents at the Safi Detention Centre
  • Money is not enough for Tsunami victims...I told you so!
  • The true nature of the Internet according to Malta's church
  • The Wedding of the Year
  • Financial crisis at Id-Dar tal-Providenza
  • Do we really need this Constitutional Amendment?
  • Terrorism a la Maltija
  • The drugs don't work...or do they?
  • Anthony Gatt's Katrina story
  • Howard Stern quits terrestrial radio

  • Meeting the amazing Joshua Kinberg and Yury Gitman
  • Digital Communities conference in Naples and Benevento
  • My first trip up north to Newcastle
  • Visiting Malta after a four-year absence
  • Arthur Miller, Sister Fatima, Alfred Giglio, and Hunter S. Thompson a.k.a. Dr Gonzo.
  • My friends: Iċ-Choppy, Iz-Ziju Salv, and Antoine Camilleri.

    Many thanks for reading my blog and listening to my podcasts in 2005...I wish you a very happy new year!

  • Monday, December 26, 2005

    Gone (you can keep this suit of lights)

    At about this time of the year for the past 5 years, Mario Axiaq and I have been putting together a list obituaries for people known for their public life in Malta. It is an exercise that works hand in glove with Mario's project to chronicle Malta day by day and MaltaMedia's round-up of the year gone by.

    Here's the list for this year, so far:

    (Died: 23 January 2005)

    ALFRED BUHAGIAR, Tradeunionist
    (Died: 2 February 2005)

    JOE JAMES FARRUGIA, Entertainer
    (Died: 2 February 2005)

    TOMMY VANCE, DJ/Broadcaster
    (Died: 6 March 2005)


    (Died: 13 March 2005)

    (Died: 13 March 2005)

    LOUIS SAPIENZA, Entrepreneur
    (Died 26 May 2005)

    JOE FENECH, Politician
    (Died: 25 May 2005)

    JULIAN MANDUCA, Journalist/Environmentalist
    (Died: 17 May 2005)

    ALFRED GIGLIO, Press Photographer
    (Died: 23 May 2005)

    Mons. CARMELO XUEREB, Vicar-General
    (Died: 18 June 2005)

    DAVID CLUETT, Footballer
    (Died: 17 July 2005)

    MAURICE AGIUS, Tradeunionist
    (Died: 6 August 2005)

    PAWLU TANTI, Entertainer
    (Died: 9 August 2005)

    DOMINIC GRECH, Singer/musician
    (Died: 24 August 2005)

    RENO PORTELLI, Footballer
    (Died: 10 September 2005)

    HARRY EDWARDS, Footballer
    (Died: October 2005)

    SALVINU TELLUS, Broadcaster
    (Died: 14 October 2005)

    (Died: 23 November 2005)

    If you think there's anyone else we should include in this list, please contact me. We'd also appreciate any corrections to dates of birth/death as listed here, because we don't always get things 100% right.

    This blog has just been submitted to Blogarama

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Ninu Ninu tal-Milied

    Just finished sending off a bunch of Christmas e-cards but there's still a long list to go. Good thing there's also a set of New Year e-cards coming up from MaltaMedia because otherwise I'd probably end up sending late greetings for the festive season to some of the people I haven't sent a Christmas e-card to yet.

    Meanwhile, although my music podcasting series is on hiatus for the holidays, there's a two-part podcast of traditional għana with a Christmas theme, produced by Ġorġ Mifsud-Kirkop. This podcast is also available as a webcast through MaltaMedia's special page for Christmas.

    In case you're expecting an e-card from me and it doesn't reach you, please take this blog entry as my seasonal greetings to you: Il-Milied it-Tajjeb lil kulħadd!

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Purple Rain

    There aren't many days when I wish I was in Malta but I'd have loved to be in Malta today to attend a tribute to my good friend Antoine Camillieri.

    My father made it to the event at Robert Samut Hall in Floriana and sent me some pictures. I'm reproducing some of them along with this post.

    The tribute to Antoine was organised by the Education Ministry and recorded by Channel 22 for an as-yet-unknown broadcast date.

    Tribute to Antoine Camillier

    Photo caption: Fr Peter Serracino Inglott gave a eulogy at the tribute event for Antoine Camillier, followed by some fond words from Mrs Camillieri. Charles 'City' Gatt and Joe Debono played between speeches.

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    New York Minute

    My last podcast for 2005 appeared online a few hours ago. Since I'm now in New York again I thought it would be a fun idea to have a special edition of the podcast. So I've selected tracks that in some way or other have a link with New York. This week's podcast features four different styles of music and in some ways that's also indicative of the vast array of genres of music associated with this great city.

    New York 6pm is the title of the first piece I selected for this week's podcast. It comes from a recording made recently in Paris, France. A smooth-sounding fusion of cool jazz and hip-hop is an inaccurate way to describe the sound of the Julien Daïan Quintet featuring DJ Borz. The Maltese connection here comes in the form of Oliver Degabriele on double bass. Oliver writes a fascinating blog in Maltese too, and through it you can download several other tracks from the Julien Daïan Quintet. Not exactly Christmas music, but than again the festive season will be over soon enough.

    The first cover version I've ever played on this series of podcasts comes from The Boys. Their version of the Bee Gee's New York Mining Disaster is quite an interesting variation on the original. It has hints of the band's final days in the early 1970s before The Boys became Cinnamon Hades. Although there's a saccharine tinge to this song from The Boys (recorded during a brief comeback a couple of years ago) it easy to hear what the earliest rock bands in Malta sounded like some 35+ years ago.

    I could not produce a special New York podcast in this series and not feature Benna. This Maltese-American singer/songwriter is sadly not known as much as she should be in Malta. She has already released three CD albums and anyone who appreciates her style of music will soon become a fan. Not exactly music for the masses, but still quite pleasant and a must-hear for any fan of Maltese music.

    The final tune for this week's podcast comes from an act that has no connection with Malta other than the fact that I'm a fan. People who know me often asked me, "so what are you listening to these days?" One clear answer to this question in recent months is Queen V, at least in terms of the alternative New York scene. An official press release describes the sound of Queen V like this: "It's as if Joan Jett revamped her band, got a little more aggressive with her vocals, obtained an even tougher attitude and took a militant lyrical style from Pat Benatar. Mix that up with some funk, swish it around with some pure rock guitar licks and a dash of punchy drum tracks, and you have the first full-length album from New York-based rockers Queen V." And it's actually quite an accurate description.

    This special podcast from New York is the last one I'll be producing for 2005. The series will return in the first week of 2006. MaltaMedia will present a two-part Christmas podcast between now and then. An interesting recording of traditional għana produced by Ġorġ Mifsud Kirkop.

    The RSS feed for the podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the lastest episodes to your My Yahoo! page.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    The Last of the Famous International Playboys

    It's been very cold in New York this week. This morning, after a night of freezing rain, we woke up to the first nice day of the so-called festive season. A perfect day for what took place this morning: the last terrestrial radio broadcast of The Howard Stern Show.

    I must admit that although I've never been a great fan of Howard Stern, I still consider him and his posse to be one of the most culturally significant aspects of American radio in the last 20 years. Hearing the last couple of hours of his broadcast on K-Rock this morning, and then following the Yahoo! live webcast of his induction into the Sirius Satellite Radio family (by no less a controversial figure than Martha Stewart) at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, was quite a pleasant way to spend the rest of this morning.
    Howard Stern's gig at Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square
    Without Howard Stern, commercial radio in the USA is no longer interesting. His move to Sirius, however, does not make me want to get a satellite radio set. The business sense in Stern's move to Sirius is that such a popular entertainment figure can draw in a big enough audience to make satellite radio the next big thing in broadcasting. I'm skeptical. I believe that Stern will simply become a cult classic in a couple of years unless there's cross-media exposure with either the Internet or even something as conventional as his old show on E! The likelihood of things going in this direction is quite high, as can be seen from the recently launced Howard Nation Podcast.
    Howard Stern
    That Howard Stern has been driven off the terrestrial airwaves is an apparent victory for the Christian Right and others who are troubled by his brand of humor. Stern believes that the final triumph is towards free speech since his new show on Sirius will not be subject to the regulations that control terrestrial broadcasting. In any case, satellite radio is too much of a commercial venture to attract a new generation of listeners. The new generation is more interested in actively practicing free speech rather than passively receiving free speech.

    At the risk of reading back this post in a couple of years with egg all over my face, I'll get off my soap box now, but I'll stick to my skepticism about satellite radio, at least in the model adopted by Sirius.

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Let There Be Love

    I deliberately stayed as far away as possible from events marking the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. I find the commercial aspect of this rememberance quite distasteful. The man produced a body of work that will live on for centuries. That in itself is good enough for me, and I imagine it's good enough for many others too.

    The temptation to do a special Lennon podcast did creep into my head last week. However, I resisted and overcame the idea early on in favour of another podcast featuring songs that I don't believe anyone would think of playing in the sequence I do this week.

    Mind's Eye Dub opens this week's episode with Fire Dub, an unusual blend of reggae rhythms and mediterranean sensibility. David Magro's melodica makes for pleasant listening even for people who may not be die-hard reggae fans. Mind's Eye Dub has appeared as a live band several times over the last two decades, however, David's unflinching love for reggae and everything that goes with it come through very clearly in the studio recordings such as the one you can hear in this week's podcast.

    I'm frequently amazed at some of the recordings from Malta I find on the web. Some of these pieces come from a remarkable website from Reciprocal Records. This how I discovered Xtruppaw earlier this year and it is also how I found out about a number called Biljett ta' Suicida (Suicide Note) by something or someone called Anti--. There's very little to be learnt about Anti-- from the Reciprocal Records website or from the wider Internet. I'm quite eager to find out more and possibly hear other recordings. A second track available through the Reciprocal website is attached to a broken link. I hope someone contacts me with more about Anti-- soon.

    At the opposite end of this spectrum is Fr Karm Debattista mssp, who has just announced the release of his sixth album Issa Li Sibtek. Following up on themes he first explored in his debut CD album Fittixtek, Fr Karm explores a new musical style to deliver Christian worship through music. I first met Karm in the late 1970s when he was about 16 years old and ready to embark on the life that led him to priesthood within the Missionary Society of St Paul. I was just a schoolboy at St Paul's Missionary College, where we spent many hours playing music together, both religious and secular. I owe a lot of my enthusiasm for music in my teenage years to Karm, so it's fitting that I play the title track from his new album right before I play the first song I ever recorded in a relatively professional studio over twenty one years ago.

    In the spring of 1984 I was the singer in a band called Structure. The group had risen out of the ashes of Shaktonyx, another band that played at the Tigne fortress in the early 1980s. I joined Structure in the summer of 1983 and began writing lyrics for a number of song structures they had already put together in the weeks and months before they recruited me. Some of these chord progressions came from Polish guitarist Mike Bukowski, whose father had come to Malta with the rest of the family a few years earlier. Mike was a very striking looking fellow with fair skin and blond hair, who earned a living teaching guitar at Lucia's Music Shop in Valletta's Republic Street. He was a very intense person but he and I clicked quite well and we became such good friends that he even invited me to read the first lesson during his wedding at the underground chapel in Mensija.

    Structure of My Mind was one of two or three songs we wrote together. It was supposed to be Structure's first 45 rpm single, produced by Paul Abela, with Georgina and Doreen Galea on backing vocals. We made the recording at Smash Studios in Fgura through the co-ordination of band manager Vince Pisani, who managed to keep the band together for a few weeks after the recording was finished...but not long enough to have the record pressed. Mike and his new wife left for England and I fell-out with all the other members of the band, except for bassist Mike Harrison who joined me and Vince in creating Artwork, the band with which we achieved much more than I'd ever hoped for with Structure, even though they continued without us for a couple more years after 1984.

    There's much more I remember about Structure, as well as the bands I played/sang in before and after. I may write some more about all that in my blog in the coming months, when I play another track on which I sing and/or play. Then again perhaps I'll just save it for my autobiography because I honestly don't want the podcast to turn into a vehicle for my music projects from all those year ago.

    I'm off to New York next week. Podcast number 5 in this series will be published from there, and I'm planning to have a New York theme run through it. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed putting it together...if not, just let me know and I'll gently shower you with more cliches.

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

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    The Beat Goes On

    Is it just me or has the Maltese blogosphere calmed down over the past few days? It's been exactly one week since I posted anything on my blog. Other Maltese bloggers continue to blog fairly regularly, of course, but somehow I don't get that sense of electricity-in-the-air I've come to associate with blogging. Perhaps it's just the lull before the next storm.

    In any case, my series of music podcasts continues with a third installment. I am particularly pleased that this week's podcast marks a significant technological milestone for me: I have finally managed to digitize music from an old cassette tape. I have dozens of tapes I want to digitize now, and some of the material on them is quite rare.

    This week's podcast opens with music from a relatively new Maltese band called Fire. Fronted by singer Kenneth Calleja, this band plays the sort of classic rock you hear on FM radio, whenever they play that genre of music. The main reason I chose to play a track by Fire is simply as a way to introduce the first song I've managed to dub from one of the cassettes I mentioned earlier. Robert Longo is one of two guitarists in Fire, who along with Fire drummer Lawrence was in a band called Mirage back in the 1980s. The other is Joe Vella, better known as Il-Pejxa, formerly with the 80s local metal band Stratkast.

    Back in the days when Il-Pejxa was bending strings for Stratkast, Robert was, among other things, experimenting with recording technology at a garage in Gwardamangia. In 1987 he produced Mirage's second album entitled Garage Technology; the first was a little gem called For Absent Friends. The song featured in this week's podcast comes from Garage Technology. It's called Ship to Nowhere. The song was co-written by Robert with Mirage keyboardist Dennis Vella and singer Mario Ellul.

    Mario was still an underground singer in the mid-80s. He was quite well known in the rock music and theatre circles, mostly through his work with Fog. He had also started making his mark on the local television scene as a young producer/director at TVM. Our careers in those days ran on parallel platforms and eventually we came to collaborate on various projects, starting with the hit TV series Mill-Garaxx. While the title for our TV show was an obvious choice, since we featured live rock bands playing as they did in their garages, I now realize that we owed some of the inspiration for Mill-Garaxx to Mirage's Garage Technology. That cassette album is by far one of the most amazing works by a Maltese band from the eighties.

    The local music scene in Malta has come a long way since the days of Garage Technology, in many ways. I was amazed, but not surprised, to hear Maltese rappers a couple of years ago. Foremost among Maltese rappers is one known as Hooligan. He released an EP called Nieħdu Bużż a little while ago as a follow-up to his quite successful debut CD album Oriġinali Bħali. This week's podcast features the title track from that first album. If you've never heard Hooligan rap in Maltese this is a definite must-listen, whether you like this type of music or not.

    Finding anything about Hooligan on the web seems like a near impossibility. One fan site listed on is no longer accessible and a search on Google yields next to nothing. I wonder why this is.

    By contrast, Particle Blue is an electro-pop duo that presents itself beautifully on their website. I first met Antoine Vella (half of Particle Blue with Claire Tonna) about six years ago when his sister Mary Grace took me to see his band rehearse in a subterranean garage in Marsa. I don't recall whether what I saw was an earlier incarnation of Particle Blue, but I remember being quite taken by the sounds I heard in that garage that evening. Particle Blue are playing gigs in the UK right now, so I thought it would be appropriate to play Weekend from their CD album Generation Hope to close this week's podcast. Claire's voice makes me think that this is what Nico would have sounded like if she had lived on to experiment with electro-pop from Animotion instead of Bauhaus. There is no deliberate hint of the former Velvet Underground chanteuse in Particle Blue, but to an old dog like me such comparisons are odiously inevitable.

    Anyway, now that I've rigged up the old Denon cassette deck to the PC to capture my fading tape recordings, I guess I'll be featuring more rare tracks in future editions of my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. I'm not saying I'll make it a fixed feature just yet because most of my cassettes are still at my parents house in Malta, but there's enough material on the tapes I have with me here in Scarborough to bring you at least another track or two before the year ends.

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