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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Number 9 Dream

I'm very flattered that Twanny Cassar declared that the Maltese word poddata, which I coined for my podcasts, is one of his favourite new words in our native language. The term came about after MaltaMedia's Editorial Director Martin Debattista asked me if I had a Maltese word for podcasting, when I first created the world's first Maltese podcasting series last year.

We're now on the ninth podcast in my Mużika Mod Ieħor series. Since we're just one week away from the 2006 Malta Song for Europe festival, I thought it would be a good idea to focus my podcast around this popular annual appointment in the Maltese music calendar. Rather than simply play some of the tracks from this year's contest, I decided to play some songs by some of the better singers who have represented Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest over the years.

While Chiara is Malta's highest ranking Eurovision performer, my favourite remains Ira Losco, who managed to ignite Malta's long-standing desire to win the Eurovision more than ever. This week's podcast opens with a live recording of her former band Tiara doing a song called Super Pollen Colour from Peter Busuttil's Red, originally broadcast on the 6th of November 2001 - when Ira Losco was still a relatively unknown rock singer.

If Malta had a musical equivalent of the Triton Fountain at City Gate, William Mangion would be a great contender for the third giant position, along with Marc Storace and Jon Lukas. He is best known for representing Malta at the 1993 Eurovision. That was a time when all Maltese songs had to be presented in Maltese and English to be considered for the Malta Song for Europe contest. This practice was abandoned about 10 years ago when someone realized how silly it is to ask singers and songwriters to do this when someone (else?) had already decided that Malta's Eurovision entry must be sung in English if we ever want to win this immensely popular song contest. William Mangion's This Time was called Issa in the Maltese version and featured lyrics by Jesmond Tedesco Triccas. Like the English-language version of the same song, Issa features backing vocals from Phyllis Anne Brincat and Moira Stafrace, who won the following year's contest along with her husband Chris, the guitarist heard on this song. Chris and William were both members of a band called Getting Closer until that point.

Some singers have gone on to greater things since representing Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest. One of these is Brazilian-born Maltese singer Miriam Christine, who has taken to recording what is arguably some Malta's best-ever R&B. From her CD album Little Zee I have selected a Synchronized for this week's podcast. This song has a really cool video, which you can see on her website at any time. Miriam Christine has also written a song for Manuel for this year's Song for Europe. So perhaps, although she's wise enough to never take part in the song contest as a singer, she's prolific enough to write what could be a winning song for another singer. I haven't heard the new song yet, so I'll reserve judgment until my next blog entry on this year's songs, before my next podcast.

I'm still reeling from Malta's missed opportunity at the 3rd edition of the Heavy Metal Eurovision. I can't believe that there was no Maltese representation during the most recent contest run for the Heavy Metal Eurovision. I know it may be a little too old to qualify, but my money would have been on Norm Rejection's Malta Not for Sale. What a superb rock song! If only there were a couple of songs like this on the regular Song for Europe contest. I think it's a pity we no longer care to promote Maltese-language songs through what is undoubtedly Malta's most popular annual music event. Thankfully Xtruppaw are recording their first CD album right now. I can't wait to play some of that on my podcast.

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 latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Break the Night with Colour

There was a time when I was a great enthusiast for marking special birthday or death anniversaries of interesting musicians. My first professional radio broadcast was a production for Xandir Malta's Cable Radio marking the 50th anniversary from the death of George Gershwin. Later I followed that with special radio features marking birthdays and/or death anniversaries for Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, John Lennon and Jim Morrison.

I bring this up today because it happens to be the 250th anniversary of W.A. Mozart's birth day. The 200th anniverary of his death was on 5th December 1991. I marked that day by resigning my full-time position at Xandir Malta after working for TeleMalta Corporation since 1984. I selected a number of different recordings of Mozart's famous Requiem and played them back-to-back as a soundtrack for my final day as a public broadcasting employee.

Today was not a memorable day for me. Nor was it eventful in any way. I've spent most of the day cleaning out my email inbox(es) and recovering from the hustle-bustle of the first couple of weeks in any new semester.

Mozart's 250th birthday is being celebrated in various ways by music lovers all over the world
. I could watch my DVD of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus tonight. Interestingly enough, that was the first DVD I bought eight years ago, when I first started purchasing movies on little shiny discs. Yet it seems more fitting to watch the Simpsons episode A Fish Called Selma from the 7th season; one of my most recent DVD acquisitions. That episode features Troy McClure (played by Phil Hartman) performing the part of the human in a musical adaptation of Planet of the Apes where the chorus to Falco's Rock Me Amadeus (his 1985 pop hit inspired by Amadeus) becomes "Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius." Both Hartman and Falco died at the age of 40. Mozart died at the age of 35.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Eight Days a Week

Since April 2004, when I first started this blog, I have never gone longer than 7 days without posting something or other here. This week I broke that frequency. It's been 8 days since my last entry. It's not that there's nothing to blog about. It's just that there's much too much going on in my non-blog-related work/life to find 15 minutes to add something new to the blog.

Years of professional broadcasting instilled in me a disciplinary respect for regularity. I wouldn't dream of not keeping my weekly appointment with my podcast subscribers. What's better, the series of weekly music podcasts I started a couple months ago has given me something to blog about, come rain or shine. So, even if I'm too involved in non-blog things, there's still an assurance that I'll blog about the podcast every weekend.

By sheer coincidence, the eighth podcast in the series Mużika Mod Ieħor gives me the required push to enter something in my blog after an 8-day impasse. The podcast itself continues in the same vein as the previous seven; and that's a good thing, if you like regularity of any sort.

An email from Mike Brigulio to one of the several Yahoo! Groups he posts on regularly drew my attention to his band Dripht yesterday. They've just announced that their version of The Rifffs Dance Music for Depression, which appears on their EP Global Warning, is now being pushed as a single...whatever that means these days. So this week's podcast opens with another "single" from the same EP: Rockin' to Resist. There's a promotional video for this song on Dripht's website. I wonder if they'll do something similar for the Rifffs cover.

Last week, I mentioned a wonderful little website that has taken over from the old as the largest online clearing house for unsigned singers and musicians. This other site is called SoundClick. There's a surprisingly large number of Maltese acts on this website. So, this week I decided to pick another one from the list and play one of the tracks available there. This time it's the ethno-electro-freestyle of MJ.5. A wide selection of unusual tracks show that MJ.5 has more to offer than the untrained ear/eye may first think. I'll be playing more material from SoundClick in the coming weeks.

Mużika Mod Ieħor is an ideal platform for anything that may easily get overlooked by the mainstream media. I take great pride in this. It is one of the driving forces behind this podcast. A few weeks back I mentioned an unusual thing called the Heavy Metal Eurovision. I even brought it up again during the sixth podcast in this series, when I started getting mentally ready for the oncoming onslaught for this year's Song for Europe. However, this week I finally decided to actually play something from the Heavy Metal Eurovision.

Final voting on the 3rd edition of the Heavy Metal Eurovision took place last weekend. Sadly, Malta was not represented this time. In the first two editions AngleCrypt and Forsaken placed at a respectable 11th and 9th place respectively. I have a feeling that some other Maltese metal band can better this in future editions. Meanwhile, I thought it was appropriate to play Malta's highest placing song from the 2nd edition of the Heavy Metal Eurovision, Via Crucis.

For some reason, which I'm still unable to articulate or even understand, as I was listing to Forsaken's Metal Eurovision song, I was reminded of Jon Lukas. Along with Marc Storace whom I featured in >the second podcast in this series, Jon Lukas is the Maltese music scene's most high-profile performer in the early 1970s. Jon even did what no other Maltese singer had managed to do before or since: he was signed by EMI Columbia, who released his 1972 hit Can't Afford To Lose. That single (yes, in those days it made real sense to use that term!) entered the UK Top 50 and brought the singer an amazing cult following in the middle east. I'm not making this up! You can see for yourself in the resourceful Arts Directory Malta.

If you don't know about the Arts Directory from D'Angelo & Company you should really check it out. It's a remarkable initiative led by former Culture Ministry mainstay Robert Cefai. The Arts Directory is a great way for all sorts of artists to promote themselves and their work online, as well as a great resources for anyone interested in arts and entertainment in Malta. If more performers, artists and promoters pick up on the potential usefulness of such an online service, I'm sure I'll be mentioning it again on my blog (and elsewhere) in the future.

Through the Arts Directory I was reminded of Jon Lukas' most recent musical project: a collaboration with his son Ashley and David A Nash called Woodenman. gave Jon a taste of his success from the early 70s when a Woodenman track called My Time was the number 1 download for the month of August in 1998. Mr Taxman is the Woodenman song I've chosen to play as the last track on this week's podcast. I saw Jon Lukas' name among the 50 songs in the pool that brought us the current finalists for the 2006 Malta Song for Europe and I would have loved to hear that song, especially because Jon has said he doesn't think very highly of the Eurovision Song Contest. I have a feeling that his song was too good for the Malta Song for Europe.

Next week's podcast will deal with the Song for Europe more directly, in some way or other. I'm still trying to decide about the actual format. So, if you have any ideas you'd like me to consider, please contact me. No idea is too outrageous when it comes to this annual pre-carnival festivity.

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 latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I Just Can't Get Enough

Finnish historian Johanna Ahonen is guest blogging on Wired Temples this weekend. Ġużé Stagno has graced my post about readership on the Maltese blogosphere with a cryptic comment. I've just finished recording my second podcast in the new year. And we're having the first non-seasonal dinner party at our place this evening. The menu includes linguini with sundried tomatoes, capers, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil. It finally feels like 2006.

This week's podcast is the seventh in the series Mużika Mod Ieħor. I've decided to pick music that's quite different from the relatively extreme genres I blasted out last week. This time the opening track comes from a funky Maltese band based in Brighton, here in the UK, called Tuesdays Child. I've been following this band since 2003 because my second cousin Keith is the bass player. Keith has an interesting genealogy; the bass player from Freddie Portelli's Black Train is his mother's brother, and therefore known as Uncle Joe. Nepotism apart, Imagination is one of the best tracks I've heard from this band. You can hear other tracks from Tuesdays Child on their website, where you'll also find lots of pictures and the latest news about the band.

Hunters Palace is another UK-based Maltese band. Well, almost. It wasn't always that way. Alex Vella Gera and Adolph Formosa recorded with Peter Sant under that name before Peter moved to the UK last year. Alex and Adolph worked together on another project after Hunters Place called treeears. I've managed to acquire a recording from treeears through Alex this week, however, I chose to play the title track from the Hunters Place 2003 album Idle Times on my podcast. Since Adolph is not on Idle Times, in the coming weeks I'll either play that treeears file I got from Alex or another tune from Hunters Place's other album It's Cold Outside.

Alex is someone I remember from my days as a student at the University of Malta. We were never close. In fact, I didn't even know his name until he recently reappeared on my radar as an erratically interesting blogger. I mention this connection mainly because the next musician whose work appears on Mużika Mod Ieħor is Antonio Olivari. He's known in the Maltese blogosphere as Archibald, or sometimes as The Blogger Formerly Known As Archibald. He recently blogged about an interesting project, which is now publicly available as his new album Mist: Relaxing Instrumental Music. By Antonio's own admission, the tracks themselves are not his best work. However, I'm pleased that he has collected them this way and presented them for public consumption while he works on his new album.

To me, the delivery of this work over the Internet via SoundClick is the most interesting aspect of all this. Olivari was one of a handful of Maltese musicians who published their work through back when the site was a non-commercial hotbed of unsigned acts. I discovered dozens of artists from that website before it turned into CNET's weakest link. There's a small handful of other Maltese artists on SoundClick, so I think I'll be playing music from their on my podcast sometime soon.

I've actually sampled two excerpts from Olivari's Mist. For Elani, the second one, is a classic slow rock number that throws me back about 25 years to the days when I listened to Pink Floyd, and other prog rock dinosaurs, day and night. Since I'm not a nostalgic sort of person, I thought it would be most fitting to follow For Elani with Shazam's Aħseb fit-Tifel.

Shazam's single was a huge hit on Maltese radio (there was only one broadcasting organization back then) around 1976. Visions of a broken couple somewhere in the Cottonera area always flash in my mind's eye when I hear this record. For some reason, I also think that she left him for an old boyfriend who had just been released from Corradino Prison, after serving time during the years she lived the wife and mother in the Shazam narrative. I love how dated it sounds today, but I'd also say it has "retro-classic" written all over it. If I thank Stagno (and Mark Vella) for reminding me what a great piece of Maltese pop culture it really is, I guess I'll have gone full circle on today's blog entry. I wonder what happened to it-tifel from the Shazam song.

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 latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Is there anybody out there?

The first week of teaching in any new semester is always hectic. This has kept me from blogging about the subject of readership on the Maltese blogosphere earlier. Still, better a little late than never. Right?

As a first digression, I'll start with a joke. I don't like blond jokes because they're usually quite silly, but I found the most extraordinary blond joke on Owen Cutajar's blog yesterday. MaltaGirl is the one who usually brings such things to the attention of the Maltese blogosphere, but she's now experimenting with remote blogging and apparently it's not going as smoothly as she hoped. I'm sure she'll sort it out very soon. Anyway, with that out of the way, I can now turn my undivided attention to the topic I've been meaning to blog about since last year, or at least since last week.

In some ways it's fair to say that it all started with a rather simple question from David Friggieri in his last post for 2005. He asked (Maltese) bloggers, "are we being read?" An understandable question for anyone who, unlike author Ġużé Stagno, sees blogging as a worthy creative avenue. For those who have truly understood the nature of blogging, like author Immanuel Mifsud, staying away from blogging is probably harder than can be explained in just a few words. Why else would Immanuel start a new blog when he clearly (unlike Stagno) has so many other worthy things to spend his time on?

In my first blog entry for 2006, I shared 4 lists of blogs that mean something or other to me. I bring up that post here for two reasons. The first is a comment from a certain CC Camilleri (a reader of my blog, no doubt) who is facetiously incredulous about my blog lists and what I said about them. Who in their right mind would read the blogs I read? And who has the time to do that sort of thing anyway? Perhaps I should have mentioned that I no longer read newspapers, except on the web.

It is mainly through blogs that I heard about the different views on the spelling/pronunciation of the soon-to-be Maltese EU currency. The news is just the news (or is it?) but it's from blogs that I became aware of the ups and downs of this issue. Same goes for the recent earthquake near Greece, which was felt in Malta. Still, this doesn't really have anything to do with the question of readership, raised by David. So let me not deviate again from what I said I'd write about in this post. One joke is more than enough.

Readership of Maltese websites in general, not just blogs, is something I've had a keen interest in since 1996 when I created for the National Tourism Organisation of Malta. Two years later (without any support from or association with the National Tourism Organisation) I started the MaltaMedia Online Network from Ray Bajada's farmhouse in Gozo and my apartment on the lower east side of New York, after a brainstorming session with Ray over coffee at Xlendi Bay in the summer of 1998. MMON now enjoys an overall average monthly readership of 300,000. Mind you, these are not hits. If we're counting hits, than it should be said that the MaltaMedia Online Network receives about 6 million hits from over 2 million monthly page views every month. This means that during 2005 we saw a total of about 3.5 million visits, which generated about 75 million hits.

Does this really mean we're successful? That's a tricky question. Success is relative. We can always do with more readers/viewers. MMON's following has grown regularly over the years and I have no doubt that it will continue to grow. Right about now, as ever, we could do with some more income to cover the ever-growing expenses associated with running even the smallest network of websites. Yet there's very little other than death or serious illness that would stop me from dedicating as much time as I do to MMON.

I'm genuinely troubled by Sharon Spiteri's lament for Tabellina. I know exactly how disheartening (demi-/semi-)professional Internet publishing can be. Finding contributors for a project like the Tabellina is a herculean feat. Having said that, running the MaltaMedia Online Network has often made me think that Sisyphus had it easier with his boulder. And yet MMON is still alive (and growing!) after 8 full years of ups and downs.

Earlier in this post I said that there were two reasons I brought up my recent blog entry about my personal blogosphere. The other reason is that I unwittingly left out a prolific and consistent contributor to the Maltese blogosphere from my lists. I meant no offense. Although I believe that he's a regular reader of my blog, I just don't get his blogs...even though I have an occasional peek at least once a month. I really mean no offense. Perhaps the basic idea that recently drove two related entries (here and here) is the reason we Maltese feel awkward about such issues. I still mean no offense. If I'm (un)lucky, maybe he doesn't like my podcasts.

So, at the risk of subscribing to the damnation of eternal return, I'll answer David's question ("are we being read?") with a very simple answer: of course we are!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Starting Over

I've been thinking about something David Friggieri brought up a few days ago regarding readership on the Maltese blogosphere as well as the issue of quality in terms of the stuff that appears on Maltese blogs. However, I'm back to producing my weekly podcast now, so blogging about all that will have to wait until I get more free time to write.

Meanwhile, I give you the first podcast for 2006 in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series. This is my sixth music podcast since last November. Now that the holiday season is over, you can expect this podcasting series to offer you a new episode every weekend.

I chose to open my podcasts in the new year with Olivia Lewis. This is a do or die year for her pop career. After the three successive near misses in the Song for Europe, this year she must win or come to her senses about the true nature of the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm not ready to get into discussions about this years soap opera just yet, but at least taking some time to remind my podcast listeners of the wonderful alternative Malta had for that ghastly performance back in 2003.

I was thrilled to hear from Alfred Farrugia a few days ago. He produces music under the name Black Aura. I had never really heard of him before, even though his website is linked on I'm glad he emailed me to point out that his first album is fully downloadable (for free!) on his website. He has just started a blog too. Including Black Aura in this week's podcast reminds me to invite anyone who would like to let me know about any music I should be listening to for possible inclusion in a future edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor to just contact me via my website.

In my last podcast for 2005, a special New York-themed edition, I play a cover version of New York Mining Disaster from The Boys. As a follow-up to that, this week I bring you music by Boy's drummer Godwin Borg's son Gavin. After a number of years playing Metallica covers and hard rock, Gavin has reinvented himself as a dance music producer calling himself Gavinizer. The track I play from him on my podcast is called Misinterpreted, but somehow I think it should have been called Misunderstood.

These three numbers lead up logically (in my twisted mind) to the final track on this week's podcast. Black Aura and Gavinizer are both metal fans, even though there's hardly any hint of that genre of music in their current output. I'm also fascinated by a Kazakhstani phenomenon called Heavy Metal Eurovision. The 3rd edition of this delightful subversion is taking place this week. The final voting day is the 14th of January. Results will be announced on Sunday, 15th of January. Maltese bands appeared in the first two editions: Forsaken (2nd edition) and AngelCrypt (1st edition). Sadly, there's no Maltese band in the 3rd edition. Anyway, this week's podcast closes music from Maltese metal band Slit who appear with fellow blacksmiths Arachnid at The Alley this Sunday.

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 latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dancing in the Moonlight

One of my first blog entries in 2005 was about the Maltese blogosphere, which I saw on the verge of a great expansion. Sure enough, that ground swell came by the end of spring, but things seem to have calmed down a little in the last couple of months.

So, at the start of 2006, I thought it would be good to share 4 lists with my blog readers. Blogs are listed here in no particular order, even though I do like some more than others.

10 Maltese blogs I follow regularly:
Lost in Thought
Xemx u Xita
Ta' Barra Mod Ieħor
Ajjut! Ajjut!
Ugh!!'s GreyMatter Honeypot
Nurse Life
Malta, 9 Tremidor

I've left out Wired Temples and Pierre J. Mejlak's Blog from this list since they are now an integral part of the MaltaMedia Online Network. Needless to say, they're at the top of the list of Maltese blogs I read. There are a couple of other Maltese blogs I follow quite regularly, (such as this or this and this as well as others) but I prefer lists in tens. Maybe next time I'll do fifteens.

Here are another three lists just to show that my personal blog reader is well stacked.

10 blogs Maltese I wish were more active:
Il-Blobb tas-Sibt Filgħaxija
Triq il-Maqluba
Ħsejjes Innoċenti
Xemx, Wisq Sabiħa
Kenneth's Online Repository
Bertu tal-Angli
Chef Condom

10 non-Maltese blogs I follow regularly:
Lessig Blog
Smart Mobs
Writing & the Digital Life
timbl's blog
Life Hacker
boing boing
Il Blog di Beppe Grillo

10 new Maltese blogs I'm keeping an eye on:
Real Virtuality
Reesa's Blog
Zemploid's Orbit
Reflections Through Cyberspace
Writings of a Caoimhin
Building my Dreams from Moondust....?!
The day I attended to my funeral
skutella's blog

There are actually a number of other new blogs I'm keeping an eye on (such as this and this, to mention just two) but I decided that all the lists on this post will be made up of no more than 10 links each. I should also add that this last list is the most fluid one of all the above lists.

If you're not familiar with the Maltese blogosphere, and would like to see more Maltese blogs, I suggest you have a look at the section on blogs.