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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Back on the Chain Gang

Time flies and sometimes so do I. Yesterday I arrived in Malta for a brief visit. I'm here mainly to give some lectures at the University of Malta. I'll post more about that later, especially since I've had some requests to post my lecture notes, or something like that, after my last blog entry. Before I left Scarborough I managed to record the 12th podcast in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series. So, as always, here's some information about the contents of this week's selection.

Following last week's podcast in memory of Charles Arrigo, the music returns in full force with a new recording by The I Skandal. Como Estas is the first taste of their upcoming EP, entitled Scaccho Matto, which is set for an early May release. Hearing this type of music sung in Maltese is very refreshing. The blending in of Spanish verses into this song are also interesting, especially since there aren't any stereotypical latin elements on this song. If it were up to me I'd make this song a smash hit over the coming months into the summer of 2006.

Still steaming for the commercialization of the Malta Jazz Festival, guitarist Sandro Zerafa has blogged three MP3s from the new quintet with which he is currently recording. I've known Sandro for many years, we even worked together music for Shakespeare's Othello about 10 years ago. I must say that these new recordings reveal the sound of someone who is undoubtedly Malta's most dynamic jazz guitarist. Sandro keeps a blog (in Maltese) so you can easily keep in touch with some of his thoughts directly through that channel, even if you're not fortunate enough to catch him at one of his frequent gigs in Paris. I doubt he'll be playing at the Malta Jazz Festival again anytime soon.

When I say that the Internet is an excellent way to discover music I'm revealing the secret sauce that goes into the Mużika Mod Ieħor series. Besides my own expeditions into the world wide web, I also regularly receive pointers from listeners and musicians to hear this or that mp3, which would otherwise have escaped my attention completely. Lullaby for Lawyers is one such song from Steve Newman and Friends. Steve is a graduate of the University of Hull who currently lives in New York City. Although he has no connection with Malta, and there's nothing Maltese about his music, I still chose to play his song since he asked politely. Now, this may open the flood gates for other similar requests. To anyone considering asking me to play their stuff of my podcast I wholeheartedly say, just contact me, and don't be put off by the fact that I reserve the right to refuse to play anything I don't think is suitable for my podcast.

I have a feeling that one or two of the lawyers in the Maltese blogosphere will have a thing or two to say about Lullaby for Lawyers, which is beautifully sung by Patti Rothberg. The comments section on this blog is more than open for any such comments (along with all others) and I'd be very flattered if they chose to write about this song on their own blogs. I imagine that Steve Newman would like that too. I'd be very surprised if he hasn't already wrestled wits with one or two beasts from the legal profession over this song.

Musical diversity is something I sprinkle generously on Mużika Mod Ieħor. I particularly like songs I can't imagine any radio station in Malta including on high rotation in their playlist. Most songs by Rage Against Society fall in this category. They have better songs than Count Gonzi, which closes this week's podcast. Yet I chose to play this song since I think it's good to hear more from this band than what you get just by visiting Ġużé Stagno's website. Stagno recently interviewed R.A.S.'s Ray il-Baħri and it was actually after reading this interview that I decided to play Count Gonzi on my podcast.

Now that I'm in Malta, I'm excited about the possibility of sampling some of the local music scene directly. I went to a reunion gig by Smog (a 70's cover band featuring my old friends Edward Mercieca on bass and Remo Mifsud on guitar, who sang their hearts out along with Coryse and Pia as backing singers) at the Labyrinth on Valletta's Strait Street last night. Even though I can't imagine I'll ever play anything from their set list on my podcasts I had a great time; especially because MaltaGirl and I have finally met in off-line. It was quite a lovely experience meeting her and her fiance at an event I heard about through Reesa's Blog.

I know I'll have a good time tomorrow evening too, if I attend the Poeżijaplus għana session at the Manoel Theatre Courtyard. I'm also looking forward to meeting Xtruppaw on Tuesday. I hope to witness a recording session for their upcoming debut album. And Wednesday evening I'll hear percussionist Renzo Spiteri (who I was thrilled to meet again during the Smog gig last night) play at the launch of Adrian Grima's new book of poetry Rakkmu at St. James Cavalier. In some ways this visit to Malta is turning into a musical pilgrimage. Nice!

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, February 22, 2006


I'm in final preparation mode for my short visit to Malta, which starts this weekend. The main purpose of this visit is part of an Erasmus teaching mobility agreement between the University of Malta and the University of Hull. On Monday and Tuesday next week, I'll be delivering two lectures about the aesthetics of refusal. More about that in a minute.

My most recent visit to Malta took place about a year ago. At that time I had been away from the islands for four years. It felt like the visit should have been a life-altering event in ways I still find hard to articulate. Re-reading blog entries from back then I wonder whether I should take any precautions this time. I know that nostalgia will rear its ugly head a couple of times again but I also know that I'll do my best to keep it at bay. Still, no regrets. I like the present better than my past and I still believe we can make the future better, without utopic fervour.

The two lectures I'm giving next week are part of a module on trends in contemporary performance practice organized by Dr Frank Camilleri. Frank was recently appointed co-ordinator of the Mediterranean Institute's Theatre Programme, replacing Dr Vicki Ann Cremona, who is now the Maltese ambassador in France. I've entitled the first lecture Getting to No You: The Way of Refusal and the second No 2 NO: Beyond the Way of Refusal. These are not lectures I've given before, but they do draw on material I've either delivered at academic conferences before or referred to during other lectures I've given over the last couple of years.

I'm still planning out the lectures. I know that Eugenio Barba's writings on refusal will provide a solid springboard for my discussion. I'll also talk about networked performance and hacktivism. Perhaps I'll share some of my lecture notes on my blog later, if I feel like it. I think some aspects of these lectures will only be of any interest to university students interested performance and/or new media studies. Aside from this I'm fascinated by the challenge of making such material accessible to anyone who reads my blog. After all, these are my thoughts and this is my blog.

Interesting construction there on that last sentence, as I contemplate a lecture called Getting to No You. Are these really my thoughts? How much of my thoughts do I owe to others...especially those whose thoughts I've read and studied over the years. And is this really my blog? Could I have another blog that's different from this and also call that my blog?

Now, if this type of thinking/writing nauseates you, then perhaps you're one of the readers who will pass on my next posting or two, should I indeed publish a distillate of my lecture notes on the aesthetics of refusal. In that case you can hopefully find consolation in the fact that I'll be releasing a new Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast before I deliver these two lectures at Tal-Qroqq next week.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


As I started to prepare this week's Maltese music podcast, my thoughts kept taking me back to the many memories I have of my departed friend and former colleague Charles Arrigo. Most of them are too private to publish on my blog...even though I hinted at some of them in my post about his passing last Monday.

Yesterday, fellow blogger David posted a comment on my blog entry about Charles Arrigo and it became obvious to me that instead of my weekly music podcast I had to release one of three interviews I recorded with Charles back in 1990/1991. All three interviews are from the radio series Il-Fil tat-Tiġdid, which I produced right after the closure of Malta's cable radio service and the dawn of cable TV in the Maltese islands.

I've chosen to podcast the first of these three recordings I made with Charles Arrigo back when we worked together on a daily basis. He was the first official guest on the series; fellow broadcaster Charles Xuereb was an unofficial guest because the two of us had just finished co-producing/presenting our own take on the popular 20 Questions game show, with a series of live broadcasts on Radio Malta 2 every Saturday morning. Charles Arrigo had also taken part in that live series, as a substitute host for Charles Xuereb during a couple of broadcasts, but his name is the one that remains associated with what is possibly the most popular radio game show to ever grace the airwaves in Malta.
Charles Arrigo leading a recording of Hawn Haga in 1957In this picture on the left he appears during one of the first recordings made in 1957 at the Rediffusion studios in Valletta. The panel in that first series, entitled Hawn Ħaġa, included the actress Ineż Soler, her husband Guido Saliba, and Alexander Cachia Zammit.

Mużika Mod Ieħor returns next weekend with the 12th podcast in the series, even though that may prove to be a little tricky since I'll be in Malta over the next two weekends. More about that in the coming days, right here on my blog.

The RSS feed for these podcasts 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.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Blue Monday

When I woke up this morning I knew I was in for a rough week, but I was not aware how tough it was really going to be. An email from my MaltaMedia colleagues at lunchtime informed me that my former boss at Xandir Malta had just had a fatal heart attack while at Broadcasting House in Gwardamangia where he had spent most of his life.

Charles Arrigo is one name everybody in Malta knew before I was born and has known since. I'm sure that people will be saying that his passing marks the end of an era. The man deserves every eulogy he gets. Broadcasting and culture in Malta would have been very very different without Charles Arrigo in the last 60 years.

You should not be too surprised to learn that I knew a very different Charles than the one the public knew for so many years. A casual Charles Arrigo, a candid Charles who started out as my supervisor when I worked for the state-run radio and television company and ended up being a friend with whom I shared my youthful vision of the way broadcasting should run in Malta, in those hazy lazy days before deregulation. Few people knew about our private friendship, which manifested itself over long dinners filled with passionate conversations about our craft and nights out to the theatre cracking jokes over fellow thespians.

I trusted him not only because he was someone I looked up to at the beginning of my career but also because he gave me my first real radio break some 20 years ago. I spent as much time with him as I could in my early years as a professional broadcaster; learning all the unofficial tricks of the trade. From him I also learned how to avoid making waves while sticking to your guns. We didn't always see eye to eye, but he still gave me more than enough rope to hang myself with. When I quit my job with Xandir Malta in 1991 I bit off that cord, but I never felt bad about it because I knew it was time for me to move on. We could never achieve what we really wanted together. I was too young and he was too old.

Our last conversation was in 1994 before I left Malta for good. We didn't talk about that. Our mutual respect remained but I have a feeling we were both slightly disappointed in each other. That's a story for another day and time. It's not appropriate now.

Rest in peace old friend. You will be missed but never forgotten.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Put Your Records On

A hectic week has worked wonders to shake off the fluff of the Malta Song for Europe out of my head. I'm saddened by the news that the Malta Jazz Festival has passed on to commercial interests. And MagnumT's return to Whatever is just the sort of thing that keeps me coming back to the blogosphere for more.

It's with all this in the air that I recorded this week's podcast in my series of Mużika Mod Ieħor. The eleventh edition takes the acts at last night's Reciprocal Records gig at The Alley in Paceville as an opening salvo. The mighty Batteries Not Included (B.N.I.) provide the first track with a song from their second album Force Majeur called Civilisation. I like this band very much. In fact I prefer their earlier works, particularly as captured in their debut album Native Tongue/Ilsien Pajjiżi.

Last night they were one of two Maltese band on the bill together with the Belgian band Needle & the Pain Reaction. The other Maltese band was Particle Blue, playing their first gig in Malta following their recent visit to the UK. The song I've chosen to play from Needle & the Pain Reaction is called Unicorn.

The next band featured in this week's podcast is one that split up last October just after their final gig at The Alley. Hidden Sun is a band I've been meaning to check out for my podcast for several weeks. I finally got around to it and I must say that I'm quite impressed by their website. I'm glad to read that their split was amicable and that they're simply going their separate ways musically. Still, if experience is anything to go by, such a split will not be without casualties, but to be fair on them I should add that only time can really tell.

A few days ago I emailed Joseph Micallef from the Acoustika Trio because someone who visited Malta as a tourist a couple of years ago contacted us at MaltaMedia asking about his band. We got chatting on MSN and he's now in the process of starting his own series of podcasts. I'll blog more about that later. For now, I'm playing the title track from Acoustika's CD album Acoustic Dreams, with George Pollacco and Louis Naudi playing along with Joseph on a very mellow number. In the late 1980s, I had the pleasure of playing several time with George and Louis. I've been wanting to bring a recording of Louis playing percussion to the web since he passed away in the summer of 2004. Now I have.

This week I've also finally found the time to grant fellow blogger Kenneth's request for The Rifffs' original recording from about 25 years ago, Dance Music for the 80s Depression. A quarter of a century later that song sounds as fresh today as it did back in the time when we believed there was no future worth living. Things haven't changed much and the spirit that drives that song lives on. Perhaps a more accurate thing to say is that the more things change the more they stay the same.

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, February 04, 2006

Play On

This afternoon, a couple of hours before Malta's collective consciousness was gripped by the Song for Europe contest, I sat down to produce the 10th podcast in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series. Not knowing (or caring) who the winner is provided to be a liberating experience. So I focused on a handful of songs for their musical merit more than anything else.

The first of these songs has music by Vinnie Vella Jr to lyrics from Ray Tabone. Sung by Nadine Axisa, Waves stands out as the most sophisticated song at this year's contest. I really like the jazz guitar on this song. This morning Maltagirl commented about this song on her blog, saying that it reminds her of Norah Jones and Katie Melua. That's the best compliment anyone can pay to this Maltese song.

Another beautiful song comes from composer Paul Giordimaina, who many people recognize as one of Malta's most versatile jazz musicians. Tell Me is the first of three songs he has in the running at this year's festival. All his songs have lyrics by Fleur Balzan. This one is sung by Eleonor Cassar, and it's the best I've ever heard her perform.

The next song is one from Eurovision veteran Paul Abela and Joe Julian Farrugia called This Heart Of Mine. Aside from the wonderful blend of voices from the singing trio Trilogy, this song has a magical feel to it because it contains a couple of verses in Maltese. I like this devise very much and I think it makes the song very special. It's the sort of song I believe can make enough of an international impact to bring Malta its first ever Eurovision win.

During last week's podcast I played a track from Miriam Christine's CD album Little Zee and mentioned that she has written a new song for this year's contest. This Brazilian-born singer represented Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest 10 years ago with a song by Paul Abela. Now she emerges as a songwriter and gives us a solid pop tune called I Promise You, sung by Manuel who has a very pleasant singing voice.

The most outstanding song out of this year's bunch is another Giordimaina/Balzan song. Come what may, Reachin' Out will undoubtedly be a song I'll always remember from the 2006 Song for Europe contest. This is Pamela's second appearance after last year's angelic debut with Play On from the Giordimaina/Balzan song book. This young Gozitan singer is my new favourite Maltese singer.

As I write this, we still don't know which song will represent Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest in Greece this May. So I'll stop here for today knowing full well that I'll blog about all that tomorrow, just like yesterday.

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, February 03, 2006

Go or Go Ahead

I've just finished watching a frantic (if that's the right word) edition of Xarabank featuring excerpts from each of the songs taking part in tomorrow's Malta Song for Europe contest. I heard the same clips on earlier, and at the risk of being labeled biased I'd say that I enjoyed much better than the TV show.
Malta Song for Europe
My overall impression is that the festival has finally gone to the dogs. Then again, I always thought that the whole event was a dog's dinner party. Still, I would be very unfair to the talented singers and song-writers if I dismissed everything and everyone.

There are a number of excellent pop singers. My favourite 5 acts in this year's contest are (in no particular order):

- Pamela
- Christian Arding
- Trilogy
- Eleonor Cassar
- Olivia Lewis

Yes, Olivia remains among my top picks as a singer in this contest, but this year's song is far from the best she's had in the last 3 years.

There are also a number of musically interesting songs. My top 4 in this category are (in no particular order):

Reachin' Out - Pamela (Paul Giordimaina/Fleur Balzan)
This Heart Of Mine - Trilogy (Paul Abela/Joe Julian Farrugia)
Tell Me - Eleonor Cassar (Paul Giordimaina/Fleur Balzan)
Waves - Nadine Axisa (Vinne Vella Jr./Ray Tabone)

If I could be bothered to vote, my top 3 would be:

1: Reachin' Out - Pamela (Paul Giordimaina/Fleur Balzan)
2: Spare A Moment - Olivia Lewis (Ray Agius/Godwin Sant)
3: I Promise You - Manuel (Miriam Christine/Miriam Christine)

Yes, I know we can vote nine times in 10 mins, but I think that's just a fairly transparent scheme by some well-meaning commercial company to make lots of money on the gullible who think that televoting is the best thing since democracy was conceived in Athenian society. How deliciously ironic that the Eurovision Song Contest this year will take place in Greece.

Some lingering thoughts that will surely leave me once I take a walk on the brisk North Sea bay here in Scarborough:

I'm disappointed that Augusto Cardinali and Giovann Attard think that J.Anvil can win by simply reprising last year's song in a sequel called You Too.

I was very excited about the idea that Miriam Christine wrote a song for Manuel. I'm not sure people will vote for the song, but I'm very pleased to see Miriam Christine descend on the festival again after her relative success ten years ago.

What to do in tomorrow's podcast. I'll probably just pick four songs worth hearing more than twice.

Curmudgeon? Me? Sure...if you must.
What do you think?