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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Boy In The Bubble

I've been catching up with life on Web 2.0. Twitter is on the blink but my YouTube account is alive and well. I'm now also on Facebook. MySpace remains a constant presence, of course, while Second Life creeps up to the top of my daily agenda. Since it's not on the web but on the broader internet, SL is not part of Web 2.0 but it still involves collaboration and social networking - two of the most essential elements in any Web 2.0 experience.

This morning I also realized that I didn't mention anything on my blog about the Web 2.0 article I wrote for May's issue of PINK, the monthly magazine from The Times of Malta, edited by Ariande Massa. This is possibly because I've been absorbed in all sorts of other things but most probably because PINK is not available online. Maybe I should just upload it myself. [check back later if you're interested in this...]

The 68th edition of my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast
may not seem like an obvious part of my Web 2.0 activities but it more ways than one. MySpace plays a crucial part in the selection of the tracks I include from week to week. Thomas Hedley's new song Just Your Picture On My Mind would not have come to my attention if it wasn't for MySpace. I said something similar the first time I included a song by Hedley on my podcast.

Just when I thought that the Eurovision Song Contest was over and done with for this year, two things crossed by desktop reminding me that I can't really get away from it just yet. The first of these is the Eurovirtual Song Contest currently accepting votes on Paris Link. This is not the first European virtual song contest, even if it is the first edition of this particular one. The Heavy Metal Eurovision is most amusing and I've featured it on my podcast back when Maltese bands still took part in it.

Malta's entry on the Eurovirtual Song Contest is Carrie with Flooded Roads. You can vote here. She is currently leading the pack with more than 590 votes. I really wonder how Carrie would have fared at this year's Eurovision with this song. I'm sure that someone somewhere would have written that it's not a typical Eurovision song, and indeed this is probably why it's doing so well on the Eurovirtual song contest.

Back to MySpace before I move on to the second Eurovision incident I mentioned earlier. Vince Bongailas is someone I remember clearly from a chance encounter at Bighi about 10 years ago when he was recording some songs with Kenneth Mizzi. Vince is also known to many as one of the best Maltese boxers of all time. He has now resurfaced on my radar as Ailas via MySpace. I've included a song called My 36 out of the tracks you can currently hear on his MySpace page. Vince is a very interesting character and I'm glad I'm able to bring the sound of Ailas to my podcast listeners.

Commenting on a recent blog entry, Antonio Olivari (formerly known as the blogger Arcibald) pointed out that in my Eurovision haze I failed to give any attention to the 32nd edition of the YTC festival L-Għanja tal-Poplu. I actually have a lot to say about this song contest but I'll save it for another day (or year) and simply do what Antonio suggested and play the 2007 winning song. Hawn Jien by Corazon Mizzi is quite an unusual song. Corazon has a lovely voice and the song she has written is unlike any I would ever expect at the Eurovision.

I hope that this is indeed the last I hear or write about the Eurovision for a while. Even my good friend Immanuel Mifsud is still mentioning it on his blog, which has now relocated to WordPress, so perhaps this is just another wish that will come to naught. We Maltese really do give more attention to this contest than we should. This is why I'm so interested in it. This is why I cannot ignore it. Why are so many Maltese people obsessed with this event? And what does it really say about Malta as a nation?

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

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Changing Of The Guards

No more about the recent Eurovision debacle. I've really had enough of it...for now. Perhaps I should be blogging about the Blair-Brown changeover (or even the upcoming switch from the Maltese Lira to the euro) but my blog is not what it used to be, so I'll move on.

This entry is actually meant to serve as a public announcement of my presence on YouTube. I've just been spending too much time in Second Life to create my YouTube account earlier. It also just occurred to me that I haven't even mentioned anything about my adventures as a 3D avatar. I wonder why.

I really need to sort out my priorities in terms of my interests and what not. I guess the first thing on my agenda must be to get the Franklin Furnace book published. To get to that I have to clear all the other odd jobs that have piled up over the months. The first of these is a MaltaMedia feature about the sainthood of Dun Ġorġ Preca. An equally pressing task is a huge pile of essays by my students, which I need to mark in within a period of about two weeks.

And now you may have an idea why I don't always blog as often as I should between my weekly podcasts.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

White Rabbit

I just finished watching the first part of the new BBC series The Seven Ages of Rock. Simply amazing. This series alone is worth the price of the TV license we pay every year here in the UK. It comes just one day after Patti Smith appeared on Later with Jools Holland and I now realize that I've been going through a gradual detox from the Eurovision Song Contest.

Raphael Vassallo's article in the midweek Malta Today (based in part on questions he asked me at the beginning of the week) is one of the better pieces of journalism I've read about the hazy dream I went through last week. Then again, the real turning point probably happened last Tuesday when I attended the transliteracy colloquium at DeMontfort University in Leicester.

A couple of days ago Freddie Portelli sent me a few MP3s of some new songs he recorded and I thought it would be a good idea to include one of them on this week's edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor. The one I've selected is called Hangin' On and it reminded me to check out what Galea is up to. She recently released a cover of a song called Sally Go Round the Roses originally recorded by the Jaynetts in the sixties. Popa Chubby's guitar arrangement for this song gives it a whole new life but it is Galea's singing that makes it worth playing on my podcast.

For the next track on this week's podcast I decided to stay in the USA and play a track called simply Għana tal-Fatt from L-Amerikan whose real name is Jason Muscat. He is a Maltese-American electronic music producer based in San Francisco and his work is an attempt to mix elements of traditional Maltese folk music (għana) with modern electronic and dance music. In an email he sent me a few day ago he told me that he is seeking to collaborate with Maltese artists and incorporate their work into new original compositions. This track is a remix of an original fatt sung by the Maltese folk singer Vincent Carabott "il-Bukku" accompanied by guitarist Charlie Muscat "il-Paletti", which was originally recorded by Paletti at his Creative Studios in Zabbar in 2004.

To round up this week's edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor I picked a track from a project called Prayer of the Dying, which is driven by Martin Ciappara. About a month ago, his debut CD Structures of a Dying Matter was released by War Flagellation Productions. Interestingly it was also released on tape. The track you can hear on my podcast is called Witches Sabbath but I have a feeling its supposed to be called Witch's Sabbath or Witchs' Sabbath. In any case, I'm sure fans of Black Metal will appreciate it whatever it's actually called.

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

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Within You Without You

Raphael Vassallo contacted me today about a feature he's writing for Wednesday's Malta Today. He asked me some questions he is circulating to people he wants to quote in his feature. Here are my answers to his questions.

1. As you may or may not be aware, some people are advocating that Malta pull out of the contest in protest after this year's elimination. What are your views?

My answer is yes...and no. Yes because Malta (as in the Ministry of Tourism etc. ) is not getting what it's paying for from the Eurovision Song Contest. No because it would be a shame if there was no opportunity for any Maltese people to experience the great media circus that is the Eurovision Song Contest.

2. Do you feel that the voting has grown more or less conspicuously political/territorial in recent editions?

No. It's just a matter of numbers. In recent years we've seen a relatively large number of new nations join the contest. For obvious reasons, these new nations happen to be mostly former Soviet states or Balkan states. This makes for a natural affiliation and neighbourly voting. In my view, voting was even more "political" before televoting was introduced about 10 years ago. I'm not making this up. Just have a look at voting records over the years and you'll see exactly what I mean.

3. Many have attributed our dismal past two performances precisely to neighbour voting, etc. And yet, this year's winner (Serbia) attracted votes from practically all countries. Is it possible we dealing with a case of sour grapes?

A large part of this year's general reaction is undoubtedly a case of sour grapes; Certainly much more than anyone who keeps blaming neighbourly voting is willing to admit. In spite of a last minute call for a boycott from an anonymous source, Malta's final points went to Belarus (10), Serbia (8), Bulgaria (7), Russia (6), Slovenia (5), Latvia (4), Ukraine (3) and Hungary (1). These are all countries supposedly involved in neighbourly voting. In the semifinal, Malta's points went to Latvia (12), Belarus (7), Slovenia (5), Hungary (4), Bulgaria (3), Serbia (1).

Interestingly, in the semifinal Malta only received points from Albania, Turkey and the UK. The other 38 countries gave Malta zero points.

Incidentally, I find the 12 points Malta awarded to the UK for the final very farcical. I can only make peace with this by thinking that it was some for of protest vote rather than post-colonial oblivion.

4. One question just for you: In recent years, you have consistently suggested we change tack altogether, suggesting that we send Xtruppaw instead of the usual retinue of pop stars. What do you think that Malta's insistence on sending the same kind of musical representative says about us as a nation?

Although some of the MaltaSong board members are quite passionate about promoting Malta and very generous with their quasi-selfless involvement, they are clueless about what the Eurovision is really all about. The result they achieved this year and last year is proof enough of this. To add insult to injury, they are also completely out of sync with what the Maltese music scene actually has to offer. Xtruppaw doesn't exist in isolation. Then again, simply sending someone like Xtruppaw to the Eurovision, without the appropriate financial and promotional backing is like throwing Christians to lions.

Having said this, I must add that especially with more than 40 entries, the Eurovision Song Contest is just another game. Does the best team always win the FIFA World Cup? And when does the most deserving person win the Super 5? It's about time more Maltese see the Eurovision Song Contest for what it is and stop pushing for the same sort of songs to send as Malta's entry.

As a nation we appear obsessed with the Eurovision Song Contest. Naturally, not everyone is a die-hard Eurovision fan. Author Immanuel Mifsud wrote a very articulate entry in his personal blog just before Saturday's Eurovision final, expressing the disgust of many who feel that they don't form part of the "Malta" represented at the Eurovision Song Contest. Some would say he's upset for the right reason. The Eurovision is not really bringing the nation together the way we'd like to think. It just brings together some people who disagree on everything else, be it political party affiliation, village band club support, or whether Malta should legislate on divorce and abortion.

I believe that whenever we forget that it took Finland 40 entries to get it right and stamp our feet when things don't go our way, we make Malta look pathetic. Then again, giving the Eurovision as much media attention as we do, we already make ourselves stand out as unusual Eurovision fanatics, to put it mildly.

Here's a wonderful excerpt from the Schlagerblog by UK-based Eurovision fans the Schlagerboys who appeared waving a huge Maltese flag during the semifinal in Helsinki and live on Xarabank the following day:

If, god forbid, Scooch do not win tonight, will the BBC organise a two hour TV special for the band, including a live outside broadcast from Natalie's home town of Sutton Coldfield and a live link to Helsinki?

Will past Euroivision celebs be sitting on the panel in Malta and song writers and heads of delegation be sitting on the panel in Helsinki? Will Caroline's Gran be interviewed via the satellite link and Russ's cousins and aunts be flown over to Helsinki to sit in the press centre and wave flags and cheer? Will the Schlagerboys be called upon to add their comments to the nation?

Probably not.

I think that says is all.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gimme Shelter

I really enjoyed reading Immanuel Mifsud's blog entry about the Eurovision. As one of Malta's foremost contemporary authors and poets, any time he gives to something as seemingly trivial as Malta's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is indeed very welcome by pop culture dust mites like me.

I'm sure he'll be heartened by the fact that the blog entries I wrote from Helsinki this week follow the list of songs on Patti Smith's new album of cover versions called Twelve, track by track. The Rolling Stone's anti-war dirge Gimme Shelter is the fourth song on the album and perhaps I'll keep doing this until I either come to a natural end or I get bored, whichever comes first. The next track on Twelve is Patti's take on George Harrison's Within You, Without You. How marvelous is that?

Since I'm on the theme of cover versions I thought it would be most appropriate to open my weekly podcast (did you really think I'd skip it this week?) with Nat Newborn Big Time's version of Lordi's Hard Rock Hallelujah, featuring the voice of Vicky Rusty.

This week's Mużika Mod Ieħor may be seen as a Eurovision edition but anyone seeking any of the cringe-worthy stuff I've subjected myself to in Helsinki over the past few days will be somewhat disappointed. Hanna Pakarenen's Leave Me Alone is undoubtedly the most solid song of the lot and sadly hardly anyone thinks of it as a winner. In case you're one of the millions who've never heard of the Eurovision Song Contest or wouldn't be caught dead hearing any of the drivel dished out each year, you can catch Finland's exemplary entry on the 66th edition of my music podcast.

Not one to wish onto others that I wouldn't even wish on my own enemy, there are no more direct Eurovision references in the rest of this week's podcast. Norfolk-born 19-year old John Galea has appeared on a previous edition of my podcast. He has been recording some new tracks this year in preparation for an album. From this 2007 material I've picked Faded Popstar.

Anyone in Malta seeking the perfect Eurovision antidote this Saturday night can find it in the UK band Sidecar Kisses, playing at Poxx Bar tonight. You can hear their song We've Been Getting On as the closing track on this week's podcast. I wonder if I should go catch up on more blog updates on the Eurovision or give it a rest and return to academic life and scholarly research. My flight back to London is tomorrow (Sunday) at lunchtime.

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

Toni Sant at the Hartwell Arena in Helsinki on 12 May 2007

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Can you imagine how Olivia Lewis feels right now?

Do you honestly think that the MaltaSong board did everything possible to get Malta to the 2007 finals? And is that the same as doing everything they know how to do?

Can you imagine how Olivia's family (especially her parents) feel right now?

If I only hit 3 out of the 10 qualifying songs from the semifinal, am I really worthy of predicting a Eurovision 2007 winner?

Can you imagine how Olivia's manager/boyfriend feels right now?

Now that the Ukraine has become marked as a potential winner, should I agree and appear to simply be joining the bandwagon? Does it matter that I privately expressed a near certainty about a Ukraine win before I arrived in Helsinki earlier this week?

Can you imagine how the people of Olivia's hometown Qormi (and the rest of the Eurovision fans in the Maltese Islands) are feeling right now?

Will Malta wake up and smell the coffee now?

Can you imagine how Fabrizio Faniello feels right now?

Does any Maltese person care that Andorra (with echoes of Klinsmann in MSFE 2007), Portugal (another southern European country) and Estonia (an Eastern bloc country that won in 2001 and hosted in 2002) failed to qualify in every semifinal round since 2004?

Can you imagine how any singer hoping to represent Malta at Eurovision 2008 feels right now?

All this on Xarabank, tonight after the news on TVM...with live link-ups from Helsinki.

Do you really care what I think right now?


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

While France's new president vacations on a yacht in Malta, final preparations are underway in Helsinki for the 2007 Eurovision semifinal. For the uninitiated, I should add that Malta has to take part in the semifinal this year because of last year's dismal result.

I'll be attending the first of three dress rehearsals this afternoon; I always thought that the dress rehearsal was the last rehearsal before the first public performance...apparently not. I will be subjected to two and a half hours of magnificent television technology for live stage performances while enduring several number mind-numbing schlagers, spiced up with the odd "rock" ditty.

Here's a quick rundown of the ten countries I think will make it through to the final from the 28 taking part in the semifinal. They're in the order they'll appear during the semifinal. DISCLAIMER: this list should not imply that I neceessarily endorse a particular song or country; it is merely a pick of the 10 songs I think will pass on to the final. The comment following each pick is an indication as to why it's on my list of 10.

Israel: TEAPACKS - Push The Button
This band reminds me of my beloved Xtruppaw...but they're not going the extra mile for a Lordi-style win.

Cyprus: EVRIDIKI - Comme Ci, Comme Ça
It's a catchy song that should attract enough votes to make it into the final.

Belarus: KOLDUN - Work Your Magic
The people have spoken! Haven't you heard?

Georgia: SOPHO - Visionary Dream
If only Malta's debut Eurovision entry was this good!

Switzerland: DJ BOBO - Vampires Are Alive
A cultish entry that could capitalize on the countless Emo and dark side lovers. Then again, it's too much of a pop dirge for any self-respecting emo.

Denmark: DQ - Drama Queen
One drag queen is not enough for this year's final.

Serbia: MARIJA ŠERIFOVIĆ - Molitva
Marija seems to have the Chiara syndrome. There has to be a good reason why this entry is currently topping the betting odds.

Czech Republic: KABÁT - Malá Dáma
You have to respect a country that sends a rock act the first time it takes part the Eurovision Song Contest. Wouldn't it be fantastic to visit Prague next year?

Malta: OLIVIA LEWIS - Vertigo
Well, I'm sure you'd have her on your list if she invited you in for a chat while she has a bubble bath...but, truth be told, there has never been a stronger Maltese entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Andorra: ANONYMOUS - Salvem El Món
This is a good parallel case to see how Klinsmann would have fared this year in Helsinki.

So that's the list before the first semifinal dress rehearsal. I may tweak it later. If I do, I'll let you know. In any case, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below after hearing the songs.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Are You Experienced?

I'm blogging from the press centre at the Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, Finland. I'm here for the European Broadcasting Union's annual showcase, also known as the Eurovision Song Contest. On my arrival at Helsinki airport last night, I sensed that this year I can take some time to do a bit of mental stock-taking about why I give this song contest so much time and energy. It is a process that should take several months, possibly years. For now suffice it to say I'm not here for the songs.

My plan is to blog regularly while I'm here. I want to use my blog to keep track of the most salient moments during this year's EBU extravaganza. I can't wait to see the TV set-up in the arena, and later I may blog my thoughts on some of the better entries.

The one question I keep being asked over and over is the obvious one after last year's experience. Who will win this year's Eurovision Song Contest?

Unlike last year, there's no obvious winner this year. I explained this to Olivia this morning during her bubble bath. I also told her that I believe Malta has never had a better entry. She seemed pleased but our conversation ended there because the foam in her bath tub started subsiding.

So, who's it going to be this year? Yes, I know I'm biased, but I honestly believe that this time Malta has as good a chance as any other country doing its best in Helsinki.

Toni Sant at Eurovision 2007

Photo: Toni Sant (vetrina) at Eurovision Press Center by Frederick Zammit.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

May It Be

It would really be marvelous if I could find more time to blog. I'm not entirely pleased that this channel has been all but taken over by my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. Not that I mind, either. It's just that I wish I had more time to blog about other things. If you look back at my blog before my podcasting series became a regular thing, you'll see that I'm not just longing for a better time that's no longer with us, but a renewed way to blog about things other than the Maltese music scene. Meanwhile it feels like there's no stopping this trajectory and so this blog entry deals entirely with episode 65 in the MMI series.

If you follow the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast with any regularity you know that I like to string my selections together thematically, in some way or other. Finding a connection between the first two songs for this week is fairly because they've done it for me themselves. Surreal, the opening tune, comes from a UK-based band called Caligula, which is fronted by Maltese-born singer Glenda Azzopardi, better known as Gia. Her life partner, and father to their infant child, is Muttley. Misery is another song off his 2006 album Paid to Fail.

MySpace never fails me. It's my constant life-line to the Maltese music scene. To be honest I'm not sure whether my weekly podcasting series would have survived in its current form if it wasn't for the seemingly endless stream of new and old acts establishing their presence on this most popular Web 2.0 network.

Just a few days ago I was terribly pleased to discover that 80s electro-combo Joy Circuit are in discussions to reunite. Founding members Kevin O'Neill and Larski (a.k.a Mark Ellul, of Dejjem Tiegħek, Becky fame) have established their presence on MySpace and appear to be pushing towards bringing singer Jody Fiteni to the fray sooner or later. In case you're wondering where you've heard that name before, Jody's voice has already graced this series twice; with the Sky Giants and from a rare Mill-Garaxx recording with the Ophidian Twin.

In a previous blog entry I mentioned that during my recent visit to Malta I bumped into Melchior Sultana. We kept in touch after that and earlier this week he sent me a couple of recordings he made earlier this year. No More is one of them and it clearly shows him for the major force he is in electronic dance music on the local scene.

Keeping the music as varied as possible, I close with Tribali's Never Give Up to mark their appearance at the Earth Garden Festival in Ta' Qali this weekend. I also like the title of this track as a precursor to events in the upcoming week. Yes, it's Eurovision week again now and I'm off to Helsinki on Monday.

If you're (still) wondering why I bother with such pop drivel, please find comfort in the fact that this question is still on my mind. Still, I find more reasons to fly towards the flame as I get deeper and deeper into this multinational television phenomenon. Next week's podcast will be an attempt to peel off another couple of layers from this glass onion.

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

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