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Saturday, January 26, 2008

De do do do de da da da

Don't think me unkind. Words are hard to find. I'm really disenchanted by the final eight songs in the 2008 Malta Song for Europe. It could have come to this earlier but here we are now, and there's very little I can (or care to) do about it. In spite of this and because I've committed myself to taking the raw with the cooked, I've produced the third annual podcast tied to the Malta Song for Europe in the weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series. [See also MSFEonMMI: 2007 & 2006]

There are only a couple of songs from the 17 selected to compete at the semifinal stage that I care to ever hear again. So it was not easy putting together a playlist for this week's podcast. Luckily, Australian Pop Idol Natalie Gauci has been invited as a special guest for the final night this evening so I open podcast number 99 with one of her pre-Sony contract songs. Take It Or Leave It shows the verve that got this singer to the level of success she's currently enjoying down under.

Jean Claude Vancell has appeared on an earlier edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor. He is quite an adventurous song writer, even if a relatively quirky performer. I like him. I also like his debut MSFE song Contradiction, which obviously didn't make it to this evening's final round. I'm looking forward to his upcoming album, which I understand is either entitled Unspoken or Of Hopes & Dreams. I'm sure I'll be featuring his music again on the MMI series once the album is out.

One song at this year Malta Song for Europe semifinal was clearly a cut above the rest. Unbelievably it didn't make it to the final round. I refer, of course, to the Paul Giordimaina and Fleur Balzan song Whispers performed by Pamela. I've been attracted to Pamela voice for the last three years or so. Whenever I hear her songs my mood sublimates without fail. This is the closest that Maltese pop music comes to art.

To my mind there's no way to follow Pamela singing Whispers with any other song from this year's Malta Song for Europe. The only way I can end the 99th edition of my weekly podcast is to play the most sincere recording I've heard from a Maltese singer in quite some time. They Turned Me To Plastic by Carrie, the 2007 Eurovirtual Song Contest (what's that?) winner who is clearly not giving in to any of that nonsense. Listen closely to this home recording of this young Maltese singer in a Tori Amos inspired confessional mode. I think it's quite chilling.

As I write this, Malta's entry to the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest has not been announced yet. To be quite honest, I find it hard to see Malta doing well in Serbia come May. I could be wrong. I'm frequently wrong but sometimes I'm dead on.

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. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've keep relatively quiet about the 2008 Malta Song for Europe so far. I've given a couple of comments through the MaltaMedia News Service, but not much else on my blog. So before the fans start rolling I thought I'd empty my pockets of all the loose change that's gathered there since last May's Helsinki debacle.

I must confess that if it weren't for my academic interest in the performance of Maltese cultural identities I'd have seriously lost interest in the Malta Song for Europe this year. There's absolutely nothing new or exciting about it. I'd even dare say that there are are couple of abysmal elements among the 17 semifinalist, but I suppose I'm still fuming from the disgusting snub Jo Zette (i.e. Ray Calleja) was given in the previous selection round.

Pamela sings what is undoubtedly the most beautiful song on the 2008 semifinal list. Whispers is one of Paul Giordimaina's best compositions. Pamela has a great voice and she has sung Paul's songs to perfection in recent years. Unfortunately, the SMS-happy audience that votes for each year's Malta Eurovision entry will only pick her as the sacrificial lamb once all other obvious contenders have been exhausted. Never forget what happened to Olivia Lewis.

If Malta wants to get a chance at qualifying for the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest final, the Malta Song for Europe winner must be Mary Spiteri. It doesn't really matter which of her two songs gets through to this Saturday's final. Mary is the one performer who can get the sort of buzz going on the international Eurovision circuits needed to cut through the jungle of mixed messages and garner enough points for Malta to get through to this year's Eurovision final. Anything less and any solid chances in Serbia this May will be thrown to the wind.
And just because simple minds like simple things, here's my personal pick for the 8 songs that should make it to Saturday's final, in order of appearance on the semifinal. The actual selection will undoubtedly be marginally or greatly different.

  • Elinor Cassar: Give Me a Chance (Paul Giordimaina/Fleur Balzan)
  • Mary Spiteri: My Last Encore (Ray Agius - Godwin Sant)
  • Morena: Vodka (Philip Vella - Gerard James Borg)
  • Pamela: Whispers (Paul Giordimaina/Fleur Balzan)
  • Klinsmann: GO (Dominic Galea - Claudette Pace)
  • Jean Claude Vancell: Contradiction (Jean Claude Vancell)
  • Chris & Moira: All Right (Chris Scicluna - Moira Stafrace)
  • Mary Spiteri: If You Believe (Paul Abela - Raymond Mahoney)

  • As you can see, Mary Spiteri's pulling power is so strong that it's next to impossible not to include both of her songs on Saturday's final 8 list.

    Continuing a little tradition I started two years ago, my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast this Saturday will feature my personal selections from the Malta Song for Europe without much thought for the actual contest.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Quick note added on Friday morning:
    I'm disgusted by the whole thing. Whispers didn't make it to the final. Unbelievable! Mary Spiteri is not in the final. Understandable...but still a great shame. If I warm up to the idea of watching the final on Saturday, I guess I'll be horribly disappointed if any song other than Give Me A Chance (it's so not the best Giordimaina/Balzan song) is the winner. Still, the winner will probably be Klinsmann with his homage to Busted's Air Hostess or Morena with a moronic song. Anything else and you can get ready for another national disappointment in May.

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    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    That's How People Grow Up

    The balancing act of working on regular tasks and spending time on Facebook (which was the subject of a troubling article in The Guardian a few days ago) is something that I'm sure I share with many of my blog readers. I'd like to think that Facebook is not a distraction from everyday life but an integral part of whatever it is that I do from day to day. Taking my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast as an example of this, I can now clearly see/say that Facebook is an essential part of letting people know that the podcast is available, while keeping in touch with people who have all sorts of contributions to make to the series.

    This week's podcast is number 98 in the series, which means that in a couple of weeks time we'll be celebrating the 100th edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor. Since next week's podcast will feature my pick of music from the 2008 Malta Song for Europe festival, I wanted to pack as much new music as possible into this week's podcast because we won't really have a regular edition for another three weeks.

    Dimension-Al has launched his 2008 activities with a remix for the band The Secret Meeting for their track Into the Future. Aldo Lombardi has clearly established himself as a force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling we'll be hearing from him again this year on my weekly series. The same goes for Ivan Filletti who will hopefully release his long awaited second album. A few months ago he released a single that I've been meaning to play on my podcast for sometime. I Keep Standing shows Filletti has what it takes to follow-up on Somedays, his debut album from 2005.

    From time to time I look for music websites other than MySpace for new Maltese music. One of these sources is One of the acts I found on is called LeftPlay, but the two songs they have on this site seem to go back a couple of years, so I'm not sure if they're still active. In any case, they sound quite good and the track I've selected to play is called Breathe. All I know about the people in LeftPlay is that they're called Andie and Daniela, but I'd really like to know more. Please contact me if you can help me out with this.

    The final two tracks on this week's podcast come from two newcomers on the local music scene. The first of these is Charlie, a teenage British-Maltese Pop/R&B singer who is looking for a musical future in the UK. Judging from Crazy Life and some other things she has been up to recently I have a strong feeling that we'll be hearing more from her in the coming months and years.

    Rhythmic Havoc is the other new act on this week's podcast. This interesting Hip-Hop combo has its roots in extreme metal. I'm not particularly crazy about the vocals on their tracks, but the music and the production are very good indeed. I'd love to hear them do a song with a guest vocalist (and there are quite a few of them in Malta) because I'm sure that their production skills will be appreciated even more.

    I'm now off to consider this year's Malta Song for Europe. I must admit that on first listen I'm not too thrilled about this year's offerings. I most definitely don't see a Eurovision winner in any of them...but stranger things have happened on that scene in recent years, so I'm not willing to make any grand statements just yet. More in next week's podcast, of course.

    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. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    97 Lovers

    My weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series returns to its regular format this week with the 97th edition of the podcast. I'm quite amazed at the amount of new material that's already around this year. Still, there's some stuff I didn't manage to include in last year's podcasts that also need to be included on my playlist. Comparing these early January offerings to previous years I'd say that this should be quite a prolific year.

    Mindstate follow-up on their debut single My Adrenaline with a song called Come With Me. It's the noisiest of all the tracks on this week's podcast, so probably just for that reason it's at the very start of the show, followed by the second loudest track. nosnow/noalps is a band that first appeared last summer. It's the new outlet for former Dripht frontman Nick Morales. This band sounds quite different from Dripht, mostly thanks to the multi-talented Sarah Falzon (aka Sarah Snow) who plays keyboards and shares vocal duties with Nick. Their debut single is called Taking My Time. It's quite raw, but not too rough. I like the edgy sound of this band and I'm looking forward to the release of their EP, entitled Just Rock. They're off to Denmark for three gigs in Copenhagen during the last week of this month, so I suppose their EP should appear soon enough. They're serious contenders for any "best newcomers" type accolade in 2008.

    Ailas is back with a new single too. This time it's called Town and shows the former boxer in a slightly less vulnerable mood than other recent tracks. It should go down well with his fans. A few days ago he left a comment on my MySpace page saying that he's working on a video for this song as well as his next album.

    I was very please to see the return of Bee & Ade in a new guise. They recently recorded a number of songs for their upcoming debut album at the legendary Olympic Studios in Barnes, London. Singer Bianca Caruana and guitarist Adrian Camilleri are now calling themselves SubEgo. My Lullaby is one of the tracks recorded for the The Naming Trees album and you can hear it on this week's edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor. I'm really looking forward to the release of SubEgo's debut album, Adrian is an excellent guitarist and Bianca's voice is very gentle on the ear across the broad range it covers.

    The final song on this week's podcast comes from jon lukas/WOODENMAN. Jon is the granddaddy of the Maltese pop and rock music scene; I hope he doesn't mind me saying that. I say it respectfully, of course, because he's been at it for four decades now. His formidable voice sounds as fresh as ever and its a great match for his most recent songs. The most recent track is called Ode to Laura - Far Away, which also comes in a wonderful acoustic version, which I may very well play in a future edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor.

    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. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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    Friday, January 11, 2008

    First Cut is the Deepest

    Earlier today I received an email from my father informing me that my dear old friend Roland Friggieri passed away last night after battling a long illness. Roland was a childhood hero for me; you could even say he was a role model of sorts. He was a cool cat before it was hip to be a cool cat in Malta.

    I last saw him on Tower Road in Sliema in the summer of 2006. He was just about to retire from work and looked very content. The world was his oyster. Little did I know that he would soon be living the rest of his life of a cancer patient. Knowing him, I'm sure he had no regrets...not even for the perpetual nicotine stains on his fingers.

    Of all the people I've met in my life, Roland was undoubtedly the most happy go lucky. Yet, he lived a beautifully paradoxical life, full of grace and a sensibility for some of the finer things this world has to offer. It is quite hard for me to picture him dead.

    He was very much like an older brother to me, even though he was actually old enough to be my father. He was a regular patron at my parents' bar on Depiro Street in Sliema. He lived just a few doors up the road anyway, so it was more of a place to hang out than a watering hole for him. Throughout most of the 1970s he would help me out with my homework. His casual coaching had a huge influence on my handwriting and I'll also think of him whenever I do long division without an electronic calculator. My reward for doing all my homework was a regular game of darts or pool in the bar. Needless to say, he taught me how to play both games too.

    The complexity of my childhood friendship with Roland came from the fact that while he was a regular fixture in my day-to-day life, providing me with gentle coaching session on my latest school chore, he also provided me with my first on-ramp into the world that his friend J.J. Tellus called "show business". That was a very fascinating world to me as a child. Seeing Roland play a part in the first local production of Jesus Christ Superstar or collaborating with J.J. on his Charlie Chaplin routine remain the earliest staged performance memories from my childhood.

    We never really kept in touch when I grew older. Without the bar as a common ground we had no real reason to meet. I'd bump into him here and there from time to time, of course, and he was always incredibly warm towards me. I always felt that Roland's secret was to be satisfied with what he had and never want more than whatever was available.

    Rest in peace old friend.

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    Saturday, January 05, 2008

    Jigsaw Falling Into Place

    2008 looks like it's going to be a very eventful year. And is it just me or does it seem like there's lots of things going on already? I've always thought that the new year takes a week or two to get back in gear after the holidays, but this year seems like the exception to prove the rule.

    Anyway, the true purpose of this blog entry is to bring you news of a podcast featuring the Listeners' Picks from Maltese music released in 2007. The songs selected to top each of the five categories are but a sample of the excellent releases from last year. I've already shared my observations about the smorgasbord on offer in 2007 elsewhere. I would not have been surprised if the final results on the poll for 2007 was different than what we've actually ended up with. In some cases the number of votes was very close.

    Scream Daisy had Ira Losco hot on their tail for weeks in the 2007 Top Albums category. The band managed to outdo the former Eurovision singer with just 4 votes. On the other hand, Scream Daisy's Pretty was voted the 2007 Top Online Music Video garnering more than twice the votes of the next contenders on the list, who were Winter Moods with their video for Marigold beautifully shot at the Manoel Theatre. Scream Daisy were the runner-up in last year's Singles/EPs category, so I'm not surprised that they've swept the board in two categories this year.

    Two bands managed to get an equal number of votes at the top of the 2007 Singles/EPs list. Xtruppaw undoubtedly delighted thousands with their Forza Malta (B'Għajta Waħda) while The Rifffs more than made up for last year's position with Jack the Ripper, the follow-up single their comeback release Life of Crime from 2006.

    The top place in the 2007 Internet Releases category was also equally conquered by two acts. Ray Mercieca's other band, The Characters, hit the spot with their power track One In A Million, the second of their releases for 2007. Yet the great and pleasant surprise is to see newcomer Dean Saviour receive as many votes as the behemoth band. His Marshmallow Girl is a delightful song indeed. I always expect newcomers to do well in this category but now that established acts are also using the Internet to release new material it stands to reason that its not as much a foregone clear win for newcomers. The Areola Treat would have certainly picked up more votes had their been fewer well known names on this list. I have great expectations for this band in 2008.

    Mathematikal came out the clear victors in the 2007 Overseas-based Releases. Their Electrophant EP clearly shows why not everybody with a computer can produce electronic music worth listening to. Jon and Jay have a broad musical sensibility, which is something that can't escape any discerning listener. No other overseas-based released managed to receive more than half the votes they got. I'm very pleased that the 2007 list of overseas-based artists is much broader than the one we had the previous year.

    All in all, I'd have liked to seen Danjeli's outstanding Kakofonija album receive more votes, but I have a feeling that most people's taste in music is more conservative than mine. This poll is not about my personal picks but you can say that to some degree my choice of nominations flavors the whole process. We'll see what this year brings...but I'm pretty sure we'll find a number of releases to admire and rave about before this time next year. As that famous line for the old Bette Davis movie goes: "don't let's ask for the moon...we have the stars!"

    I'm quite satisfied with the way the voting worked out on Facebook. I'm forever grateful to my friend James Attard who developed the app that has enabled everyone to vote on Facebook this year. I'm sure we'll enhance it some more next year, whether we keep it on Facebook or not.

    Speaking of enhancements, this edition of the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is a special edition in that it presents the results of the Listeners' Picks from 2007. In keeping with a tradition I started last year in an attempt make it even more special by presenting it in an enhanced version. I'll be working on that over the next day and I'll post some more information about it as soon as it is available.

    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. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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