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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Come Inside

From time to time popular culture icons die, as you'd expect in the circle of life, and in doing so bring up memories of things that were once significant in some way or other. Wendy Richard died a couple of days ago. She loved Malta. So much so that she picked to have her honeymoon there just a few months ago, after getting married for the fourth time. My fond memories of her come from years of watching Are You Being Served? in the 1970s but also from a very brief personal encounter at the Paris Theatre in London just after the recording of an episode of the popular BBC radio game show Just A Minute in 1988. With her sad passing I couldn't help but think how ironic it was that she picked Malta for her last proper holiday...particularly as this was a divorcee's honeymoon. And there she was in the only EU country where there's no divorce legislation. How quaintly exotic!

I see from my Facebook newsfeed that people in Malta are now experiencing one of the first round of utility bills under the new tariff system. Apparently this is just as controversial as the topic in the previous paragraph, if not more so. How soothing it is to think that I can loose myself in my podcast every weekend, just to get away from it all for a little while.

The 153rd edition of Mużika Mod Ieħor sees the return of two acts whose music was featured in my selections last year. The first of these is Richard Micallef, who has taken a leaf out of his dad's book and is now recording under his first name and his middle name, as Richard Edward. This is understandable when you have to put up with butchered pronunciations of your family name over and over. Hopefully people will focus more on his music and beautiful singing voice, as can be heard in his new single entitled Allowed to Cry.

Chris Enriquez is someone whose voice and music are completely new to the MMI podcast. It's always refreshing to feature material by performers who have never appeared on the series before. An Angel in the Making is one of two songs I found on his MySpace page. It's quite good and this quality of work makes me firmly believe that this is not the last we've heard from Chris Enriquez.

Keeping it completely new to the podcast I next turn my attention to a band called Sepia. They haven't made any studio recording yet, but we can still hear them from a number rough garage demos they've uploaded to the MySpace page. White Scar is a good way to samples this bands grungy sound. To my ears they could do with a good singer but then again they're quite tight musically so perhaps you will not miss the vocal line as much as I did on a second listen. Once again, you can rest assured that if/when a studio recording from this band crosses my path I'll be including it on a future edition of the MMI podcast.

This is precisely what happened with London-based band Ethnamorte, which includes Malcolm Callus among its founding members. After featuring a rough(ish) recording from this band last year, they now return with a very nicely done studio recording of a song called Shades of Beauty and Madness. At 10 minutes and 14 seconds, that a little too long to include in its entirety on my (roughly) 20 minute weekly podcast. If you'd like to hear the whole thing you can just head on over to their MySpace page, where you can also find other recordings and dates for their upcoming London gigs.

A couple of months ago, Pamela's debut CD Whispers, consisting almost entirely of songs written by Paul Giordimaina and Fleur Balzan was released to great acclaim. It appeared few weeks to late to be featured in the 2008 MMI Listeners' Picks poll, but it's one which will be definitely nominated along with all the other 2009 releases in the album category. I've already had the opportunity to play a couple of my favourite songs from this album when they first appeared, particularly in the Malta Song for Europe festival. To mark the release of the album as well as Pamela's upcoming gigs in Canada I've selected the song Turn Another Page. It's a really appropriate way to bring this week's podcast to a close, until we meet again for next week's edition.

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 follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Underneath the Stars

The Cure were the guest band on Jonathan Ross' chat show last night. They released an album towards the end of last year. I was quite amazed to see that Robert Smith still wears the same hairstyle and make-up as he did almost 30 years ago, and yet he didn't seem like a nostalgic throwback to the 1980s. Perhaps I was very tired after a long week at work, but I saw him as unusual and unlike anything else as ever.

I'm becoming morbidly fascinated by the aging process and how different people deal with it. An old teacher of mine told me today (in a Facebook message) that he wishes he was professionally where he is now at 66 when he was 40. And yet, so many of the artists I admire were already dead by the time they were 40 or thereabouts. Aging gracefully is not the same as living in an aging body as if your spirit refused to grow old.

Ok, enough belly-button gazing. On to this week's podcast, which is the 152nd in the weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series. Following on from last week's episode, I've picked another 5 brand new tracks to play this week. The first three come from bands who although relatively new on the local scene are each making a splash in their own way.

Cable 35 have released a single called Mary, with an accompanying video (available on YouTube) ahead of the upcoming launch of their limited edition EP entitled Hygene. The launch party will take place at the Poxx Bar on the 14th of March and features Areola Treat as a guest band on the bill. Red Electrick follow-up on last year's successful debut single The End of It All with a single called Black 8 release for radio airplay the day before yesterday. And Colourblind return with a new single called Spectre as they announce an album, which should be "out soon".

I'm always thrilled when Maltese performers contact me to tell me about their latest recordings. The thrill is even greater when its someone I haven't heard from in a while. Sasha Vella contacted me a few days ago about the new recordings she and Sam Hayman have released on their new website. I love every one of the songs I've heard from Sasha and Sam. From the new batch I've selected Lullaby for Two, which as some beautiful echos from Erik Satie's piano style. Sasha's voice is so unusual on the local scene that I'm surprised that more people haven't already heard her sing. The new songs and website should help greatly in possibly rectifying that. I'd love to see them live some day.

Last week I mentioned Antonio Olivari's album Dark Ages, which has been released as a free download from Pinkpube. Following the preview I played from it in June 2007 (that's not a typo!) it's great to see that Olivari's music is finding a new audience through this Pinkpube release. Today I've picked The Link, the opening track from Dark Ages. I would have loved to hear the set he and saxophonist Carlo Muscat played at the book launch party for Pierre J. Mejlak's Qed Nistenniek Nieżla max-Xita last week.

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 follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Funny Valentine

Valentine's Day is one of those things that, to me, are synonymous with capitalist fat cats cashing in on people who think love shouldn't be equally intense on all days. I know that anyone who thinks V Day is "romantic" or "wonderful" will not only disagree with my humbug mindset but also plays beautifully into the hands and pockets of said commercial beasts.

Having said this, I hasten to add that I'm very lucky that my beloved wife agrees with me totally on this one. For us, every day is an equally perfect opportunity to express our love for each other. Perhaps not everybody is that lucky but I know that enough people in this world are able to truly love the one they're without the trappings of V Day to show it.

'Love is...' was a cartoon that marked my childhood psyche indelibly. Because of this, or rather in spite of this, I find that only my beloved can tell me what love really is.

Moving swiftly on, I spent several hours of this fine Saturday producing the 151st podcast in my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series. Now that we're firmly into the second month of the year, the steady flow of new releases has started. This week all five tracks that I've selected fall squarely in this category. The first comes from a new Pinkpube compilation called Tumult and Squawk, which was officially released as a free download on the 17th of January. I plan to play several tracks from this compilation in the coming weeks. For today I've picked Tunnellata by the delightful Danjeli.

A few days ago I received Jon Lukas Woodenman's new single. It's called Better Man and comes in what's being labeled as an "organic" version. When you hear this song you'll see that this singer's beautiful and seasoned voice is the main ingredient in this recording. On a second listen, Better Man may indeed start standing out as the best thing this man has done since recording the classic Can't Afford to Lose almost 40 years ago.

Milk Mi follow up last year's debut single Black Sheep with a single called Disappear. This is the first of two tracks with this title on today's podcast. I liked Black Sheep and I like Disappear even more. If a band can be so good on their first two singles, I really want to see what they sound like say five years from now...if they're still together.

This was the sort of thing I used to think about The Rifffs about thirty years ago. They broke up about 25 years ago, but reunited in 2006 and started working on a long awaited debut album. Moonstomp was finally released earlier this week with a launch gig at Tattinger's in Rabat. It gives me great pleasure and a sense of unexplainable fulfillment to play the title track from this magnificent album on my podcast this week. Let's just hope that we don't have to wait another two or three decades for the next album.

The second tune entitled Disappear on this week's podcast comes from SunSatION, whose music I've included on an earlier MMI edition. Back then I didn't know that Dorian Bugeja is the brains behind this melodic electro-trance music. It is a fitting ending for this week's podcast featuring all new tracks and sounds, particularly in contrast with the material I included in the last two podcasts before this one.

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 follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Express Yourself

Pierre J. Mejlak has just published a collection of short stories entitled Qed Nistenniek Nieżla max-Xita. If you understand Maltese you can hear me read one of these short stories by clicking on the clip below.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Let It Shine

A few days ago I was interviewed by SBS Radio in Australia about the process by which Malta is selecting this year's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place this May in Moscow. I spoke candidly and at length about the 20 songs that made it to the Malta Euro Song 2009 final round; as well as some that didn't make it. Truthfully, most of what I said is simply personal opinion, but it was a good way for me to put myself in the right frame of mind to engage with the annual circus that accompanies this event.

This week's Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast follows on from this trajectory and offers my best thoughts on some of the better songs in this year's crop. I must admit that we've been spared from the same fate we suffered last year, which for me will be remembered as one of the weakest over-all years ever. This is not to say that there's a wide range of material to choose from this year, but at least there are a handful of pleasant pop songs to enjoy.

The first of these is one called Choose Your Number written by Augusto Cardinali and Giovann Attard for the young Maltese entertainer J.Anvil. It follows on from previous songs this team has presented in these local contests and it as enjoyable as a cold bottle of fine sparkling water on a hot summer's day. The same can be said for Before You Walk Away, written by Paul Giordimaina and Fleur Balzan for the vocal group Q, consisting of Fiona, Glen, Leontine, Luca, and Pamela. The feeling I get from both these entries is that they're coming from the bittersweet experiences of similar songs in previous editions of the local selection leading to the Eurovision. This is simply meant as an honest observation rather than a criticism of anyone involved in making this impression on me.

It is therefore with great joy that I welcome a song by what to me are a new composer and a new singer: Andrew Zahra and Kylie Coleiro respectively. The song Let It Shine (lyrics by Joe Julian Farrugia) stands out as the freshest thing on this year's local selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Sadly I can already see this young singer learning to do things that will eventually be her undoing. What I mean to say is that the best thing about Kylie Coleiro is that she is indeed someone who has just managed to break away from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. It's that vestal virgin quality she should be playing up rather than the teenager who is growing up to fast. If that approach doesn't come natural to her, than a near-legal Lolita is most definitely the way to go. Turning into yet another Maltese Eurovision wannabe is the last thing you want to do, Kylie, dear. Trust me, at the risk of sounding pompous and patronizing, I'd say I know a thing or two about this stuff.

At the other end of the spectrum is Eurovision super-diva Chiara. Her angelic voice is almost literally just what the doctor ordered in a selection process such as the one most countries go through before picking a song for the Eurovision Song Contest. I believe that the fact that Chiara is singing a Belgian song (albeit in English) is a problematic (if not controversial) one. At the risk of being accused of being xenophobes, many Maltese are not admitting publicly that this is not the right song for Chiara to take to the Eurovision. Can you imagine what it would be like if Chiara actually went to the Eurovision with What If We and continued her upward ascent to the winning position at the final in Moscow with a song that is less Maltese than any of the others ever sung from Malta? It would probably be even worse for Marc Paelinck and Gregory Bilsen if Chiara returned Malta to the Eurovision final but then failed to be crowned Eurovision queen as she one day truly deserves to be.

In the midst of all this, some good singers and even interesting songs end up being discarded completely as not appropriate for the final round of the local selection. The one I feel the most for is a song called Lament. This is a brave attempt by the Maltese Schlagermeister Philip Vella: a Maltese-language ballad pairing Eurovision veteran pop tenor Ludwig Galea with venerable folk singer Fidela Carabott tal-Bambinu, who at the age of 73 has won the National Folk Singing (Għana) Festival four times. I'm very disappointed that this song didn't at least make it to the final round replacing one of the 20 that actually got to have another attempt at representing Malta at the Eurovision. It is a very fitting way to end the 150th MMI podcast, until "normality" reigns down on the Mużika Mod Ieħor series once again next weekend.

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 follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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