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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Always Coming Back to You

A couple of days ago I found out that Brooks McNamara, one the most influential and supportive professors I had during my graduate studies at NYU, has died. I was saddened not only by the fact that he had been sick and passed away, but also because it took me a couple of weeks to hear that he died just a few days after Augusto Boal.

Brooks retired about a year after I started working on my PhD, so I was unable to have him supervise my work, which eventually moved away considerably from what it would have been with him. However, I will always treasure how he taught me that there's great significance in giving due importance to alternative performance forms, particularly popular entertainments. He also made me appreciate amateur performances much better than I ever could ever have done without his guidance. The very first piece of academic writing I published (a book chapter I co-wrote with Vicki Ann Cremona about carnival and panto in Malta under British rule) started out as a paper for one of his classes.

In many ways, my current research interest in Maltese music owes a great deal to Brooks McNamara. I can feel his guiding hand in several of my decisions as I think through a way to bring together my academic work with my passion for Maltese music, amateur performances, hybrid forms of entertainment, and the plethora of scattered documents in the archive I long to create for future generations.

My weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast has become ground zero for all this, from my perspective. It is my notebook for the work that needs to be done to preserve and promote Maltese popular music. The 164th MMI podcast clearly demonstrates the broad spectrum of work that no radio station or record store in Malta really bothers to capture in any significant way.

Sasha Vella and Sam Hayman have released a number of new tracks on their website. Apparently a CD is in the works. I've had the great pleasure of playing their songs on previous MMI podcasts various other times. Sam even helped me out by pointing out a broken link on last week's show notes. You could say that my decision to play Nina as this week's opening song is simply a way to say thanks to Sam, or just another excuse to hear Sasha's lovely songs. Either way it's a win-win proposition.

Maltese-Australian singer Renee Cassar has finally released her debut album. If you follow the MMI podcasts regularly, you'll know that I've featured her songs on various previous editions. She is quite good and surprisingly makes for addictive listening. She has also produced a video for the song Dreary Day, which is one of the new songs on the album. I'm not sure why she's not well known in Malta yet. She produces exactly the kind of songs that Maltese radio stations like to play whenever they say they play Maltese music, without including any Maltese-language tracks on their playlists. Perhaps this album will finally get her the attention she deserves back on the rock.

I'm extremely pleased whenever a Maltese band that has been gigging for some time releases a recording. This is what happened a few days ago when the Retrophytes announced that they will be releasing their debut EP this summer. They're previewing a couple of tracks from this EP on their MySpace page. Virgin is the one I've selected to include on this week's podcast and it shows how and why the band keeps gathering a greater following with every live show they do. I have a feeling that they may be the next alternative Maltese band to go mainstream. If they do I'm sure more recordings will keep coming our way in the coming years. So it's all good.

Anyone living in Malta this weekend shouldn't miss this year's edition of the GħanaFest at the Argotti Gardens in Floriana. With tickets at just €2 it's almost as if there's no entrance fee. Festival coordinator Ruben Zahra has assembled an amazing programme featuring three consective evenings of traditional Maltese għana, contemporary Maltese folk, and various guest acts from around the Mediterranean. In marking this event on my podcast, I've included a track by his own band Nafra called Tlaqna.

The amazing Brikkuni will be playing at GħanaFest tomorrow at 8:45pm. I'm sure many of their fans will be heading out to the Argotti Gardens for this concert. In the process they will also be exposed to all sorts of other delights during the last day of this 3-day festival. Brikkuni's L-Eletti is a very appropriate way to close this week's podcast as we enter the final week of electoral campaigning ahead of next weekend's European Parliament and Local Council elections.

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

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

After the Love is Gone

I can't believe it's already been a week since I left Moscow. It all seems like a blur. I guess this is partly, if not mostly, because I'm so busy with all sorts of things. Unfortunately some of the things that keep me busy are not very productive. It's really about time I learned to take the raw with the cooked, and yet it's getting better all the time.

Two deaths broke up this week's humdrum cheer. The first was that of Maltese actress Antoinette Soler. She was quite well known and loved both on stage and TV for many years. Oddly, though, I haven't seen a single obituary or appreciation for her online. Next came the shocking personal message from my old friend Robert Longo that Niki Falzon had passed away. He was only 48 but Sam Hayman told me that he'd been hospitalized about a month ago. I'm afraid that the best that I can do is remember them through my blog and celebrate Niki's music during my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast.

The 163rd MMI podcast is a mixed bag of goodies that accumulated on my desktop over the last few days. The opening song is the long awaited debut release from Kartridge. This band, fronted by former Purple Haze singer Daryl Ebejer, has been gigging since around 2006, and I've always longed to hear them. Now that they've finally produced a recording I can fulfill that wish and share their sound with my podcast listeners. The song is called Wild Crazy Nights.

I'm pleased to see that more and more Maltese musicians and performers are taking to Twitter. On this week's podcast I've deliberately included two people who have taken to Twittering quite regularly. It was through Twitter that I discovered Christabelle's song Flame, which has just been released on YouTube accompanied by a static picture of the singer for the duration of the song. Apparently it's been out (and getting regular radio airplay in Malta) for several months but if it wasn't for the fact that I started following Christabelle on Twitter about a week ago I would have probably missed out completely on this one.

Brian Vassallo is the other inclusion on this week's podcast to come from Twitter. Several days ago, Philip Mizzi posted a short film called In The End made by Ramon Mizzi. Philip acts in this short film, but I only really became aware that the original soundtrack was composed by Brian Vassallo from Brian's Twitter account; I have been following him for a number of weeks. The track I've selected from this short film soundtrack is called My Only Son.

Regular listeners of the Mużika Mod Ieħor series may remember that I've included the music of Nick Falzon at least a couple of times in previous editions. Niki, as those of us who knew him more than two decades ago called him, was a very prolific composer of jazzy new age music and broadcast jingles. His passing earlier this week is marked with a fond final farewell at the close of this week's podcast. The music I've chosen to play to see us out until the next episode comes from a 1992 album called Twilight Moods, which Niki Falzon released under the name Masque, in collaboration with several other musicians, including saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and drummer David Vella. Glow is among the best tracks on what was one of the very first Maltese CD albums ever released.

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

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Love Reign O'er Me

I'm on the train from London going up north back home to Scarborough right now. I published the 162nd Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast but I didn't have time to blog about it because I was in Moscow. I also had other plans for Sunday and today which made it next to impossible for me to blog any sooner.

I know I owe my faithful podcast listeners a decent blog entry about the most recent podcast. I also owe my loyal blog readers a post about the result of this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Although I have access to the internet via the free wi-fi service on the train, we'll be pulling into York railway station within the next half hour so I won't have time to write the way I'd like to before later tomorrow or possibly even Wednesday. Normal service will resume soon enough, so for now please forgive me for writing the rest of this blog entry the way you're about to read.

The 162nd podcast was released just before the 2009 Eurovision final. So, as you'd expect there's a little Eurovision in it, but if you know anything about the MMI podcast you know to expect something quite different than what the mainstream Maltese media would give you on such an occasion. Yes, the podcast opens with Chiara singing her Belgian made song, with which she managed to return Malta to the contest's final round for the first time since 2006. Malta will never get a decent placement in the current version of the Eurovision without either an outstanding song or a strategic marketing campaign...or both. I think that's all I'll say about the Eurovision today, especially now that it's all (almost) over.

Next up is Freddie Portelli with his new single Tonight. Freddie turned 65 on the 5th of May and listening to this new song makes me appreciate how hip some Maltese pensioners really are these days.

The 2nd edition of the Malta Hit Song Contest presented its final session on the 1st of May. Neville Refalo won this year's contest with a song that was clearly better than most of the rest of those in the competition. However, one of my personal favorites was by Julie Pomorski.

For anyone interested in what Maltese music really sounds like I would currently wholeheartedly recommend the debut album from No Bling Show. I played one of their songs a few weeks ago from a live video version. Now you can hear the song about Lucija u Samuel in the CD version from the album Stejjer tal-Bandli. This album will undoubtedly standout when the end of year top picks are selected for 2009. Meanwhile, I urge you to get your hands on the album and listen to the difference. Here's a group of young Maltese artists on the verge of maturing into significant Maltese artists.

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

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Love Shine a Light

Malta's name is once again to be heard as a contender in the Eurovision Song Contest finals. Many believe that if Chiara couldn't do this for Malta no one else could. This has put immense pressure on the singer, even though she has participated in this pan-European contest twice before. I can understand what she meant last night after the semifinal when she said that she was more concerned about making it through to the final than she is about her performance at the final.

This is not hubris. Chiara is the first to admit that she is stubborn and hard-headed when it comes to reaching for the number 1 spot at the Eurovision Song Contest. Since she is not a singer by profession this is understandable. Over the years Chiara has fashioned as a Eurovision performer and this suits her very well. She seems quite happy to think that this contest is the pinnacle of her carrier in the music industry. There's nothing wrong with that, especially for a singer who comes from a country that has produced fewer international stars that most people have fingers on one hand.

By all counts, winning the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest is no easy feat for the Maltese singer and her Belgian-made song. Chiara has a beautiful singing voice but she will need to beat at least 4 others singers with beautiful voices and/or songs: Jade Ewen (UK), Yohanna (Iceland), Malena Ernman (Sweden), and of course Patricia Kaas (France). Flor-de-lis (Portugal) is not to be discredited at this point of the game either.

Any assessment of Chiara's chances for bringing the Eurovision Song Contest to Malta in 2010 should also take into consideration that Regina (Bosnia & Herzegovina) is clearly the Eastern favourite this year, while Alexander Rybak (Norway) remains the bookies pick to win. Today the bookies have Malta in 10th position on average at the final, and many are including Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine within the final top 10.

As I write this I'm watching the dress rehearsal for the 2nd semifinal. If this year is a year for ballads and/or great voices I don't think the 2009 ESC winner is among this batch. Most of the songs could have been last year's runners-up in their respective countries but the Ukrainians really know how to stage a spectacular extravaganza. Anyway, I'll reassess this situation, if absolutely necessary, on Friday. If I'm lucky I'll manage to take in the town and its glorious culture a little bit more than I've had time for till now.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Is This Love

I'm in Moscow this week for the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. If you follow this blog regularly (or at least you've followed it around previous months of May) you'll know that this event is one I'm interested in for various reasons. Although there's lots of pop-trash and kitsch galore, as someone with a performance studies-related day job, I feel professionally compelled to follow this annual festival. Also, as a lover of Maltese music I can't ignore any Maltese singers who appears on TV in front of an audience of millions of televiewers around the world.

Anyway, enough introductions. I do this every year. So, what's different this year? I'm not blogging as extensively as I've done about Eurovision week since 2006. I'm twittering regularly instead and if you're interested in knowing what I'm thinking and/or what's going on in Moscow (from my perspective) you can follow my micro-blogging activities on Twitter.

This year I'm also very pleased to start collaborating with SBS Radio in Australia to provide special reports through their Maltese language service. The first report is now available online through the SBS website and at

Other than this, I've been interviewed by Norman Hamilton for Super One TV. I'll post that if/when I get my hands on the edited version. I've also been interviewed by the Xarabank team for their upcoming special appearing later this week. They both asked the usual question: "so who's going to win this year?" and I've obviously replied that I have no idea. Still, if it were up to me France wins Eurovision 2009. Patricia Kaas makes me cry whenever I hear her sing the beautifully depressing Et S'il Fallait Le Faire. Paris is wonderful in May. Better still: Cannes...perhaps?

France really wants to win this year. So does the UK. This is rather weird because both countries have obviously not been taking the Eurovision Song Contest too seriously in recent years. Mind you, I loved Sébastien Tellier last year: pure pop genius. The UK has brought out the big guns in the shape of Andrew Lloyd Webber this year. The song is not one of Lloyd Webber's best but Jade Ewen is a brilliant performer who is able to deliver It's My Time better than any other singer anyone can imagine.
Chiara at first rehearsal of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest semifinal 1
Malta should do well this year. Chiara has been a Eurovision starlet waiting for her close-up since 1998. Competition on the first semi-final is not so tough for a singer with her experience and exquisite voice. If she performs to the best of her abilities she should sail through to Saturday's final quite easily. Maltese Eurovision fans will finally rejoice in the fact that a singer from Malta is performing at the Eurovision final. More on that after the first semifinal; prudence first.

What else can I say? I don't have much more to add, except to invite you to follow me on Twitter if you'd like to get the latest from me in Moscow.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

For Those About To Rock

I'm writing this on the National Express train between York and London King's Cross on my way to Heathrow Airport. I'm on my way to Moscow for the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. I wanted to test the free on-board wi-fi by publishing my weekly MMI podcast from the train. So far so good...or better still: it looks like everything is falling into place nicely. Wireless internet really is an essential element of the major paradigm shift that allows me (and countless others) to engage in this sort of mobile activity. For a blow by blow update on all this, you can follow me on Twitter too. I won't be offended if you don't.

To make sure I arrive in Moscow for the Eurovision in the appropriate mindset the 161st Mużika Mod Iehor podcast is dedicated to all Maltese (hard) rock fans. Starting off with a band that as not only just released a new album but also took part in the 2nd edition of the Heavy Metal Eurovision back in 2005. Aidenn Falls sees this veteran Maltese metal band Forsaken in top form. Leo Stivala's vocals give the band a distinctive mark that makes them instantly recognizable among the many other metal contenders on the scene. After the Fall came out on 1 April 2009 and marks Forsaken's first collaboration with Swedish metal label I Hate Records.

Speaking of new albums, I'm sure that every self-respecting rocker in the Maltese islands has heard about the new release from Knockturn Alley entitled Medusa. I featured this band on my podcast back in 2006 when they first appeared with their debut EP The Dream is Dead. I'm very pleased to play Epilogue (Cities Burn) from their new debut album, which is officially released tonight at the Liquid Club in Tal-Ballal, limits of San Gwann. Greek band The Source are the opening act at the launch gig. Something tells me that the connection comes through Knockturn Alley's drummer Dimitris Aggelidis.

In The Name Of is another active Maltese hardcore metal band. I've never had an opportunity to play any of their music on the MMI podcast before. This is most probably because they've only been around for a couple of years and it's only recently that I managed to get my hands on one of their recordings. Have a listen to Rise (of a Crushing Alliance) and sample the sort of thing you should expect from the if you go see them live along with Twenty Six Other Worlds and Oblique Visions at the Poxx Bar in Paceville.

This genre of music is a dominant subculture which rivals any other style of music. I believe that it's only considered underground because most radio stations refuse to play it. It's not surprising that one of Malta's most successful alternative bands emerged from a hardcore metal band. That band was called Victims of Creation. I had the distinct honour of playing their only released recording on the MMI series within the first few months after I started podcasting. It is therefore a joy that I share with numerous other Maltese rock fans that Victims of Creation have returned to play live at the Malta Doom Metal Festival, which took place at The Poxx a last weekend. Victims of Creation (with a slightly altered line up of original members) have released a garage recording of a track called Chapter 22, and that's the sound I want running through my head as I head out to Moscow for this year's Eurovision Song Contest. I'll make it up to any podcast listeners who prefer lighter genres of music next week. I promise.

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

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

May It Be

I was just getting ready to blog about the fact that Wired Malta (formerly known as Wired Temples) is now active again with postings by Gattaldo when I received the very Toni Sant with Augusto Boal outside NYU - August 1999sad news that Augusto Boal has died. I have very fond memories of the summer weeks we spent together in 1999, when he gave a 3-week intensive workshop in the Theatre of the Oppressed at New York University. Assisting him during that series of workshops was one of the most beautiful experiences not only of my theatrical life but also of my life as a human being. Augusto made theatre because he cared about people. I will miss him.

The return of Wired Malta after hibernating since mid-winter is a very welcome. As some of the regular readers of WM may have noticed, Robert Micallef, its founder, has been too busy with other projects to continue updating that blog regularly. He plans to return in the coming weeks but meanwhile we've invited our long-term friend Gattaldo as a guest blogger to get things started up again. Gattaldo is setting out with the following two strands: (1) Noise - excerpts from various sources with one theme in mind, and (2) Borgo is a story, the characters of which all live in the same town. One of the things Gattaldo remembers most about his childhood was his father's imaginative storytelling and the fact that his dad would start the story without knowing where it would lead. In this little experiment, it's the journey that is important. It's a story with no end. All characters in this story are fictitious; and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Meanwhile, I've also released the 160th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. This week I've selected to play four brand new tracks and a previously unreleased recording. The opening song is the new single from The Myth. Dream sees Dion Farrell and his band finding their own style. It's been a long process and I have good reason to believe that it's far from over. Check out their MySpace page for the latest gig listings. Another new single comes from 8 Ugly, whose long-awaited album is expected later this year. Goodbyefinds singer Mark Azzopardi in top form. I'm looking forward to more from this band and hopefully I can catch them live one day sooner or later.

The Myth's Dream is a follow-up to Animal, which I played during one of the first MMI podcasts this year. During another podcast last January I introduced my listeners to the music of guitarist Stefanos. He now returns with a new recording entitled Zero Plus. Stefanos is a proficient rock guitarist and I for one would be very pleased to hear him play live and/or record with a proper band rather than a drum machine and sequenced tracks.

During my recent visit to Malta I was glad to (re-)meet Cecil Jones. We've known each other for decades but hadn't met since the early 1990s. I asked him to forward some of his recordings and I promised to include at least one of them on my podcast. Break Machine is an unreleased track writen and performed by Cecil Jones, with Mario Caruana on fretless electric bass and the late percussionist Nicki Doublet. This song helps me fulfill two long-held desires for this series of podcasts: playing something by Cecil Jones and featuring a recording featuring Nicki Doublet, who died young of a cruel illness some years before the series first appeared.

A few days ago, Tribali released a new CD called The Elephants of Lanka. After just a few minutes of listening to this album I would say that the band has matured since their first outing a few years ago. I'm grateful to Howard Keith and Dennis Fenech at Jagged House for sending me a copy of the CD by snail mail. This has enabled me to pick the track Festa as the closing track for this week's podcast. I'm sure that many music lovers will thoroughly enjoy the musical fusion presented by Tribali on The Elephants of Lanka. If you're in Malta on the 23rd of May you can catch Tribali live in concert at the GreenPak EarthGarden in Ta' Qali; tickets cost €15 and are expected to sell out soon.

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

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