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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Erudite Eyes

What a shock to hear this morning that my dear old friend Dennis Vella passed away last night. He was only 56. As with so many of my other friends in Malta, we had lost touch ever since I left the country about fifteen years ago. Still, our paths would cross again every now and then.

Dennis was a perennial presence in my social life as I grew up in Malta. We first met in Tigne, where we both naturally gravitated to satisfy our shared love for all sorts of music. Many people who are now under 40 probably don't know Dennis as a musician, but if they know him at all will know him as a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta.

We were mature students at the University of Malta together in the early 1990s. He read History of Art, of course, while I explored Communications and Theatre Studies. We spent countless hours together in the University Film Club office at Students' House, often with our mutual friend Julian Manduca.

Other times we would meet at some music-related event or better still at an artist's studio. I spent many Saturdays at Antoine Camilleri's studio back in the late 1980s and into the 90s until I left Malta, and Dennis was no stranger there. Another time we'd bump into each other at Gabriel Caruana's windmill gallery in B'Kara, or the latest art show he'd curated or was simply visiting.

Dennis always struck me with his genteel manners and erudite knowledge of the context for whatever we were looking at or listening to. I was not surprised, but rather impressed, when he actually because curator at Malta's National Museum of Fine Arts. His love of art was second to none. Thankfully, most Maltese artists understood this and some of his peers have luckily captured him directly in their art. (Top painting by Debbie Caruana Dingli; Photo by Patrick Vella; Bottom painting by Isabelle Borg)

His extensive personal collection can serve as an excellent starting point for Malta's National Museum of Modern Art, which was something he frequently mentioned as a missing element in the islands' embrace of its own cultural heritage.

You'll be greatly missed Dennis. Anyone who met you frequently along the way surely knows what a rare gem of a person you were. Those who didn't know you will hopefully appreciate that the Maltese art scene is all the poorer now that you're gone.

Goodbye Dennis.

Dennis Vella (1953-2009)

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Someday Soon

The last few days have been quite a whirlwind in terms of travel. Following the weekend in Cardiff Bay, I went to the Isle of Man to deliver a public lecture on Virtual Worlds, hosted by the British Computer Society (BCS). I was touched by the warm welcome I received during the two days I was there, and I look forward to returning for another visit sometime in the future.

After I had returned to Scarborough mid-week, it was time to head out to Leeds for an editorial board meeting for the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media; I'm the book reviews editor for that publication. After the meeting, we decided to visit the Royal Armouries (again), mostly because it is such an excellently designed museum. I'm not too keen on weapons, but the museum layout and the display arrangements are among the best I've ever seen at any museum. Well worth a return visit.

Now, finally, I'm shaking off the road and getting ready for a productive summer, which should lead into an even more productive autumn when I'll be working on finishing my Franklin Furnace book. I've now made peace with the fact that to produce the level of work that I aim for, I first need to clear the decks from all the smaller tasks I set myself up for from time to time.

As ever, my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast remains the noticeable exception to this. I may have a short break for a week or so later this summer, but there are some pretty remarkable developments afoot with the podcast too, so we'll see how it goes. Meanwhile this week it's time for the 172nd edition of the MMI podcast. Somehow, I've managed to fit five tracks into it, a couple of which are even by performers I hadn't featured on previously.

The Rifffs are currently promoting a track from their cracking debut CD album Moonstomp this summer. Champagne Charlie's Ghost is a delightful ska-tinged song that has this venerable band playing in peak form. I can see how and why they've picked this as the track to push this summer. They've just come off touring in Germany and the Czech Rep. but Maltese fans can catch them at one of three upcoming dates in Ta' Qali: 26 July (this weekend), 15 August (supporting Ali Campbell from UB40) and 12 September (with the national orchestra). The comeback is over: The Rifffs are back where they belong at the forefront of the Maltese pop music scene.

Two instrumental tracks featuring guitarists up next. Both musicians are new inclusions on the podcast but neither one of them is new to the local music scene. Andrew Zammit has been playing guitar since the early 1980s. Some Tigne old-timers may remember him as the lead guitarist with metal band Overdose. Not too long after that he set up his own professional recording studio in Birkirkara: Tone Studios. Paul Giordimania recorded his new double album Letter to Bernie (dedicated to the late bassist Bernard Scerri) at Tone. Andrew has now also released a couple of tracks showcasing his guitar playing. You can hear them all on his recently launched MySpace page. I've picked one called When All Is Gone.

The other guitar instrumental comes from Stefano Farrugia. Most recently his music has been heard in many Maltese households as the main theme and soundtrack for the drama series Pupi, earning him a nomination for Best Score at the 2007 Malta Television Awards. Maltese metalheads may also remember him playing guitar about ten years ago with the now defunct band Angel Dust, which has now metamorphosed into 26 Other Worlds. Rumble is an excellent track to hear not only his guitar playing skills but also his abilities as a composer.

Any regular listener of the MMI podcast knows that I am always keen to include material that uses the Maltese language in one way or another. No surprise then in having the UK-based Ethnamorte return to the podcast again, this time with a tune called Belt is Seħer featuring guitarist Malcolm Callus, who is better known as Gool. I should probably also include one of this non-Ethnamorte recordings someday soon.

The final track I've managed to squeeze into the podcast this week's is Closest Thing To Love (Because of You) the new single from Chris Enriquez. This is a follow up to An Angel In The Making, which I originally played last February. Back then I also commented that I firmly believed this was not the last we'd heard from Chris Enriquez. He's back within just a few months and judging from this new song I have a feeling there's plenty more to come from him.

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 or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walking on the Moon

I'm in Cardiff this weekend for WordCamp UK. WordPress always struck me as excellent web content management software and I've been hovering around it for several months now. Yet this is the first time that I've had the opportunity to send a couple of days focused on it. It really is remarkable software.

To say that this blog will very soon be switched from Blogger to WordPress is only an initial reason for the excitement I feel about this software. was switched to WordPress last year, but that was more a move of technical necessity rather than something I advocated through preference. In any case, I am truly impressed by the power of WordPress. I think it's the best Internet thing I've turned my attention to full-on for quite some time.

Although I'm in Wales this weekend, I prepared another edition of the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast before I left Scarborough. The 171st MMI podcast is loosely themed around this year Malta Jazz Festival. It may therefore seem a little odd to open it with a track called A Quaint Affair from Not In A Million Lovers by the Beangrowers, but there's a simple explanation for this. Beanie singer Alison Galea has been collaborating with Oliver Degabriele's Trio to appear at this year's Malta Jazz Festival.

Unfortunately I don't have any recordings of Alison singing with Oliver Degabriele's Trio. Yet I'm happy to say that I have a recording from Oliver's Trio. Asteroid 612 is a very fitting selection, especially now that we're marking the 40th anniversary of the first moonwalk.

The Malta Jazz Festival is back to its original format after losing its way in an ill-advised private enterprise experiment over the last few years. Charles "City" Gatt has passed on the reins as artistic director to Sandro Zerafa, who seems to be doing an excellent job in restoring the event to its original spirit and venue in Valletta. Although he is not officially on the bill for the festival, it's also a good excuse for me to include another track from his White Russian 5et album, which was released last year. This time I'm playing Delightfully Disconnected.

For the final track on this week's MMI podcast, I'm moving away from the Malta Jazz Festival but staying with music that wouldn't be out of place on the playlist for a lite jazz radio station. Denny Falzon was born in Malta but moved to the USA with his parents when he was just a little boy. He was raised in Detroit but eventually settled in Florida, where he now performs regularly in Palm Beach. His main instruments are guitar and steel drum. Listen to the tune called This Dance is Forever and enjoy what someone of Maltese descent sounds like when they grow up in a culture that's very different to the one they left behind in their native country.

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 or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stuck On You has been offline for the last couple of days because the hosting company forgot to move the files that make up this website during server migration. Other websites I own or manage where involved in this server migration but they seem to be working fine. Now that you're reading this, the situation has been restored.

I'm in the process of switching the whole site to WordPress. I had already started exploring this before the mess-up with the hosting company. I'm seriously tempted to switch hosting companies, but I've been with this one for more than a decade so I'm used to their ups and downs. Truth be told, I can't imagine any hosting company can offer a much better service than the one I have; even if some of the things that bug me get ironed out I have a feeling that I would have to deal with others. There's a second hosting company I've worked with the last couple of years, so what I'm saying here is based on long practical experience of these things.

Anyway, it seems that hosting services, WordPress, and website structures are going to dominate my summer. I'm about to attend WordCamp in Cardiff next weekend to immerse myself into the WordPress community, which is incredibly strong and empowering. I'm hoping that it's also very supportive of people like me. I'll let you know how it goes by this time next week, when I should be right in the middle of it all.

Next week's Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast will somehow related to this year's Malta Jazz Festival, taking place 16-18 July. This week's MMI podcast, which is the 170th in the series, should appeal greatly to rock fans. The Maltese metal scene has evolved interestingly in the last couple of decades and I'm very pleased to note that the genre has developed in such a way that it is no longer the default mode for guitar bands.

To warm up our ears to take in this week's selections, I've picked a track from an American CD called Vicious Country by Poppa Chubby and his wife Galea. I was very impressed to see huge posters for Poppa Chubby in Moscow on my recent visit to that city. Bad housewife Galea has been featured on the MMI series a couple of other times, highlighting her Maltese ancestry. Their version of Gene Vincent's Race With the Devil is an excellent updating of this rockabilly classic.

Facebook users may have seen a post of my wall by Cedric Debono a few days ago announcing a new recording by metal band Item. Give Up The Ghost has the trio performing in top form. If you'd like to see them live, you can catch them along with Knockturn Alley on Friday 17 July at the Liquid Club in Tal-Ballal. Item started recording material for a new album last month and I'm sure their fans in Malta and beyond will be looking forward to this release.

X-Vandals is yet another Maltese metal band that released an album about three or four weeks ago. I haven't heard the rest of the album (because I haven't managed to get my hands on a copy yet) but from the couple of tracks I've heard on their MySpace page, it's safe to say that Breach the Silence has these veteran rockers at the top of their game. Uprising plays up their activist side and it's an essential part of what endears them to their loyal fans. Thy Legion supported X-Vandals during their 13 June album launch, so I thought it would be most appropriate to close this week's podcast by playing their most recent recording, which is called Sadism Through Holy Intervention.

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 or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Master Blaster

In all the years I've lived in the UK I don't ever remember nicer summer weather than what we're heaving this year. I'm very amused whenever any of my British friends or work colleagues complains about the heat. How would they survive anywhere south of the Alps during the summer? I wouldn't even dream of going to that part of the world in July and August unless I really had to.

Sadly, Scarborough is being deprived of the annual Beached festival this year, but hopefully it'll be back next year. It's almost as if the same thing happened (but didn't) with the Malta Jazz Festival. I mean, it's finally back to its original venue and groove after being lost to a commercial venture for a couple of years or so. I'll probably include something on next week's Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast about all this. The 169th edition, which I'm releasing this weekend, opens where the last one left off. Like Effetti Kollaterali, No Bling Show will be appearing before the major American hip-hop artist Immortal Technique on Sunday 5 July in Pembroke.

I've been wanting an excuse to play No Bling Show's Anzi s-Sajf since the first time I heard it a few months ago. It's a really cool Maltese song. I dare you not to like least a little. To give my podcast listeners a little taste of what's expected in Pembroke on Sunday, I've also included Caught in a Hustle by Immortal Technique. If you're not a hip-hop fan it's easy to dismiss this artist as just another performer of a genre you may don't appreciate, but don't think for a minute that this is a just another half-baked or over-hyped rapper. Immortal Technique is as credible an artist as any hip-hop performer can ever be. The fact that No Bling Show and Effetti Kollaterali are sharing a stage with him says a great deal about them. No Bling Show in particular are undoubtedly Malta's most significant hip-hop act because they've managed to find a way to explore this genre from a very Maltese perspective. I so wish I could be a this concert on Sunday.

The rest of this week's podcasts consists of two brand new singles by Maltese singer-songwriters that regular MMI listeners will have heard me play before. The first is In Ecstasy by Thomas Hedley, who continues to surprise me with excellent pop tunes that are not too ordinary to ignore after just one or two listens. The other is On My Mind by Aaron Benjamin. He seems to have found himself quite a following in Malta since moving there from the UK a couple of years ago. Listening to this song I can understand why.

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 or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

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