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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sun Always Shines On TV

My visits to Malta are almost always flavoured with a main theme, which dominates most of my activities in the days I spend visiting my country of birth. Often it's music. Sometimes it's family. This time it's TV. To be quite honest it feels a little odd, particularly because I thought I had shaken off the ghost of TV before the end of the 20th century.

This round of TV-dominated activities started with performing my civic duty as a member of the expert jury panel at the 2010 Malta EuroSong, selecting Malta's 2010 Eurovision Song Contest entry. This exercise took up almost an entire weekend of my life, but I don't regret a second, even though enduring subpar songs and singers overshadowing some excellent singers and a couple of decent songs is not an easy job. Fortunately, reason prevailed at this year's local selection for Eurovision and the act with the best chance of not doing too badly at the contest in May was selected with a clear vote by both the judging panel and the televiewers. In spite of this, my ideas about what Malta really needs to do vis a vis its annual Eurovision efforts remain unchanged.

It was delightful to get away from it all with Charles Xuereb (one of my former broadcasting career mentors) on Wednesday at Malta's National Museum of Fine Art. Our evening in the Art & Wine @ South Street series seemed to generate quite a bit of debate around the theme of contemporary art. The museum staff's vision for the future of art in Malta is simply fantastic. They're already doing miricles with the resources at hand and I wholeheartedly believe that great new things may come to pass at Malta's foremost art musuem in the coming years.
Art and Wine @ South Street

I'm always amused by the different audiences and broad-ranging cultural dynamics in Malta whenever I visit. Back to TV on Friday, I spent the better part of the evening in the green room for Malta's most popular chat show: Xarabank. On one level it's a showcase for populist Maltese ideas to florish, on another it's a contemporary cultural anthropologist's playing field. I enjoyed it all, even though I only got to speak for no more than a couple of minutes on the show.

To bring it all to a close, earlier this evening I attended the 2010 Malta Television Awards at the same Ta' Qali venue where I spent most of last weekend. I was one of the judges for the Best Documentary category. It was a fabulous networking occassion as a huge number of the multiude of people who work in Malta's television industry where all gathered under one roof. As award shows go, this is one that's still in its infancy in terms of impact and format. Considering how television has developed in Malta over the past 20 years, I am quite keen to see what shape things will take on 20 years from now; especially as TV faces an ever growing challenge from the Internet.

Although I was mostly in Malta to give lectures on contemporary performance at the University of Malta through the Erasmus programme, overall I come away from this TV-themed week with a clear sense that the quantity and quality of television shows in this country has advanced greatly since I officially abandoned my career as a professional broadcast in the 1990s. However, I'm saddened by the fact that there's no more creativity now than was evident in the time when resources were restricted and limited in every way, shape and form.

Incidentally, if you've come to the blog looking for this week's Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast I urge you to listen to one of the 200 episodes I've produced since 2005, while I prepare for the 202nd edition.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dream On

Malta's entry for the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest was selected last night. Newcomer Thea Garrett will sing My Dream by Jason Cassar and Sunny Aquilina this May in Oslo. It was a relatively easy selection for the expert panel of judges and the televoting public to pick this act from the 20 entries in the final round of Malta's selection for this year's Eurovision. The local pop scene is tired and complacent but (as one of this year's members of the judging panel) I'm grateful that at least one song rose above all others in such a clear and undeniable way.

For Thea Garrett and her team the road ahead has many twists and turns that need to be handled with care. I wish them all the best with their adventure, mindful of the fact that they will spread their wings enough to do the best they can with the resources available to them.

Rather than harp on about this year's Malta EuroSong for the 201st Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast, I'd like to share with you an interview conducted by Marlene Galea from SBS Radio in Australia about a week ahead of the event, assessing the state of Malta's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. This is meant as constructive criticism towards a better understanding of how the Maltese music pop scene can make better use of the opportunities offered by appearing on a television show followed by hundreds of millions of viewers.

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, February 13, 2010

Long Hard Road

Looks like we've made it! The weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series has reached the 200th podcast. Starting way back in November 2005, it has taken just over four years to get here. When the 100th podcast was released it was clearly time to celebrate but now I feel that every new podcast is a celebration in itself. The 200th MMI podcast is a special edition but last week's podcast was just as special, and I hope that next week's edition will be special too.

Three things have encouraged me above everything else to continue producing this series. The first is the incredible feedback I get from podcast listeners every week. This is coupled with waves of appreciation from many of the singers and musicians I feature from week to week. From these comments I can see that the MMI podcast is a significant element in the promotion of Maltese music around the world. I am also very grateful to Vodafone for sponsoring the podcast since last autumn. While I obviously don't produce the MMI podcast for financial gain, there are some associated expenses that must be covered and so the sponsorship is most welcome.

The 200th MMI podcast opens with the song I Can't Take It written by Elton Zarb and Ira Losco for Amy Agius. Amy is a new arrival on the local music scene and it's understandable to think that this sort of song and singer would be an automatic fit for the upcoming EuroSong festival. However, to my knowledge, it's gone a different root and that probably helps some listeners appreciate it better. This is a good pop rock song and Amy's voice is pleasant enough to carry it. If this is her debut I'm sure that her next offering may make even more of a splash.

Winter Moods have returned with new material ahead of the release of another album. The new song that's making the round on most local radio stations in Malta right now is called Last to Know. This is the band's first release as a quintet following the departure of founding guitarist Steve Caruana Smith (fondly known as Is-Serp) on amicable terms. Smith contributed greatly to the band's sound so it's understandable that they now sound slightly different. Their fans will undoubtedly appreciate the new sound particularly because it helps give them a way to reinvent themselves as one of the longest standing rock band on the Maltese music scene.

I believe that much more needs to be done to preserve and disseminate recording by Maltese musicians not only when they are released but also, and especially, years after they're originally released. On the 7th of July 2007 (07/07/07) Jewls Verse released his debut album Taking It Easy, lifting two singles from the album to help promote it at the time. He continues to gig around the islands regularly and he maintains an online presence too, of course, but I don't how many radio stations (including ones that originally played tracks from the album when it first appeared) continue to include tracks from it on their playlists, which are otherwise filled with songs from non-Maltese acts from the same period. It's a complex issue and I am attempting to address it systematically even beyond the weekly MMI podcast. Meanwhile, I will also continue to play tracks released in bygone years on my podcast too; not for the sake of nostalgia but rather to ensure that we keep a sense of continuity going in the ever-growing output coming from the local music scene. Jewls Verse's Help Me appears on this week's podcast precisely in this spirit.

New releases from acts I've already featured on the MMI podcast series delight me on a regular basis. Heartbeat fall squarely into this category right now as they've released some new songs through MySpace. I really like Dorienne Cachia's voice and feel that she's a perfect fit for the type of music produced by this band. Forever By Your Side is one of the new tracks that clearly demonstrate this. I'm sure I'll be including another one of these new songs they've just released in a future edition of the MMI podcast.

To close the 200th show in the series, I've picked something that's very special and dear to me. The 1989 TVM series Mill-Garaxx, which I created with my late friend Mario Ellul, will forever remain one of the most significant things I've ever done as a broadcaster. Bringing Maltese musicians to play live in the TVM studio was received well at the time mostly because there was a great lack of such space being given to live music (particularly rock music) on what was then the only Maltese television channel. Winter Moods were among the bands who appeared on that series. The opening music was written by Charlie Dalli and performed by his band X-Tend. It is the earliest specimen of rap in the Maltese language. That in itself makes it remarkable. Personally, I believe it provides the words I'd like on my grave:

"Kemm hi sabiħa dik il-ħolma li xi darba mmiss l-istilel,
imma kull valur jgħeb jekk kull ma mmiss isir deheb."

This roughly translates to "What a beautiful dream to one day touch the stars, but a value melt away if everything you touch turns to gold."

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, February 06, 2010

Almost There

As I sat down to prepare the 199th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast this morning it dawned on me that next week's edition will be the 200th in the series. I recalled how the 100th edition was marked as a special occasion back in 2008, first by Michael Bugeja in The Sunday Times (of Malta) and then through the MMI podcast itself featuring a bunch of carefully picked tracks.

Should I make the 200th MMI podcast into another special edition or is it enough of a celebration to acknowledge the fact that the series has reached 200? After all, my hope (and plan) is to go on for as long as I physically can with this series and it would be rather silly to "mark a moment" every 100 podcasts as if it's something special. I'd like to believe that people who follow the MMI podcast (or even one who stumble across it by accident) recognize the fact that this is a very special series by virtue of the focus it has and its longevity.

The 199th MMI podcast opens with a debut track from Tape Division, which is a new project by Hadrian Mansueto. It sets the tone beautifully for today's podcast, particularly since it's not often that I open the show with a dance track. Apparently Heartbeat is still a work-in-progress, but it has already been paired up with a video on YouTube.

New releases for 2010 keep coming at a steady pace, even though I would say that things haven't really picked up the pace for this year yet. Dubkey Records has just released an album of tracks by Mind's Eye Dub entitled A Different World; available as a free download here. There's a video to accompany the title track, which like most of the tracks on this album come from the early 2000s, when M.E.D. was presented to an online audience through the original There are however three tracks on this album that were not previously released through One of these is the one I've selected to play on this week's podcast. Nuff Respect features MC Trooper who was the resident toaster on Dread Connexion, a Sunday night live internet show originating from England, when this recording was made.

This week's messages from podcast listeners included one from my old friend Mark Attard, known to many who follow the Maltese music scene as the keyboard player with Fakawi. Mark pointed out that the MMI podcast doesn't follow live gigs as rigorously as he would like it to. Fair comment, but as I explained to him, there are valid reasons for that. Furthermore, it's not as if we never refer to gigs. In any case, this week I wanted to highlight the fact that there are certain bands -- such as Fakawi -- who can only really be appreciated fully during their live shows. Video clips of live gigs can give you a glimpse of why certain acts don't translate well into a studio recording. The upcoming live concert featuring Fakawi, BNI, Dolls 4 Idols, Loose Ends, and others at the Nadur Carnival on Saturday 13 February is clearly one such gig. No recording can replace the experience of being there.

The debut release from the new band Eggshell Black landed on my desktop a few days ago. I was immediately struck by the wide-reaching online presence created for the release of Unwanted. Not that it couldn't be better, but I don't remember ever seeing this much noise being made by a new band on the Maltese scene for their debut release. The song itself is slightly unimpressive at first, but it quickly picks up steam and develops into a song that tells the discerning listener that this band may be on to a bright future. Giving Eggshell's debut single a second listen is highly recommended. I overcame the initial reaction and I'm sure others will too. Bring on the next track.

As you may have noticed on this links embedded in this blog post, all but one of the tracks included on this week's podcast relate to some sort of video clip. It's therefore appropriate to squeeze in one more track this week; one that's video related, of course. Veteran Maltese electronic musician Ray Buttigieg left Gozo many years ago. He has produced an impressive discography over the past 4 decades and now seems to be capturing some of his music through video clips on YouTube. Tripper Big Dipper is one such track from Buttigieg's catalog. Old and new fans will undoubtedly be looking out for more video clips in the coming weeks and months.

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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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sign O The Times

A couple of weeks ago my friend Ariadne Massa, Chief Sub-Editor and long standing journalist with The Times (of Malta), asked me to answer some questions on "on how the changes in technology impact the media business in Malta" for an in-house diploma organised by her newspaper bosses.

In the spirit of this blog and everything it has come to represent over the last 6 years, I asked Ariadne to reproduce her questions and my answers right here on my blog. Feel free to comment at the bottom of this blog post.

1. There has been an emergence of citizen journalism. What do you believe is the impact this has on the way traditional journalists report?

I believe that traditional journalists look at citizen journalism in one of two ways. The first way is to ignore it as something not worthy of their attention; how can someone without the proper training, professional experience or ample resources do what they do? The other way is for them to pillage and plunder whatever they can get from citizen journalism to fill their pages and airtime. By extension, I'd say that traditional reporting has been impacted depending on the approach adopted out of these two camps. Those ignoring it do it at their own peril and lack of respect for their audience. Those who get it realize that their profession is no longer as privileged as it once was.

2. Does citizen journalism provide a clearer picture of the news or is it unaccountable vigilantism?

I think it does both these things. It cuts through the stylistic way the news reports what's going on to give perspectives that are unheard of in traditional journalism. At the same time, if anyone can say anything they want, then that's exactly what's bound to happen too. However, I'd stress that it's not one or the other. Both are possible at the same time, in varying measures.

3. Abroad, newspapers have been dealt a blow by the internet, but this does not seem to be the case in Malta. What do you believe distinguishes us from other countries?

Size. Parochialism. (Ir)Relevance. Lack of updated higher education. Isolation. Misplaced pride. Nostalgia. Complacency. How about all of the above?

4. The newspaper industry is under siege from new media. What do you forecast will happen to newspapers by 2020?

Fewer people will want to read a newspaper printed on paper but they will not stop wanting to get the news that's relevant to them. Also, the newspaper industry will continue to realize that the newsprint cycle is no longer in step with contemporary lifestyles. Front page news at any early hour of the morning will continue to become more and more irrelevant as it's reporting something we've already heard about as it happened or through other media available on demand, where and when we want them.

5. What do you believe newspapers should do to face the challenges ahead?

Answers to this question depend in large part on the size of the newspaper and the community it serves. I don't think I can give a decent answer to this question here and (with all due respect to the interviewer) I wouldn't really want to unless I was being paid or given proper professional credit for it.

6. Please feel free to add any other comments which you feel are relevant.

What the newspaper industry really needs to realize is that the intermediary role it once served is being relegated to the junkyard of history. The industrial age, which gave us the newspaper industry, is being superseded by what some call the information age, where information wants to be free. By free we mean both as in no cost and as in freedom, of course.

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