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Friday, March 12, 2010

Qalb ta' Kampanjol

I'm saddened to hear of the demise of Maltese '70s pop singer Tony Gauci, who resurfaced on TV just last year thanks to Favourite Channel. I wasn't aware that his health had deteriorated to a life-threatening level as he was still in his mid-60s. Tony will undoubtedly be best remembered in time as one of the strongest links between traditional għana and modern Maltese pop songs. Back in his heydays he was undoubtedly one of Malta's superstars.

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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, October 03, 2009

Call Me

As we approach the end of the fourth year of weekly podcasts in my Mużika Mod Ieħor series, the show is now sponsored by Vodafone. I'm grateful that we now have the required support to not only continue promoting music from Malta but also a new push towards the possibility of develop things even further in the coming months and years.

I've just embarked on a year-long academic sabbatical to focus or research and professional development. The Franklin Furnace book remains the first item on my research agenda, of course, but I'm also looking forward to embarking on my next research projects. These fall into two general topics: artistic practice in virtual worlds and Maltese popular culture. The first ties in directly with my work on Franklin Furnace but it goes beyond it in a number of ways; more about that in the coming weeks/months. The other research area has me working on building critical longevity from my weekly MMI podcast into collaboratively gathering and disseminating documentation of cultural practice from the Maltese islands. I've been alluding to this for some time now, but by the end of my research leave period I'm hoping to have taken this idea into a solidly practical phase, which should become the center of gravity for much of my day-to-day work.

That's the plan. Getting there requires a generous amount of elbow grease, which obviously includes more of the MMI podcasting series. The 182nd edition contains four new tracks that will find themselves among the list of nominations for the 2009 MMI Listeners' Picks poll, which will be launched on Facebook towards the end of November. The first of these tracks is the new single from Eve Ransom. Technically speaking, Evergreen is being premiered on my podcast ahead of the radio release in a few days time.

Up next is the first single from Chasing Pandora's album, planned for release in 2010. Time shows that this duo will continue to amass an impressive repertoire of original songs. It is through those songs that they continue to delight new fans, not only in the Maltese islands but also in various intimate venues around London. They will be appearing there in the coming days: Monday (5 Oct) at The Bedford on Balham, Tuesday at the 12 Bar in Soho, Thursday at The Water Rats at Kings Cross, and on Friday they will be upstairs at The Garage in Islington.

I'm always on the prowl for new acts to include on my weekly podcast. The music website that appeared from Malta earlier this year at is a welcome addition to the local scene. It's through this site that I discovered Jerico Sincrest's Rain. Apparently it comes from an album called The Dark Flows but the website offers very sketchy details and Jerico's MySpace page isn't bursting with information either.

An album that should be coming out before the end of this year is Scar's second CD, entitled Breaking Radio Silence. Ahead of this release, Scar have issued a single called Mind the Gap. This song has been receiving considerable radio airplay in Malta and it will undoubtedly serve the band well to raise expectations for their second album. I, for one, am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the CD as soon as it becomes available to the public, if not before.

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, September 12, 2009

Come So Far Yet Still So Far To Go

For once in my life I feel surrounded by more positives than negatives, more knowns than unknowns, more good than bad, and more effective action than hot air. This is what change feels like. Much of it is personal, so I don't expect everyone (or even anyone!) to feel the same way as I do. If there's one thing that's around right now that I can pick to demonstrate the strong shift I'm trying to capture in words it's a music video by No Bling Show.

In countries where the music industry is a recognizable contributor to the national GDP this sort of work has become ordinary, almost to the point of complacency. For Malta and Maltese artists, however, this type of work is a cut above everything else that came before. Aside from any artistic merit the work itself has, the very fact that this video has been produced to the level demonstrated here is an admirable achievement in itself.

Beyond everything else, No Bling Show have beautifully managed to find a way to capture the impact of cultural imperialism on Maltese quotidian culture. Just for this, I wholeheartedly call their work simply brilliant.

If I ever needed a boost of encouragement to continue producing my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast, this is it. I firmly believe that within a generation or so Maltese popular music will be predominantly less mimetic than it has been in the last fifty odd years. This may not seem as obvious to most people as appears to be for me and some regular listeners of the MMI podcast. I could be wrong about the future, but I want to believe that I'm right...and see no harm in that.

The 179th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast may not allude to the future I've just outlined, but it certainly captures the way things stand at this point in time. The opening song comes from a new CD album released by Colourblind called Spectre. I've already featured the title track and another called Miles on previous editions of the MMI podcast, so for today I've picked one called Masquerade.

Whenever any Maltese act releases a CD I'm reminded how far we've come. I'm also made to realize we still have a far road ahead. Things are getting better all the time and we truly have reason to believe they will keep getting better. Importantly, as I see it, we've finally (inevitably?) passed the tipping point, so there's no going back now.

Bring back a performer whose work I'd featured in an earlier edition of the MMI podcast is something I seek to do regularly. There are some acts for whom this is not easy. Tears of Revenge immediately come to mind in this category. Way back in the 6th MMI podcast, I played the music of Black Aura, the name under which Alfred Farrugia produces his electronic music. A few days ago, new music by Black Aura came to my attention through a couple of arty video clips produced by visual artist Brian Grech. Heavy Breathing is the track I've selected to include on my podcast, but you can hear several tracks from Black Aura on his official website as well as watch the videos on You Tube.

Maltese performers have been trying to make a name (and/or a career) for themselves oversees for decades. Carrie Haber is among the most recent names on this long list. She has managed to do something that very few, if any, have done before. For a limited time, Carrie has released a live recording of one of her songs recorded live at a London venue, where she's performed a number of times in recent months. The song is called I Need A Distraction, and I'm really looking forward to hearing more songs recorded live in London (or elsewhere) by Carrie, since she has promised to release a new one about once a month. Follow her on Facebook or MySpace if you'd like to be kept up-to-date on new releases in this vein.

Regular listeners of the MMI podcast know that I frequently include material from musicians who have Maltese blood running through their veins, even if they're not legally Maltese. Pete Molinari is one such artist; he qualifies through his mother's Maltese parentage. Earlier this year he recorded a new EP entitled Today, Tomorrow & Forever at the Playground Sound Studios in Nashville, Tenessee. While Maltese country singer Marty Rivers recorded in Nashville years before Molinari, the latter has done something others probably only dream of. This EP, released on 24 August 2009, features the legendary Jordanaires, best known as Elvis Presley's backing singers. You can hear the title track, one of Patsy Cline's classics, as the penultimate selection on this week's MMI podcast.

To remind us that taking good fun seriously is a worthy quest, Xtruppaw have returned with a live concert at the Buskett Roadhouse tonight. BNI and DJ Fre will be providing further entertainment before and after the band hits the stage. Xtruppaw have been working on their second album for some time and people who attend any of their (rare) live gigs these days will undoubtedly be treated to early versions of some of the new songs. If we're lucky 2010 will see the release of Xtruppaw's second album, but first they have to find the time to record it, of course. Ironically, the more live gigs they give, the less time they have to record their new album. Catch Xtuppaw's Nenannana as the closing pick on this week's podcast. I'm playing this today with a special dedication to my dear friend Immanuel Mifsud who celebrates his birthday today.

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, June 20, 2009

Little Green

Goings on in Teheran right now are quite sad and very disturbing. There is very little people like me can do from afar. I've been following the protests and the violent reactions mostly through Twitter. My main source is @TehranBureau but @kvella has also introduced me to @StopAhmadi. Between tweets about the clashes I've also been interested about the media talk around the power of Twitter and new technologies in Iran. It's all quite gripping and reminds me of the political unrest we experience in Malta in 1980s; I now realize that although what we went through back then was terrible, it fades in significance compared to the current situation in Iran.

As the fall of communism twenty years ago clearly demonstrated, new modes of communication are great non-violent weapons for oppressed people seeking change. When thinking about all this I'm humbled to think that I use the same technology for things that certainly not a matter of life and death for anyone. And yet the lighter things in life are essential. They provide some the things that make life worth living. For me, music is one of those essential things in life. Aside from the emotional boost some types of music give me, I am professionally invested the role of music in Maltese cultural identity and the networks associated with it. This is why I keep producing my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast.

For the 167th MMI podcast I wanted to include only new material that I heard about directly from the artists. One of the things I really appreciate about producing this series is the direct regular contact it gives me with Maltese musicians and performers. I was thrilled when Victoria Spiteri sent me a message on MySpace to tell me about her new song Filling Days. She performs as Victoria Osbourne now and regular listeners may recall that I first played one of her songs in May last year when she had moved to Malta from London looking to expand her options as a songwriter. I'm really looking forward to see who she ends up collaborating with in the coming years.

During my most recent visit to Malta I was obviously surrounded by musicians every day. On the very first evening I was invited to a wedding and the groom's cousins included the indomitable Danjeli (to my great delight) and Salt guitarist David Schembri. I played the lastest stuff from Danjeli last week, so this week I thought it was high time to include the latest single from Salt, which David promised to send me during his cousin's wedding. Star arrived via email several weeks ago. If you haven't already heard it elsewhere, you can hear it as the second selection on this week's podcast. Will Salt manage to repeat last year's MMI poll placing? (Salt's Jars of Clay was voted Top Single on the 2008 MMI Listeners' Picks.)

A couple of days before leaving Malta on this same last visit, I went to Juul's Bar in St Julian's for what I believe was the debut gig by Plato's Dream Machine. This trio is made up of musicians who have all appeared with other acts on previous editions on the MMI series. Singer Robert Farrugia Flores (whatever happened to Dominoes?) is trying very hard to channel the ghost of Bob Dylan from the early 1960s. Il-Fre provides a solid bass accompaniment while Ryan Abela keeps a steady beat on whatever percussion instrument happens to be handy on any given day. I like PDM's combination of DIY and busker spirit and it is beautifully captured on the limited edition CD single they've released, which includes their version of Dylan's I Shall Be Released. The band's main song, however, is called Journey Man and it's full of the sort of sounds that the band can produce and will hopefully continue to produce as they move into innovating on the Dylanesque elements they're in the process of assimilating. A Fuscia Sun Vessel (another trio fronted by Robert Farrugia Flores) did that beautifully a few years back, as you may have heard it on a previous MMI podcast.

Regular listeners of my weekly podcast will know that Adolf Formosa is one of my favourite singer-songwriters from Malta. He recently recorded a new song and contacted me (via Facebook) to tell me about it. Let's Bite the Morning gives us a peak at a reflective moment from Adolf. It's not as tuneful as some of his other songs, but still delightful for fans like me.

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, June 13, 2009

Waiting for the Miracle

Whenever an academic year draws to a close, my brain is always flooded with ideas for things I'd like to do over the summer months. Many of them have been with me for several years, and yet I never seem to manage to make time for them. From time to time I dedicate countless hours to something or other that stays with me for many years to follow. My weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast started out as one such idea.

That idea has not only spawned 166 podcasts in the MMI series (to date) along with a number of other special podcats, but has also served as the foundation on which I'm currently building a major research project on collaborative multimedia databases exploring the way social network enliven culture through technologies of cooperation. A position paper on this work is one of the things I'll most certainly be working on in the coming weeks.

The 166th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast consists of six brand new tracks by acts that have already been featured on previous editions in the series. The first comes from the young singer-songwriter Jean Claude Vancell, whose work I've liked from the first day I heard it. He has now released a new single called Ain't Good Enough, which is very radio friendly and should receive quite a bit of airplay in Malta in the coming weeks. I've selected to play the acoustic version of the song because it really demonstrates his songwriting abilities while showcasing his unique voice.

Pinkpube continues to delight electronica fans everywhere with its regular new releases. Last week (on June 6) the new album by anti- entitled Tufts was issued as a free download on the Pinkpube website. This is Maltese minimalist electronica at its best. Żifna tal-Etere is among the most interesting tracks on this new album by anti- but it was actually hard for me to pick the tune to play among all the joyful delights on this new album.

Another new album was released by Elyk Elymur. Dismantle and Destory may give off the wrong impression about what to expect in terms of musical style. Regular listeners to the MMI podcast may remember that Elyk Elymur's music is stylistically similar to orchestral film music, with hints of New Age moods from time to time. There and Back Again fits this description perfectly, as do most of the other tracks on this album.

10 Years Too Late is the third single by Maltese pop-rock band Red Electrick. It is officially released today, so I'm glad I'm able to bring it to my podcast listeners right away. I've always liked this band, even when it's main elements performed under a different name. If you like this genre of music, you'll find that they haven't released a single song that you won't want to hear again and again. Last month they were signed to LA-based indie label Poison Tree Records, and Desert Drive Publishing (LA), who will be promoting, released and digitally distributed their music outside Malta in the foreseeable future. The American label and publisher first heard Red Electrick on MySpace.

Now that Facebook has given its users vanity URLs, fan pages for musicians and other such public personalities are also on the rise; even though you need to have 1000 followers to get a personalized URL on one of those types of pages. Danjeli is the latest Maltese musician to join the fray. Unlike most other Maltese acts who went in this direction, Danjeli understands that loyal fans should be rewarded, and rewarded regularly. He has therefore released a new track called Kolla through his new Facebook page as a sampler for the most recent material he's recording for an upcoming follow-up to 2007's amazing Kakofonija. You can hear Kolla as the closing track on this week's MMI podcast, of course, but if you're on Facebook (if?!) you should also add yourself as a fan on Danjeli's page. Not to do so would be most unpatriotic and should expose you to the ridicule of the most extreme political nut-jobs.

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, January 17, 2009

Just Dance

As there are still a considerable number of early-year events still to come, it would be foolish of me to think that the new year is really already is full swing. It simply is not. Next Tuesday's Obama inauguration brings high hopes with it. I'm not expecting any radical changes but the fact that a new tone will be set for world politics helps me breathe easier. If I manage my time properly I should be blogging about that later this week.

Some things never change, or rather, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Right now, the 147th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is my way of making sense of this paradox. It opens with a grungy ballad called Till I Die by Totema. This ties in with the last track on the preceeding edition of the MMI podcast. Guitarist Emerson Vella is the link between the two. Totema's MySpace page contains three recordings by this band but little else, so I don't know as much as I'd like to about them. I'm hoping that they're active enough in 2009 to merit another inclusion on my weekly podcast.

Daniel Cassar is a young guitarist I just met via MySpace. He has uploaded a jazzy tune called Around the Day in 80 Worlds to demonstrate his excellent guitar playing skills. By his own admission this is just a demo but it shows him as a local guitarist worthy of note. I'm looking forward to hearing more from him, either as a soloist or even with a band. He plays with metal newcomers Cyanide, so there's hope.

By contrast, I know we'll be hearing more from Maltese-Australian singer-songwriter Luke Caruana, better known as Carra. He was recently in Malta and played some gigs in France and Holland too before returning back to Sydney. There's now a Carra Facebook page too and he's working on a new album and, judging by his previous releases, I'm sure that will be one of the better Maltese-Australian releases this year. Down the Line is from last year's Gaia EP.

Back to Maltese guitarist uploading their recordings to MySpace, a few weeks ago I came across Stefanos who has uploaded a small number of instrumental tracks. The one I've selected for my podcast is entitled Little Thoughts. Stefanos' online presence is one that beautifully demonstrates the sort of worldwide audience hitherto unknown Maltese musicians can attract.

Back to the opening point I clumsily tried to make in the first paragraph of this blog post, I'm very much looking forward to developing a major research project on the arts in Malta. I've already managed to articulate the main idea for a couple of funding applications I put forward last year, but now I'm quite keen to get the project off the ground by any means necessary. To make sure that the work isn't perceived as an academic project that has limited interest to a broader public I accepted an invitation to write an article about a small aspect of this planned work. Writing this article for one of the local Sunday newspaper magazines I exchanged several emails with Freddie Portelli, among other veteran Maltese pop rock musicians.

I mention all this here because aside from answering my questions and showing me some wonderful picture from his time with the Malta Bums and Black Train, Freddie also sent me an MP3 of Play It Again, released as a single in 1979. He explained that Black Train were unable to travel abroad to promote this single widely when it came out because the band had far too many commitments to play at people's weddings. Having attended two of those weddings in the late 1970s I can attest to the frenzy that accompanied the presence of The Black Train at wedding halls across Malta. If you've never heard this song before, I suggest you listen to it in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest.

I bring this up because although Malta was not taking part in that contest at that point in time, Play it Again would have possibly gone down well with Eurovision fans and made Freddie and the Black Train into a Euro-pop sensation. Then again, this also came out at the time that punk had changed the face of rock music, but it would take the next generation of Maltese musicians to bring that around, even if an underground scene was already brewing by then. Sadly, no one has documented any of this properly so far. I'm now hoping to rectify this in a systematic way.

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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