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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, 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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Saturday, January 31, 2009

And We Bid You Goodnight

As January draws to a close we find that Malta has already lost two iconic figures in the field of arts and entertainment. The month opened with the demise of Charles Camilleri on the third day of the new year and came to an end with the passing away of Charles Clews the day before yesterday. Camilleri was 77, Clews was 89.

I've produced two special podcast to mark each of these prominent figures in Maltese culture. Camilleri's podcast featured the very first broadcast I produced for cable radio in Malta, while Clews' podcast came from the very first episode of my 26-part series marking the end of the cable radio service in 1990.

In spite of this, I thought it would be appropriate two remember both men in my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast. So the 149th edition of the MMI podcast opens with Charles Clews' classic pop song from the early 1960s Sparaw Għall-Qamar. With lyrics by Dr Ġorġ Zammit (author of the Wenżu u Rożi tales) and music by Joseph Ciappara it truly captures a very different time in Maltese popular culture. (I'd like to thank Mario Axiaq and Lino Cassar for helping me remember the names of those involved.) In the same way that space exploration from that era inspired Joe Meek to compose the tune Telstar, Pink Floyd to create Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive, as well as David Bowie to give us Space Oddity, Maltese pop music from the same decade came up with this classic ditty known and loved by (almost) all cable radio listeners. The use of the clarinet to simulate Morse code at the very start of the recording is simply brilliant.

Francesco Puccioni, better known as Mike Francis, died yesterday at the age of 46 after a long battle with a fatal tumour. Most people in Malta don't know him, but he had a very strong connection with Malta through his professional collaborations with fellow Mysic Diversions band mate Aidan Zammit Lupi. I've played their music on previous editions of the MMI podcast in 2007. Aidan suggested I play Friends from Mike Francis' album Inspired as a farewell to Francesco on my podcast.

I've been wanting to include something by the Maltese guitarist Simon Schembri on my podcast for many years. He was one of the very first people I interviewed on the radio in the mid-1980s. I've now acquired one of his two CDs released in France, where he is has based for almost three decades. The tune I've selected is Tárrega's Caprice Arabe.

Since today's podcast has taken on a special theme, I thought it would be best to end it with one of Charles Camilleri's best known compositions. From his Malta Suite I've picked the Village Festa in a rendition conducted by Brian Schembri from a recent recording at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta. The applause at the end of that recording is a fitting tribute for all the artists featured in this week's podcast.

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, January 30, 2009

Make 'em Laugh

Veteran Maltese comedian Charles Clews passed away yesterday at the age of 89. If it wasn't for the fact that I was in London attending a briefing on European research funding at the British Library, I would have probably blogged about his death sooner. Still, Charlie was such an established household name among all Maltese around the world that his passing would barely go unmarked.

I met him many times during the years I worked at Xandir Malta. He would mostly come to visit my office mate Lino Cassar, an old friend of his, before and/or after his weekly recordings at Radio Malta with producer Charles Abela Mizzi. What often struck me is how similar his off air personality was to the way the public knew him. He was surely a gentleman who was most gracious in every way imaginable. I'm not saying this because he's now dead. I'm saying this because he truly was an amazingly wonderful and generous person.

Aside from these candid office meetings, our paths only crossed each others professionally a couple of times. One of these occasions took place in 1990 when I produced a 26-part series marking the end of the cable radio service in Malta. Charles Clews had to be interviewed for such a series, of course. As it happened, he was the second guest on the series; the first was Charles Arrigo. Although the reason to start the series talking about the popular game show 20 Questions was purely personal, it's not incidental that Charles Clews was the second guest on the series, even though he was somewhat associated with it. As the venerable broadcaster Effie Ciantar once put it, it was the Rediffusion cable radio service that made Charles Clews (and his comedy troupe Radju Muskettieri) famous, but it was Clews and the Radju Muskettieri who helped Rediffusion put a cable radio set in almost every home in the 1950s.

To mark the passing of this remarkable man, I've repackaged my interview with him from 1990 as a downloadable podcast. His funeral is being held tomorrow. If I were in Malta I would most certainly be there to pay well-deserved respect to this delightful man who made hundreds of thousands laugh throughout his life.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

They Can't Take That Away From Me

When the death of Charles Camilleri was announced last Saturday, I immediately thought about paying tribute to this remarkable Maltese musician in a podcast. I had just finished producing the 145th edition of the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast so I knew that I had to produce something extra to remember Maestro Camilleri.

As it happens, Charles Camilleri was the very first person I interviewed on the very first radio broadcast I produced all by myself at Xandir Malta; after several months working with other established radio producers. That broadcast was meant to mark the 50th anniversary from the death of American composer George Gershwin. It was originally heard of Xandir Malta's Cable Radio on 11 July 1987. Josephine Mahoney was the announcer and Publius Micallef was the studio manager who recorded the original broadcast.
Charles Camilleri
Charles Arrigo had instigated me to produce George Gershwin: Tifkira and suggested I invite Charles Camilleri to speak about the composer. Rather than interviewing the maestro about Gershwin, I asked him to give me and the listeners a lesson about Gershwin from the perspective of a professor of music. His insights were not only brilliant but also very unusual from the usual biographical treatments of other composers by other commentators.

To remember Charles Camilleri, I've edited the highlights from my George Gershwin: Tifkira production and they're now available as a downloadable podcast. I believe that this special tribute is a very appropriate way to mark the passing of Mro Camilleri, since he was as great teacher and professor of music as he was a composer.

Charles Camilleri will undoubtedly be remembered as one of Malta's greatest composers of all time. I will forever remember him as the first person who was patient enough to put up with me in a radio studio.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Don't You (Forget About Me)

On Christmas eve 1998, MaltaMedia made its production debut: midnight mass from the Ta' Pinu Sanctuary in Gozo was webcast through Radio Calypso's website. The concept of MaltaMedia had been around since the previous summer, when Ray Bajada and I came up with the general idea of a Maltese online media network while having a drink at Xlendi.

The 1998 Christmas webcast was a team effort. Aside from the Radio Calypso part, which broadcast the midnight mass just as it had in previous years over the national airwaves, there was significant technical input from two close associates of MaltaMedia in its early endevours. Jean Galea Souchet was a key player in getting the technical side together. At that time he was the head honcho with VOL and provided us with everything you could want from an ISP. Glasgow-based John J. Cassar, who had been webcasting Maltese għana for about a year before this, provided overseas hosting space and technical insights to ensure that our webcast could reach as wide an audience as possible.

Encoding and uploading an hour-long audio file for an on-demand webcast back in 1998 meant that I stayed up until about 4am into early Christmas morning; working with an Intel Pentium I on a 28.8 Kbps dial-up internet connection. It was exhilarating to receive emails from Maltese people around the world thanking us for making the webcast available for all to access at will online. It was as clear as day that this was the future of broadcasting.

I believe that Ray has a photo of me sitting at the bar in his old converted farmhouse living room in Xagħra at about 2am (still encoding/uploading), after he returned home at the end of the broadcast. I must ask him for it one of these days. I believe that it would be a good memento to share with the public as MaltaMedia moves into 2009 to celebrate its 10th anniversary properly. Perhaps we should also make the webcast available again in perpetuity for the sake of posterity.

Meanwhile, I'd like to wish all the readers (and casual visitors) of my blog a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Down Under

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been interviewed by Marlene Galea from SBS Radio in Australia about my interest in music and broadcasting. An edited version of the interview was aired this morning in Australia. I will be appearing on SBS Radio again soon in a special feature they're preparing on the Maltese music scene. More about that when it airs.

Click here to listen to the interview. It's in Maltese, but feel free to contact me if you'd like to chat about any of this in English. The topic is central to an academic research project I'm in the process of developing, based on my first-hand experiences in Maltese music and broadcasting since the 1980s. Although I speak at length about the past, I should point out that I'm not really nostalgic, particularly since I believe that the best is always still to come.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Angry Mob

Way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was a full-time employee of Xandir Malta (the precursor to PBS), Radio Malta had a (relatively speaking) very liberal manager at the helm. He gave me and other like-minded reprobates enough rope to hang ourselves...and then some. That rope was used to, among many other things, create a weekly rock show called Grinta. Years after all the rats (myself included) jumped ship or were thrown overboard Grinta rocked on, thanks to the dedication of Brian Micallef who inherited it from Alfie Fabri very early in its incredibly long lifespan.

Grinta has developed a cult following mostly because it is one of the very few radio shows in Malta that play hardcore and other very heavy genres of rock and metal. It is especially laudable that Brian Micallef has continued to support new and upcoming bands even when they outgrew what we can assume are his own personal tastes in rock music. But now Grinta is officially on hiatus for the summer months, apparently for the first time ever. From what I can understand, this is not because Brian needs a break but because the short-sighted bottom-feeders who have taken over Radio Malta believe that there's no place for longevity in national broadcasting and/or anything that's not mainstream does not belong on the national airwaves.

Forsaken bassist and professional criminologist Albert Bell has now crafted an eloquently worded petition in the hope of restoring some vision within the blind management at Radio Malta. Stranger things are known to happen but if what happened to Reggae Club is any indication of the way things are in G'Mangia, history will teach us nothing.

In the same spirit that Roman emperors saluted those about to die in the gladiatorial displays at the Colosseum and other amphitheaters, this week's edition of my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is dedicated entirely to the heaviest genres of rock played in Malta. This is the sort of music that without Grinta will rarely (if ever) get any more airplay on national Maltese radio.

The 77th podcast in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series opens with The Rise of Thor from Demis' CD album Ethereal Travel, which was released last May. I played another track from this album months before it was release and I stand behind my original comments about this great Maltese rock guitarist.

Venues that promote the heaviest genres of rock are few and far between in Malta. Remedy in Paceville is one of the most ardent and dependable supporters. It is there that the debut CD album The Great Divide by Recoil is being launched this evening. Circus of Shame is the track I've chosen to play from it on my 77th MMI podcast. It is immediately followed by White Shotgun a track from last year's Ode to Silence, the successful CD album release from Slit. This band is about to embark on a European tour starting in Switzerland on September 17. The tour takes them to Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, and the Czech Republic, but you can still catch them in Malta on the 18th of August with Geneva-based metal band Cardiac, at Remedy. I'll probably play something by Cardiac on an upcoming edition of my podcast.

To close this week's Mużika Mod Ieħor I've selected a new recording from Subculture's 3rd CD album, which will be launched at Remedy on the last day of this month. The current Subculture line-up has Ray il-Baħri and and Woody Aki sharing vocals. This makes for a very gritty sound that hardcore punk fans will undoubtedly enjoy. Out There is the name of the song and Resist the Abuse is the title of the forthcoming album.

I have no idea what the future holds for Grinta at Radio Malta but I can promise you that my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast will live on for as long as its listeners keep asking for it. Forget radio! From its demise we can enjoy new least while they last.

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 add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pastime Paradise

I've just heard some sad news on the radio. David Hatch has died at the age of 68. There are some remarkable people who never really become household names even though they help many become household names during their career. I think it's fair to say that David was one such person. This is to say nothing of his relatively recent knighthood.

It was a thrill to meet him in 1988 when I was a trainee at the BBC. You can see me here in a photo taken in his Broadcasting House office as he presented me with my certificate at the end of my training course. He was Managing Director of BBC Radio at the time and had previously served as Head of Light Entertainment as well as Controller of Radio 2 and Radio 4. I have a feeling he was deep in management hell at that time. He left the BBC about 10 years ago and worked for the National Consumer Council before he retired.
Toni Sant receiving a certificate from David Hatch at the end of a BBC Radio Training course in 1988
Judging from my hairstyle I wasn't too bothered that I was experiencing a potentially historical moment in my professional life. However, I remember that that I was aware that I was in the presence of an empire's fading glory.

David Hatch left an indelible impression on me throughout my broadcasting career and also delighted many radio listeners through his contributions as producer of I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and Just a Minute.

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