Ghana – Traditional Maltese Folksong

Għana is generally sung by two or more singers called għannejja, who seat themselves at two opposite ends of the stage, retorting answers to each other in rhyme, usually without any planning or meditation. Għanneja vie with each other during this kind of singing, which involves satire and puns, often dealing with the faults of character of singers themselves, or of the characters or situations they are singing about. The singing involves musical accompaniment by one or more guitarists. The lead guitarist is called ‘il-Prim’. Between each stanza of għana, the lead guitarist plays il-prejjem, in which he or she shows their skills at guitar playing.

download

The tunes are somewhat wild and meandering, but they also involve a certain kind of romantic beauty and harmony. As the singing starts, the audience tries to follow all the words being sung closely. Clarity of expression in the performance is expected out of every għannej. Moreover, the audience also expects singing to include the correct rhyming and a theme which is maintained throughout the song.

There are various types of għana. The ‘spirtu pront’, which is the most popular type, consists of short stanzas, normally sung by a group of two or more singers. This type of folk singing takes place in the form of a duel. This generally involves two styles of singing. The first one is called ‘the hitting back’. Four singers are involved; the first singer sings with the third person, while the second singer sings with the fourth one. The second style is known as the ‘impromptu reply’, and is normally done between two singers. While the first singer starts on his first two lines, the second singer continues the rest of the stanza, creating an interlocking melody. It is normal practice for the singer who finishes the last two verses to start the next stanza. This is called ‘għana maqsuma’, or ‘għana bil-qasma’, which means broken or shared singing. The spirtu pront and the għana bil-qasma require a great deal of quick thinking as well as the ability to rhyme. Singing usually lasts for an hour and comes to an end with a ‘kadenza’, which has two or more stanzas.

ghannej

Another type of għana is the għana tal-fatt. This consists of a long and elaborate narrative in verse form. It is called ‘tal-fatt’ because its theme usually deals with a particular deed, event or legend. The theme most dealt with is the lives of well-known local personalities or a sensational or tragic event. Sometimes, it also deals with a humorous topic, but the most popular theme is the gruesome details of a murder or crime.

Today, Għana singers are prestigious, since it takes skill and a considerable talent to be able to do so well. In Malta, għana and traditional folksongs are sung at festivals, fairs and tourist centers, as well as cultural events. Each June, the Malta Arts Council organizes a two-day music festival centered on Għana called the ‘Għanafest’.

Ghanafest 2012

To read the full article, please go to http://livinginmalta.com/entertainment/ghana/

The History of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival in Malta has a long history. The word itself originates from the Italian phrase ‘carne vale’, which means ‘meat is allowed’, since Carnival itself is usually celebrated before the start of Lent, during which meat consumption was not permitted by the Catholic church.photo-by-photocity-3-copy-1100x616

Although the origins of Carnival themselves have pagan roots, tracing back to the follies of the Roman Saturnalia and beyond, we first find actual traces of it in the Maltese islands as of the 1400s, as records were found at the general hospital which indicate that patients were given special meals for this festivity. Food and drink in fact are an important aspect of Carnival, as is the wearing of masks and costumes, signifying the suspension of the normal order of things where social class was all-defining. During Carnival, everyone could make merry. It was a time for jokes, laughter and pranks.

Carnival festivities increased during the time of the Order of Saint John, and the traditional ‘parata’, the sword-dance marking the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks during the siege of 1565, was introduced. The ‘kukkanja’ was also introduced at this time, this was a sort of game whereby all sorts of food and sweets were tied to a tree-trunk, and the general public was allowed to run and climb the trunk to pick items of food as presents.

carnival-gozo

Carnival started to decline during the 19th century when the British governed the islands, as it was not part of British culture, however it still managed to survive. ‘Veljuni’ or masked balls were held in major theaters around Valletta, and even the British governor used to take part in the revelry. When Malta was granted the Constitution in 1921, Carnival evolved even further. Since 1926, outdoor Carnival festivities started being organised in Valletta by special committee. Carnival started to include a défilé of floats, carts and cabs featuring imaginary colorful figures, manned by young people in costume who would blow whistles, throw colored confetti, sound horns and jeer at the crowd while wearing beautifully crafted costumes. Shops or organisations sponsored these floats and they used the event also as an advertisement for their products. In fact, carnival boosts business since street hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers, not to mention bakers, start to plan for it well in advance.

Up to 1974, a part of Valletta’s main square was fenced to create an enclosure which offered space for dancing. Later, the enclosure was relocated to Freedom Square, however when this was closed for the building of Parliament, the enclosure was taken back to Saint George Square.

winner-chris-camille

Many people could be seen masquerading through the streets as of pre-war days. Some dressed up as ghosts, demons, clowns and fairies, while others simply wore masks. The Maltese Carnival always contained an element of political satire. Grotesquely costume masquers, not to mention floats or ‘karrijiet’ which derided and caricatured particular events and prominent figures, were and are plentiful during this time.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – a complete version of it can be found here.

What to do for Midsummer?

Midsummer will be with us soon. Litha, the Summer Solstice, when all the world celebrates the passion of living. The fertility of Mother Earth reflected in the purity of the bonfires. Sweaty bodies gyrating in the indomitable spirit of life. The incessant heartbeat of the planet, drumming on in every plant, every particle, every follicle, every being.

And I have no idea how to celebrate it.

21 June will be a Sunday. Right now I’m living with my boyfriend who is not a Pagan/Wiccan and does not celebrate the spokes of the Wheel. In any case, I would feel better celebrating outdoors of course. There are two problems however.

Problem 1 – The people. Malta is a very small island and on Sundays, Saturdays and any day really, people swarm everywhere. There isn’t any nook or cranny where one can meditate or just sit in silence for a while. Especially now, when even beaches are full to bursting everywhere (in winter at least these are semi-deserted in certain hours of the day/night). This issue is always present, however usually I try to do something inside or on the roof, but right now that’s not possible. It will not be a problem once we move to the new house, where I will have a special space/study/library, but for now… hmm..

Problem 2 – All my celebratory altar-related things and tools, candles, incense, etc are packed in boxes in another locality. Except for my BOS ofc. And to be honest at the moment I don’t have money to spare to buy new stuff, so I truly have to use only normal everyday things to celebrate. As such this is not really a problem though… some wine and essential oils will have to be enough.

And still, I do not know exactly how I can celebrate it this year. I wish we were already in the new house – would be a marvellous time for a cleansing by fire of the new area (which is not as pyromaniac as it sounds lol).

images (1)

Dear Maltese Local Councils, why are you so Ridiculous?

Yesterday, I wrote a post relating my participation to Medieval Mdina last weekend https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/medieval-mdina-2015-fun-vs-stress-2/

What I did not mention, was that while in Mdina, the Medieval Festival was taking place, two other localities in Malta were ‘competing’ with the Mdina Local Council in attracting the crowd by offering two other ‘festivals’. Mgarr was celebrating ‘Festa Frawli‘, which basically promotes strawberries as a local produce. In a couple of weeks there will also be ‘Festa Mqaret‘ – mqaret are a kind of Maltese sweet fried biscuit.

Imqaret 022

Also last weekend Hal Qormi were hosting ‘Festa Nutella‘, which, on the other hand, is most notably NOT a local produce, since in fact it is produced in Italy.

228b8f4ede5a8b44295c3cd63ce1ea93

I get it – every product imaginable is an excuse to invent some kind of ‘festival’ or ‘festa’ (in Maltese) to promote it and make money, but sometimes too much is TOO MUCH.

This morning I saw another local council, this time ‘Festa Bruschetta‘ was being promoted. Seriously? We all know and love the so-called ‘kisra hobz biz zejt‘ which is totally Maltese (this consists basically of freshly baked Maltese bread with tomato paste, olive oil, tomatoes, capers, pepper, salt, and spices to taste), however as such the ‘bruschetta’ can be found almost anywhere in Europe, so what is all the hype about?

bruschetta-variety-m

Throughout the year, I remember also the Festa tal-Qargha Hamra (Pumpkin Festival), Casal Fornaro (Bread Festival), and the chocolate festival (ok we definitely did not ‘invent’ chocolate… or did we?)

Seriously WE GET IT. MALTESE PEOPLE LIKE TO EAT!

6041c0c4adff92a5e164d20bb0ca484e

images (1)

However while I am one of those persons who love to say that any excuse is good to party, I must also admit that at this point, local councils are just showing how desperate they are to make a little bit of extra money. What next? A Peanut butter revival? (Peanut butter is most definitely not a Maltese product, in fact most Maltese never even tasted it). A Treacle Pudding Feast? (this is a British dessert) A ‘Minestrone alla Genovese‘ Festa (this is obviously Italian, but then again, so is Nutella).

download

Please dear Local Councils, why don’t you stick to original Maltese products and food instead of trying to make up new ways of lining your pockets? Ways which actually, don’t even make any sense! If the idea is to promote Malta, its traditional way of life and its traditions STICK TO MALTA! Don’t steal other countries’ products and try to pass them off as yours! So Nutella was ‘invented’ in Qormi? Sure it was! Pft!

why-so-stupid

Finally – Imbolc is Coming!!

Pronounced: EE-Molc
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red

While for many people, next weekend is a normal weekend like any other, for Pagans and Wiccans the world over the 1st and 2nd of February are very important, as the Wheel of the Year turns once again, and the festival of Imbolc is celebrated and enjoyed.

spring

Imbolc, found between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, marks the beginning of Spring, and is also called Brigid’s Day. Historically it was mostly observed in Wales, Ireland and Scotland and the Isle of Man, where this aspect of the Goddess was most predominant, and it is one of the four Celtic fire festivals.

This is yet another Pagan tradition which the Romans, and through them the Christian sect, warped and appropriated, turning Brigid, Goddess of the Spring and New Life, into their Christianised representation – Saint Brigid – lol surprise, surprise. When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the Goddess Brigid as a saint — thus the creation of St. Brigid’s Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name. The Christian version of Imbolc is also called Candlemas.

Imbolc fire display

This is a festival of hearth and home, involving hearthfires, divination through fire, as well as the joyous celebration of the coming Spring. It commemorates the changing aspect of the Goddess from Crone to Maiden, the successful passing of Winter, and the emergence of new leaves and greenery.

It is Feile Brighde, the ‘quickening of the year’. The original word Imbolg means ‘in the belly’, and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring.

Like Persephone coming out of the Underworld, Brigid represents the light and bright half of the year.

wheel

Celebrants prepare a special meal on this day, as well as weave rushes or stalks of wheat or barley, into what is known as a Brigid’s Cross, symbolising not just the human figure, but also the seasons and the elements. Brigid’s symbol is often hung on doors and windows, in order to symbolise the household’s welcoming of Brigid into their home.

cross

It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments, or light candles in each room in honor of the Sun’s rebirth.

Traditionally, some covens also have their ritual Maiden wear a ‘Brigid’s Crown’, a wreath made of fresh flowers and green grass, and sporting 12 small candles around, as representation of the fiery Goddess.

crown

Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honour of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.

MERRY IMBOLC!! 😀

download

Lohri – Another aspect of Yule

I did not write about Yule last December, basically because everyone else did. We all know what Yule is – it is a celebration of life which takes place during the longest night of the year. When the year is at its coldest and the earth is the furthest away from the sun, which physically takes place on the 21st of December – the Winter Solstice, when the Goddess brings forth the God in darkness, as a sign that from now on, all will be life again.

It is a festival of the sun, which is present in its absence. It is a time of joy amid the terror. A time to remember what we have, when it all seems so distant and far away.

lohri1a

I did not write about Yule, but now I wish to at least mention the Festival of Lohri, which takes place in India today, on the 13th of January. Lohri is another manifestation of Yule, celebrated in a Northern region of India. People come out of their homes to celebrate their winter crops, of which the main one is wheat. They celebrate the promise of what is to come. Renewed life.

lohri2

In the evening, with the setting of the sun, huge bonfires are lit and the people dance and sing around them, praying for abundance and prosperity. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life.

As we move closer to the feast of the Goddess Eostre, who with her eggs and hares, symbols of fertility, leads us to the Spring Equinox, we sing in joy and are grateful for the life, the love, and the beauty which surrounds us. We let go of the ugliness and minutiae which clog us down everyday, and bask in the light of those who came before.

320_Eostre_with_egg