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.

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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.

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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/

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The World’s perception of Malta

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media criticizing and denigrating tourists and ‘outsiders’ who comment negatively about something which they didn’t like during their visit to Malta. The comments by foreigners are actually nothing we haven’t all heard before from the Maltese themselves. However, while it seems to be okay for the natives to criticize or attack an issue within their borders, it seems to be taboo for outsiders to give their two cents.

How dare a non-Maltese person complain about congested traffic! How dare someone who doesn’t live here write about our fast diminishing countryside! How dare such people talk about the well-apparent littering present on our shores, the obnoxious parkers, or the over-priced food?

Suddenly, it’s like we’ve never heard anyone complain about these issues before. Every Maltese and Gozitan person within shouting distance of a computer rolls up his sleeves, gets out his broken English and even more hideous Maltese orthographic skills, and starts haranguing said tourist to hell and back. Because if you don’t like it here, morru lura min fejn ġejtu (go back where you came from).

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Taking the optimistic approach, it’s somewhat quaint to see how the Maltese mentality works. Jien ngħid li rrid fuq pajjiżi (I’ll say what I like about my country), but as soon as an outsider opens his mouth, we all chum up against him, because our islands are perfect, and no Brit, Italian, American, or Korean tourist has the right to state his opinion, if that opinion is expressing negativity about Malta. And God forbid if the person is of a darker complexion!

Of course, every country has its troubles and nowhere is perfect. However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t express an opinion or point any fingers towards anyone else… does it?

Curious about this state of affairs, I actually surfed the net, read blogs and reviews from tourists, students and even business people who came to Malta. There were both positive and negative comments. I was actually proud to see how many people loved our countryside, our helpful attitude, and our own individuality as a country. On the other hand, I felt kind of ashamed at other issues which came to light. After all, no one can really and truly perceive inconsistencies and flaws more than someone whose perspective isn’t coloured by their love, history, and patriotic feelings towards their country.

Here are some points I noticed which many blogs and comments about the islands had in common:

Tourists love our food – Our special combination of Italian cuisine, meaty recipes and traditional concoctions, not to mention our very fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, are a total hit.

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The sun and heat are terrible – Most people are acclimatised to colder climates than our own, which is why almost all of them feel that they can’t cope with the hot weather on a permanent basis. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. But Ħeq… x’tagħmel, hux? (What can you do, eh?)

The littering – Most tourists, and especially students, love to enjoy our beautiful beaches. Keeping in mind that most of them live on huge (sometimes landlocked) land masses, this is not surprising. So the amount of littering and the relatively dispassionate and unappreciativelaissez-faire attitude of plenty of locals naturally astounds them. Having seen many such instances myself time and time again, this kind of attitude really gets to me. It’s all very well and good for the authorities to promote cleanliness and environment awareness, but if we, as a people, do not change our attitude, these kind of bad habits will never change either.

Smoking – Malta was the second country within the European Union to introduce the smoking ban. But is this regulation actually enforced? Now be honest, how many pubs, clubs and restaurants have you been to where many people don’t bother going out to smoke and do it right there anyways? Hmm…

Safe Streets – Compared to other countries, Malta is a very safe place. There are minimal levels of crime, and most of these tend to be petty and/or relate to personal issues. That being said, I don’t know if it’s my impression or not, but things seem to be getting pretty heated in Paceville. Previously, many tourists and students used to visit Malta for the nightlife, however in many blogs I’ve perused, these same tourists are now warning people off Paceville, saying that it’s a rowdy place where young aggressive teenagers congregate to get drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of Paceville nights and there’s nothing wrong with having a drink with friends. The rub however is that certain PV-people (let’s call them that) seem to believe that every foreigner is fair game, and won’t take no for an answer, even when said foreigner is accompanied by a partner. The high rise of many Gentlemen’s Clubs isn’t helping the ambience of the place either.

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I chose to mention these five points in particular, but there are many more issues, both good and bad, highlighted in travel blogs and comments about the Maltese Islands. As already said, no country is perfect, and these issues definitely exist in other places too. However as a Maltese native, it is my country which interests me and which I want to shine, which is why I don’t like reading negative comments – both by locals and non-residents – about Malta. Most of all, I hate the fact that these comments are based on truth. So, instead of going into a tirade against these foreigners who criticize our island, wouldn’t it be better to actually do something to improve our standards instead?

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This article of mine was published on EVE.COM at http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/09/27/the-worlds-perception-of-malta/ 

The Hypocrisy of the word ‘Tradition’ in Malta

It is intrinsically hypocritical how society sometimes uses the word ‘tradition’ to cloak its most disgusting habits. As though ‘tradition’ were an excuse. Yes, we are the only country in the European Union which sanctions spring hunting. It’s ‘tradition’. Yes, we have ‘karrozzini‘, that is small horse-drawn carriages which clog the streets and pester tourists to slowly view the capital city while riding, jostling and sweating, on malnourished and dehydrated horses at exorbitant prices – it’s ‘tradition’. Yes, many people pen said horses in small unlighted rooms where they have to stay for days on end in the sweltering heat, beat them into submission when they make too much noise, and snap at anyone who dares to say that Malta is not a country which can support such big animals, since we do not have extra land to pasture them and let them graze in (we ARE a fairly small island after all), but hey, it’s ‘tradition’!

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What about all those minorities who do not fit into what the masses still think of as ‘tradition’? How about that monstrously glorified institution – the ‘traditional’ family? During election-times super-inflated posters portraying dear grandma with her knitting, grandpa and his bushy eyebrows, handsome daddy, petite MILFY mommy, a Pollyanna-like daughter, a buck-toothed cheeky son, a fluffy dog and a charming cat, swallow streets, roads, roundabouts and every blank wall imaginable – what about all the single-parent families? What about families where there is only one grandma and one daddy, but no mummy? What about, all the gods forbid, having two parents of the same gender? What about couples without children? Of course, these do not fall within the ‘traditional family’ type the archbishop of Malta loves to talk about in his sermons, so they are ignored like the plague.

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Some time ago, while going to the hairdresser’s after work, I was stupefied and stunned when, as I was passing in front of a private meeting place for a particular Christian group, I saw a notice quoting the Bishop and the Archbishop. I simply had to stop and read it, even though it turned my stomach. No, I am not going to go into details here, suffice it to say that the description of the ‘traditional family’; what it ought to be, and what it ‘has become’ due to the distancing of the people from the church, was simply illuminating.

Honestly, one must not only be blind and obtuse and totally out of this world to not realize WHY people are alienating themselves from this kind of mentality. About bloody time too! How anyone could swallow this type of elitist hatred-inducing bullshit is quite beyond me. Some people just like feeling that they are part of a ‘special’ club I suppose, even though it sucks. It’s like the bullies at school. They usually conglomerate in a group because this makes them feel like they are better than everybody else – the superior race of hypocritical opportunism if you will.

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I am not saying that every Christian is like this, nor that every religion is (though yes many individuals DO view religion in this manner – talk about psychosis), however this mentality of exclusion is unfortunately permeating Malta, and it has been doing this for as long as I can remember. Shall we clap our hands and swallow it all, simply because this corrupt and intolerant mentality is ‘traditional’ – in that it has been unchanging in a long time? Well, apparently as soon as one affixes the magical word ‘tradition’ to something, it becomes untouchable, so… why not?

*Sigh*

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I hope you DO get my world-weary sarcasm here?