Monday, 24 December 2018

Maltese Bagpiper playing Iz-Zaqq

The Maltese Bagpipe, known as iż-żaqq, is traditionally associated with Christmas time when pipers often accompanied by a tambourine player, roamed the streets playing pastoral melodies. 

The  żaqq is a rare instrument of its kind. The bag with fur on the outside includes all four legs and tail. The double pipe chanter (saqqafa) is inserted into the neck of the animal skin and terminates in a bull horn. The bag is usually made of goa skin or that of a prematurely aborted calf. Previously  dogskin was also used and occasionally even a large cat.

This large clay figure was originally made for a Christmas crib and traditionally the bagpiper is seen playing to the Child Jesus. Though several of these bagpiper figures were made over the years, not many are found holding a Maltese zaqq. This late 19th century figure in biblical clothing is in motion holding a Maltese version of the bagpipe held beneath the right arm, with all four legs pointing upwards. He is  blowing into the blowpipe (l-imserka) which was usually made of Arundo donax (qasab) as also was the chanter. Fingerholes,  which are not visible here, were 5 on the left and 1 on the right. The horn bell has unfortunately broken off.

Clay Figure – 26.5cm high 11 cm wide
on a square wooden base 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018


Giacomo Puccini's opera TOSCA was based on a French melodramatic play La Tosca by Victorien SARDOU (1887). Puccini's libretto was by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The opera was premiered in the Teatro Costanzi (later Teatro Reale dell' Opera) in Rome in 1900. Only three years later it was first performed in Malta, in March 1903.

That same year a Maltese version of Sardou's work by Guglielmo ARENA was published by Ganni Muscat (48 Strada Mercanti, Valletta) and was dedicated to the Theatre Impresario, Michel Ang Borg. This made the story of Tosca available to the general Maltese public that could not read Italian or French. The stories of operatic works were therefore filtering down to those who would not normally be financially able to attend the theatre. Some of these, such as Lucia di Lammermoor and Pia de Tolomei were then also created in sung folk versions, in what is known as ghana tal-fatt.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Square footed drum

20cm x 20cm and 18cm high.

This month is 100 years from the birth of NELSON MANDELA, South African anti-apartheid activist (1918-2013). For this reason I thought I would post this instrument which is so much connected with him.

Made in Accompong Town in West Jamaica, this square drum celebrates Mandela's freedom in February 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment. In 1994 Mandela became the first black South African to be democratically elected President. 
'GUMBA MANDELA IS FREE AGAIN' is incised into one of its sides, and his ideals of 'LOVE AND UNITY' on another.  The name 'George Hoggins' pricked into the wooden frame is presumably the maker of this instrument. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2018


gourd shaker
A hand-carved gourd shaker with seeds still inside. Lots of time and patience must have gone into this beautiful carving with such an intricate ink-stained design. A true labour of love. The incised Greek writing on it reads:
ERGON  (the work of)
PANAGIA (Island of Thasos)
and the date 15-6-70.
Thanks due to AMIS member, Prof. Stephen Cottrell, for deciphering this.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

MIM, MALTA section, Phoenix, Arizona

Musical Instrument Museum (MIM),
Malta Section,
Phoenix, Arizona

The MIM's ambition was to have a Museum that displayed instruments from all over the world. I was approached to provide the instruments, information and videos of the Malta exhibits. I am very proud to say that our little island is therefore included in the Museum which first opened in 2009. Here is a selection of photographs taken by my brother Mark and his wife Ellen. Below you will also find a link to just some of the amazing instruments in the Museum. Thanks Mark and Ellen!

video by Mark Zammit Maempel:

Friday, 27 April 2018

NORMA - Libretto

Norma - Vincenzo Bellini

Bellini's opera NORMA was first produced at La Scala in Milan on 26th December 1831. The first production in Malta was only three years later on the 15 November of 1834.

Though this libretto  is undated, the same wrapper with its Ancient Egyptian motifs was probably first used for the AIDA in the 1877-1878 season which saw the re opening of the Theatre Royal after it burnt down in 1873 (See Paul Xuereb, The Maltese Opera Libretto (MUP 2004): xix)                         

Printed in Malta at 133 Strada Forni, this was the C. Busuttil printing house.   Paul Xuereb notes that the same wrapper was reissued for the performance of AIDA in 1897-98. However, here we also find it used for Bellini's Norma.

It has 61 pages of parallel Italian and English text. On the back cover is the cast list: POLLIONE - Sig. Luigi Longobardo, OROVESO - Sig. Giovanni Balisardi, NORMA - Sigra Ersilia Ancarani, ADALGISA - Signa Annita Torretta, CLOTILDE - Signa Candida de Franco, FLAVIO - Sig. Egidio Bacci. 
Conductor of the Orchestra - Sig. ARTURO BOVI.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Malta Carnival Programme, 1964

What class! It was Emvin Cremona who designed this striking, brightly-coloured Programme for the Malta Carnival in 1964. Immediately evoking the fantasy of Carnival, a masked Arlecchino holding a long-necked lute is seated far up above the Malta rooftops, well detached from reality.

Carnival that year was inaugurated on Saturday 8th February with the traditional 'Parata', a mock battle which took place every year, only in Carnival.  'The Parata' was performed in the afternoon in the Palace Square Enclosure to the accompaniment of Spiro's Orchestra. This dance had been taking place for hundreds of years. In 1791, the Count of Saint-Priest gave one of the most vivid descriptions of it in his Malte par un Voyageur Francais.

The Parata, previously referred to as 'il Battito' is well recorded in the eighteenth century in our Notarial Archives. In  1774, a party of men signed a contract whereby the participants bound themselves to turn up for all rehearsals, to obey their instructor and to perform the 'battito della parata' during the Carnival period wherever necessary. One musician was also present for the contract. He had the responsibility of providing his own group of musicians and ensuring that they abide by the same strict rules.

For more details see Anna Borg Cardona, "The Carnival Battitu or Parata in the Eighteenth Century"Treasures of Malta No 62, (FPM, Easter 2015) 21-26.