Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Maltese Recordings

Early Maltese Recordings 1930-32
The three great names associated with Malta's early recordings were:
1. Fortunato Habib (Polyphon label)
2. Antonio D'Amato (HMV, Zonophone)
3. P. Carabott (Odeon, Pathe)

These first recordings on shellac records captured the various facets of Malta's music scene in the early 1930s. D'Amato re-released several of his own early recordings again in the 1960s on Vinyl records (45s) and then also on cassette tapes.
The Ghanja bejn tnejn, for example, was first recorded in Milan on shellac records by the renowned Manuel Cilia ta' Zabbett and Karmnu Cardona it-tapp, but was re-released in 1964 on a 45rpm  blue label.
Several ballads of Manuel Cilia were also re-released on 45s and cassettes - such as Arturo u Maria, Genoveffa, Toni Bajada, Lucia ta' Lammermur….

It may come as a surprise that the young Carmelo Pace, aged 24, was also among the first to record in the 1930s. However, these were not what we came to associate with Pace's works and I believe they are not included in his extensive catalogue of works (Carmelo Pace - A Maltese composer, Marcel De Gabriele and Georgette Caffari, 1991). At this early stage Pace was composing light music, dance music and songs for singers such as the baritone Watty Cachia and tenor A. Castelletti, together with the Carabott Orchestra under the  baton of Mro Cirillo. Among these is 'Carnival', 'Nghannu lil kwiekeb', 'Rivali ta Imhabba' and 'Stedina ghas-sfin'. 

At this point, the young composer was in close contact with the ghannejja and guitarists who were recording at the same time. This must surely have had a strong impact on Pace who was composing his Maltesina in 1931. This was followed by other works with a Maltese flavour. The well loved L-Imnarja composed in 1960 was recorded on a 45 record, Maltadisk, in 1968 together with the flip side 'Fejn it-tieqa tal-fanal', composed in 1963. The record sleeve beautifully captures ghannejja and guitarists in action surrounded by attentive listeners.

Sunday, 19 May 2019


This has been a very busy time for me curating the FPM exhibition 'Music in Malta from Prehistory to Vinyl.' You are still in time to visit up until the 16th June 2019, so don't miss it!
The exhibition looks at the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo situated right at the crossroads of all the movement, trade and cultural exchanges taking place from earliest of times and throughout their history. The Islands were absorbing influences from north and south, east and west, from the different cultures and religions surrounding and dominating them.
Here is just one of Malta's folk instruments - the hornpipe -  that shows influences/similarities with North Africa.

LEFT - Maltese Qrajna or Saqqafa b'wahda
Arundo donax (qasab) down-cut single reed (bedbut)
Arundo donax pipe (qima) with 5 fingerholes
serrated bull horn (qarn)

RIGHT - Tunisian Zukra/Maqrouna
 Arundo donax down-cut single reed
Arundo donax pipe with 5 fingerholes 

F'dan l-instrument maghruf hawn Malta bhala 'Qrajna' jew 'Saqqafa b'wahda' naraw l-importanza li tinghata lill-qarn. F'xi bnadi tal-Afrika ta' Fuq insibu l-istess emfasi fuq il-qarn,  fejn l-istrument jissejjah 'Maqrouna'. Il-partijiet tal-qasab donnhom mizjudin mal-qarn u mhux il-kuntrarju.

 Il-qarn jitqies protettiv, mhux hawn Malta biss, imma f'hafna inhawi. Hawn Malta nafu kemm missirijietna kienu jemmnu fil-protezzjoni mill-ghajn. Il-qarn - jew par qrun -  kellhom is-setgha li jwarrbu jew ixejjnu kull hazen u periklu. Dan il-hsieb konness mal-qarn johodna lura sew fiz-zmien. Insibuh, per ezempju, fil-kult ta' Cybele fil-Grecja u n-naha tat-Turkija fiz-zmien ta' qabel Kristu.

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: