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A new look at maltese high pitched folk singing "La Bormliża"

Une nouvelle vision sur l’interprétation musicale folklorique de Malte " La Bormliża "
Una nueva visión sobre la interpretación musical folklórica de Malta " La Bormliża "
"نظرة جديدة في كيفية أداء الغناء الفلكلوري المالطي"البورمليزا
(La Bormliża)
George Mifsud Chircop
p. 197-215

Résumés

L’interprétation musicale traditionnelle est connue dans les îles de Malte et Gozo sous le nom de għana, et elle est généralement vocale, couvrant un répertoire mélodique limité avec un contenu textuel relatif au public local. Cette musique comprend différents types de sous genres, chantés en partie et improvisés par des mots sans préparation préalable, en particulier les mots décontractés chantés avec une voix tendue, forte et avec des cordes mélodiques trop longues qui s’étendent et changent leur forme à travers les longs passages ornementaux.
Pour l’instant, trois théories portent sur l’origine du għana la Bormliża : la première d’origine espano,sicilienne (supposant la non existence d’une autre musique folklorique maltaise),  la seconde constituant une symbiose arabo,européenne, et la troisième d’origine indigène.
L’interprétation musicale ne mérite d’attention que lorsqu’elle est chantée localement (en Australie par les migrants maltais). Jusqu’à ces derniers jours, elle comporte des attitudes dans l’affiliation pour une répartition de classes distinctes, mais cela est quasiment incompréhensible pour quiconque, mais pratiquée dans un milieu musical défini.
La présentation de cette étude se focalise sur l’affrontement et l’opposition entre musique et interprétation, et sur la possibilité de l’existence des influences de la part du contexte européen et non européen. En outre, sa fonction sociale change en fonction d’un nouveau contexte culturel lorsqu’elle a été récemment réanimée dans un processus d’acculturation proactif.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 M. A. Herndon, Singing and Politics. Maltese Folk Music and Musicians, Ph.D. thesis, USA, 1971, pp. (...)

1Maltese folk singing or “għana” is sung by folk singers from Malta and Gozo, as well as Maltese emigrants in Australia. The music and folk singing is the work of semi-literate or illiterate singers and musicians and musically untrained composers, rather than self-taught, which means by ear and hand (rather than by score and teacher)1.Their age ranges between ten and eighty-six, and includes children, young men and women who are constantly encouraged to perform in the various għana programmes on the media and seratas organised by the għannejja themselves or by the various local councils. They sing in wine shops and restaurants and village/town celebrations, as in the Lejla Maltija (Maltese Night).

  • 2 The other three sub-types are: l-għana tal-banju (traditional għana stanzas; lit. « singing at the (...)

2La Bormliża is one of the four sub-types of għana2, better known in Maltese as għana la Bormliża or għana fil-għoli (lit. « singing in high register »), għana tan-nisa (lit. « women’s song/singing »), or la nisa (lit. « singing like women/in women’s way »), or għana bit-tkaxkira (« dragged song »), implying that men either find it very hard to sing or must sing it in the female vocal register.

3This is contrary to the improvised (spirtu pront) or ballad (fatt). It is imperative that the La Bormliża singer have great vocal and lung power, breath and vocal control, and a magnificent full voice to sustain the melismatic intricacies of the presentation of its inherently long phrases. In spite of its simple diction, La Bormliża singing demands a sound knowledge of its intricate rules.

Historical references

4George P. Badger refers to għana singing in the cities and villages of his times:

  • 3 G. P. Badger, Description of Malta and Gozo. Malta, 1838, p. 84.

5I have often stood and listened to individuals seated upon two opposite trees, or engaged in some kind of labour, singing answers to each other on rhyme, without any previous meditation. This the natives call taqbeel. The subjects vary according to circumstances, sometimes partaking of the nature of epic poetry, and sometimes of satire upon the faults or character of each3.

6Godfrey Wettinger, as quoted by Ġużè Cassar-Pullicino (1921-2005), furnishes documentation going as far back as the second half of the fifteenth century when folk singing is already associated at least with nobility wedding feasts. Performers faced direct competition by others in the neighbourhood and were remunerated in their dual role of musicians and singers. Musical instruments included the trumpet, the viole and the lute.

  • 4 See, "Tradition as ‘Discovery’ of ‘Marginality’: Għana and Folklore Mark II," part 7, Exoticizing D (...)
  • 5 Herndon, op. cit., p. 164.
  • 6 Ibid.

7There are no relevant historical sources on La Bormliża, though a few tape recordings date back to the 1960s and 70s. In post-war Malta La Bormliża was on the decline and on the verge of extinction. However, as Paul Sant-Cassia aptly remarks: « għana has always formed a resistant and resilient part [of ‘traditional culture’] »4 Relying on her informants, American musicologist Marcia Herndon contends that one of the contributing factors for the decline was « the lack of excellent voices. »5 Yet there must have been various other factors, as Herndon intuitively concludes6. The major factor might be the dominance of spirtu pront singers in any għana discourse, where others’ interests, including those of musicians and ballad and La Bormliża singers, as well as the wine shop proprietor are ignored by spirtu pront singers.

8La Bormliża seratas are never organized in Malta, except on the sole initiative of the present writer. This is the case of our recorded session in May 2001 at Ta’ Ġanna Bar, Żejtun. Here performance is characterised by absolute silence by the members of the audience who listen in awe and enjoy the melismas of the singers, the harsh sounds, glissandi, ornamentation, and the sliding from a higher pitch to a lower one. No attempt is made by anyone to catch the meaning of the lines. This genre is hardly ever heard in Gozo, except in a few isolated instances, the more so as għana on the sister island has lost its best performers and the remaining handful are not crowd pullers. Various għana sessions in Gozo are generally well attended when Maltese singers are invited to participate.

9La Bormliża is performed solo or by two, in which case the singers must alternate phrases of music. A song is only one verse long, but it is divided in two parts: the first is generally one of many fixed or standard traditional texts thematically having much in common with the traditional banju verses, the second is known as kadenza (cadence), at times improvised by the singer. It is here in the improvised kadenza where the performer can comment concisely on a particular theme. La Bormliża may be sung in either of three forms, the first two applicable for a duo, the third for a solo.

10In the first form singer A has the right to choose a traditional text. Then each of the two singers alternately perform twice his line of this first part with the poetic rhyme scheme a-b-a-b; in the kadenza each singer has his two lines of an improvised comment to sing, although there are times, as with the case of Mikiel Cumbo L-Iżgej, that his kadenzi have also become fixed for him with much repetition and use. The rhyme scheme of the form becomes a-b-a-b-c-d-e-d.

  • 7 Recordings in the author’s possession.

11The second Bormliża type is simpler: as with the first form, singer A has the right to choose the traditional text, but each singer now sings the same two lines en bloc and not one, then repeats them. In all, these same two lines are heard four times, to be followed by the kadenza when each singer performs two lines of his own. The rhyme scheme of this form is: a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b-c-b-d-b, as in the following excerpts sung by two contemporary singers Ċensu Abela « Tal-Pitrolju » and Salvu Cassar « Il-Ħamra»7.

1 –

Ċensu: W erġa’ semmagħli l-ħelu leħnek,

         

Ċensu: And let me listen to your sweet voice once more,

         Dak li għandek il-ħanin.

That kindly voice of yours.

Salvu: W erġa’ semmagħli l-ħelu leħnek,

Salvu: And let me listen to your sweet voice once more,

         Dak li għandek il-ħanin.

That kindly voice of yours.

Ċensu: W erġa’ semmagħli l-ħelu leħnek,

Ċensu: And let me listen to your

Sweet voice once more,

         Dak li għandek il-ħanin.

That kindly voice of yours.

Salvu: W erġa’ semmagħli l-ħelu leħnek,

Salvu: And let me listen to your sweet voice once more,

         Dak li għandek il-ħanin.

         That kindly voice of yours.

Ċensu: Meta nisma’ d-daqq u l-għana

Ċensu: When I hear music and song

     U ma narahx għaddej il-ħin.

         I don’t notice the time pass.

Salvu: Għax kulma nagħmlu kollu sewwa,

Salvu: Because all we do is right

     U kulma nagħmlu kollox bnin.

         And all we do is wholesome.

2–

     

Ċensu: U għalkemm aħna kumpanija

Ċensu: And although we are a pair

         Bħal qaqoċċa mdawrin –

   Close together like an rtichoke –

Salvu: U għalkemm aħna kumpanija

Salvu: And although we are a pair

         Bħal qaqoċċa magħqudin –

   Close together like an artichoke –

Ċensu: U għalkemm aħna kumpanija

Ċensu: And although we are a pair

         Bħal qaqoċċa magħqudin –

Close together like an artichoke –

Salvu: U għalkemm aħna kumpanija

Salvu: And although we are a pair

         Bħal qaqoċċa magħqudin –

Close together like an artichoke –

Ċensu: U din il-mewt trid tkun għalina

Ċensu: Only death can draw us

     Biex tifridna minn xulxin.

         Apart from each other.

Salvu: ???

Salvu: ???

12The third La Bormliża form is performed solo, and the singer may opt for either of the two forms mentioned above, where the scheme of the second would be a-b-a-b-c-b. Three prominent singers Ċensu Abela « Tal-Pitrolju », Mikiel Cumbo « L-Iżgej » and Ċikku Degiorgio « Tal-Fjuri » prefer singing according to the second rhyme scheme.

  • 8 Recordings in the author’s possession.

13Here are typical La Bormliża verses, five (1-5) by « L-Iżgej », our foremost Bormliża singer, followed by two verses (6-7) lately sung by Ċikku «tal-Fjuri»8 :

1 Kemm ili għanja ma Ngħanni

It has been such a long time since I last sang a stanza

Għax ilsieni rabba’ s-sadid,

Because my tongue has grown rusty,

Kemm ili għanja ma ngħanni,

It has been such a long time since I last sang a stanza

Għax ilsieni rabba’ s-sadid.

Because my tongue has grown rusty,

Ommi ħabbet lil missieri,

My mother has loved my father,

U jiena nħobb lil min irrid

And I love whomever I want.

2 Fejn hu leħni ta’ dari?!

Where is my voice of past times?!

Kemm kelli leħni sabiħ!

How beautiful my voice was.

Fejn hu leħni ta’ dari

Where is my voice of past times?!

Kemm kelli leħni sabiħ!

How beautiful my voice was.

Fejn hu qiegħed ġibuhuli

Wherever it is bring it back to me

Għax naħseb ħadhuli r-riħ.

Because I believe the wind has taken it away from me.

3 Jekk timradli kemm

nitħassrek,

If you get sick I’ll pity you,

Jekk itmutli kemm nibkik,

If you die I’ll cry your loss,

Jekk timradli kemm nitħassrek,

If you get sick I’ll pity you,

Jekk itmutli kemm nibkik,

If you die I’ll cry your loss,

Jien niġik iċ-ċimiterju,

I will visit you at the cemetery,

Fuq qabrek nitlob għalik.

And pray for you on your tomb.

4 Xitla sbejħa ġol-ġnien

għandi,

I’ve a beautiful plant in my garden,

Kemm ilma ġerrejt għalik,

I’ve carried so much water to water

you,

Xitla sbejħa ġol-ġnien għandi,

I’ve a beautiful plant in my garden,

Kemm ilma ġerrejt għalik,

I’ve carried so much water to water

you,

Meta ġejt biex il-frott tagħmel,

When time was ripe to mature

U … ħaddieħor qed igawdik.

Oh … someone else is enjoying you.

5 Jiena u inti żewġt igriedel,

You and I are two goldfinches,

Fuq siġra ngħannu qegħdin,

Singing on a tree,

Jiena u inti żewġt igriedel,

You and I are two goldfinches

Fuq siġra ngħannu qegħdin,

Singing on a tree,

Daqskemm qed nieħu pjaċir

miegħek

I’m enjoying so much myself with you

Ma nixtieqx isir il-ħin.

I wish time would not pass.

6 Wiċċ ta’ warda bellusija

You have a face of a velvety flower

Mistoħbija qalb il-weraq.

Wiċċ ta’ warda bellusija

Hidden among the leaves.

You have a face of a velvety flower

Mistoħbija qalb il-weraq.

Hidden among the leaves.

Jien għalik nidħol f’tempesta

For you I would plunge in a storm

Waqt ix-xita, ragħad u beraq.

In the rain, thunder and lightning.

7 Rajtek tielgħa fuq is-Saqqajja,

I saw you going up to Saqqajja hill

Ħandbeg iswed fuq spallejk.

With a black handbag hanging from

your shoulders.

Rajtek tielgħa fuq is-Saqqajja,

I saw you going up to Saqqajja hill

Ħandbeg iswed fuq spallejk.

With a black handbag hanging from

your shoulders.

Ir-raġel keċċiek ’il barra,

Your husband has chased you

away,

Id-dmugħ nieżel minn għajnejk.

With tears streaming from your

eyes.

  • 9 Personal communication, April, 2004.

14As remarked by Annette Erler of Denmark, « La Bormliża is a loose term for performing words with forced and tense voice, over long melodic lines and stretched and distorted across long ornamental passages covered in a limited melodic repertoire and with a strong emphasis on textual content related to a local audience »9.

Different theories

15No particularly reliable study or analysis has as yet been undertaken to discuss comprehensively the immanent nature of this sub-type of għana (or of the other sub-types) in Malta, Gozo, and Australia. So far three theories have focused on the origin of La Bormliża: (1) the Spanish-Sicilian origin (assuming that any other Maltese folk music is non-existent); (2) the Arabic-European symbiosis; (3) the indigenous origin.

  • 10 J. Vella, L-Identità Kulturali Maltija – Il-Muika [Maltese Cultural Identity – Music], "L-Identità (...)

16Joseph Vella, in his study "L-Identità Kulturali Maltija – Il-Mużika" [Maltese Cultural Identity – Music] (1989)10 outrightly does away with the possibility of the existence of any indigenous folk music, defining the existing motifs as « pseudo-folk tunes »:

  • 11 Ibid., p. 37. [Original: « (…) Kuntrarjament għal dak li sostnew u forsi għadhom isostnu xi wħud, m (...)

17Contrary to what has been and is still being insisted upon, indigenous folk music is rare, almost non-existent, I would say. The appearance in certain almost phenomenal aspects of a large number of pseudo-folk tunes in Malta in the last 30/40 years, is the result of completely different exigencies to those from which pure form is formed and created. This phenomenon can be attributed to personal/national interests, as a result, for example of the development of the tourist industry, whose local food and indigenous music are considered an integral part of his stay in our islands11.

  • 12 Original: « (…) Matul i-minijiet ftit kienu dawk il-Maltin li ]assewhom tant kompletament iolati li (...)
  • 13 Original: « (…) Il-knejjes f’Malta dejjem servew ta’ swali tal-kun`erti fejn il-poplu kollu sata’ j (...)
  • 14 Original: « L-g]ana huwa l-akbar espressjoni (u f’]afna aspetti forsi l-unika vera espressjoni) ta’ (...)

18Vella is here defining post-war Maltese folk music as folklorismus. He contends that due to the small geographical size of the Maltese islands, our forefathers (including those of the pre-war period) felt no need to create their own music12.Their constant cultural contacts with artistic (religious) music neutralised any internal music energy and made of them passive and not active performers13.Moreover, għana as the strongest, true expression of Maltese folk music, is predominantly textual and not musical, the “spiritual’’ origin of which is Spanish-Sicilian14.

  • 15 G. P. Badger, Description of Malta and Gozo, Malta, 1838, pp. 82-92.
  • 16 Cassar-Pullicino and Ch. Camilleri, Maltese Oral Poetry and Folk Music, Malta, 1998, pp. 1-3.

19Vella’s three-pronged theory is diachronic: whereas there is still room to discuss and investigate his Spanish-Sicilian origin for għana, the sparse published documentation by George Percy Badger15 in 1838 (Vella wrote 151 years later!) and Cassar-Pullicino16 proves him wrong on the first and second score.

  • 17 Mifsud-Chircop, G]ana: A Living Culture in Malta, p. 85.

20As I have argued elsewhere, « Għana justifiably was part and parcel of Maltese culture at more than one level of society, females not excluded. Sections of the people in seventeenth-century Malta ignored the objections of the Authorities, and lute players and others continued and were permitted only to accompany the bridal couple to the church door »17 not to mention the people’s persistent behaviour in gathering in large numbers to listen to the guitar accompanied singing and watch the dancing.

  • 18 See, Herndon, op. cit., pp. 16, 308.

21The predominant theory is that għana, particularly the La Bormliża, is a unique symbiosis of Arabic and European characteristics.18 I will quote Charles Camilleri, himself a Maltese composer, in his recent publication jointly with Cassar-Pullicino:

22The singing style of the Bormliża is one of the oldest examples of musical form of the Maltese Islands. It is akin to Arabic music and its style of singing possibly developed during the Arab occupation of the Maltese Islands between the ninth and eleventh century.

23The guitar accompaniment was probably added much later and led to the death of the original concept.

Its main musical features are:

  1. Melismatic type – the use of several types of pitches to one syllable of the text.

  2. A wide variety of non-Western pitches, harsh and loud sounds, glissandi and ornamentation.

  3. Melodic type of motives (melody) which generally slides from a higher pitch to a low one.

    • 19 Cassar-Pullicino and Camilleri, Maltese Oral Poetry and Folk Music, p. 87.
      These comments are in ful (...)

    The avoidance of landing on the “tonic’’ (head-note) until a considerable time has passed by landing a tone higher.19

24However, other scholars, particularly Paul Sant-Cassia and Paolo Scarnecchia, do not consider any possibility of this Arab/Muslim relation and are in favour of an indigenous origin of għana as with other Mediterranean islands or a vocal Mediterranean koine respectively.

  • 20 P. Sant-Cassia, "L-Għana: Bejn il-Folklor u l-Ħabi" p. 87. [Original: « (…) M’hemm l-ebda raġuni bi (...)

25There is no reason in order to believe that għana is in fact Arab/Muslim. In fact it may be a genuine local creation and this form of singing is found in many other places in the Mediterranean, in islands such as Sardinia, Crete and Cyprus20.

  • 21 P. Scarnecchia, L-Għana, il canto a chiterra di Malta, "Ittiritmi ’99 – il canto delle isole, la vo (...)

26Alcuni studiosi, Cassar-Pullicino e Camilleri, per spiegare il suo carattere eccentrico hanno ipotizzato un’influenza araba, anche se i suoi tratti appaiono riconducibili ad una koiné vocale che abbraccia una più ampia fascia mediterranea….21.

La Bormliża and prostitution

  • 22 Herdon, op. cit., p. 18.

27Marcia Herndon and Norma McLeod were the first and the only scholars to associate La Bormliża and għana in general with prostitution22.

  • 23 Ibid., p. 202.

28Indeed, few women who are not prostitutes or former prostitutes sing at all, although this may not have been the situation twenty-five years ago or more23.

  • 24 McLeod and Herndon, op. cit., p. 90.

29This [la Bormliża] … is the type of song used by those women who sing in the public arena in Malta. The women who sing Bormliża are “prostitutes.” They sing with men or with other women in the bars and houses of “prostitution”24.

  • 25 Various references to my radio programme series Mill-Prejjem sal-Kadenza, broadcast on Radio Malta (...)
  • 26 Herndon, op. cit., p. 249; see also, p. 199.
  • 27 Ibid., p. 259.

30This statement has always intrigued me. Their research in the early seventies happened to coincide with various clashes between two groups of folk singers, dominated by the figures of two performers, connected with prostitutes, one of the latter was the best La Bormliża performer at the time,25 and the other « a novice singer and ardent supporter »26 of the second male singer. Reference is also made to a La Bormliża specialist and a « madame [sic] of genteel house … and proprietress of the bar »27 where the best La Bormliża singer worked.

  • 28 See, amongst many instances, ibid., pp. 66, 145-150, 162-163, 164, 193-196, 200-201, 232, 240, 241, (...)

31Though one cannot overlook these connections of the two top għana performers, the allegation that Maltese folk singing in general and La Bormliża in particular is the domain of prostitutes and that folk singers live with prostitutes was, and still is, far from the truth. Through my long years of ethnographic research since the early seventies I have repeatedly interviewed many għannejja on different occasions, including prominent ones of the time, notably the late Fredu Abela « l-Bamboċċu » who features so often in Herndon’s work,28 and Żeppi Meli « Ta’ Sika ». Both have refuted Herndon’s contention that La Bormliża implies a prostitute as a performer – Meli himself is a La Bormliża singer! In particular Bamboċċu’s blunt statement needs to be quoted verbatim:

  • 29 Personal communication, July 2003. [« [L-għannej] kien ibellgħalha ħafna affarijiet lil Marcia biex (...)

32[Herdon’s informant, one of the two top folk singers,] … made Marcia believe many a tall story to endear himself to her, even passed off bottles of the adulterated wine he gave her as pure wine. This one of folk singing and prostitutes you’re telling me about must be one of his tall stories29.

  • 30 These are Frans Mifsud « Ta’ Żaren ta’ Vestru », Janice Spagnol « Ta’ Żeppi ż-Żejtuni », Neil Vassa (...)
  • 31 Herndon, pp. 79-80

33With the exception of four younger ones who have taken to this genre as a result of the Singing Festival,30 the present La Bormliża singers are among the « few remain[ing] who know the intricate rules [of La Bormliża] and possess the magnificent voice required by the form »31 who were already flourishing at the time and none of them ever lived with a prostitute.

34To conclude: though Herndon’s conclusions on prostitution and għana are interesting to follow and to study with reference to the five singers implied, they are biased. Same goes for her remark with Norma McLeod that

  • 32 Norma McLeod and Marcia Herndon, op. cit., p. 86.

35It is common to find two men holding hands and kissing in one corner [in a singing bar], while singers battle out a fine philosophical subject and a prostitute meets a customer in the back room32.

La Bormliża and the present għana revival

  • 33 Male and female folk singers and folk musicians were repeatedly interviewed to the extent that they (...)

36The present revival of Maltese high-pitched singing falls within my proactive cultural project of injecting new life in various aspects of Maltese folk culture, mainly folk singing, folk narrative and material culture. He started his research on għana in the late 1970s.33 Women and high-pitched performers proved to be a hard nut to crack, refusing to collaborate due to family pressure. This was the first phase of an arduous and slow, though continuous cultural project, demanding perseverance, dedication and disregard of the various pecuniary interests of individual who regarded his initiative as a threat.

37I have been locally criticised for giving prominence to high-pitched singing during the eight editions of the festival. Other factors causing the decline include the tremendous vocal power, control, agility and endurance, lung power and breath control needed.

  • 34 R. Fsadni, "Second National Għana Festival: A Success – But the Judges Risk Being Immortalised … in (...)

38It was only in 1999 that unaccompanied għana was introduced in the Second National Folk Singing Festival on the initiative of the adjudicating board of the previous year’s Festival and on mine as artistic director of the festival. The former suggested in their short report that unaccompanied singing should be introduced for high-pitched singing (l-għana La Bormliża). The latter dared take the opportunity to present all types of għana, resulting in the best moments of the whole event34.

  • 35 I found the full support of the then parliamentary secretary Joe Cilia, and director of the Departm (...)
  • 36 As the originator and artistic director of the National Folk Singing Festival, it has always been m (...)

39The first results were reaped in 1998 when the First National Folk Singing Festival was held in Argotti Gardens.35 To date seven editions of the festival have been held, with the participation of various local and foreign folk singers and musicians, mainly from the Mediterranean area. Whereas in 1998 high-pitched singers had to be practically pushed on the stage to perform and were practically ignored by a large section of the audience. Nowadays, through broadcasting and wider publicity of the previous editions of the festival and the installation of a monitor for simultaneous and/or consecutive translation and transcription (Maltese-English), we see the majority of our audiences enjoying these performances.36 A concurrent strategy of recording and broadcasting performers’ life biographies and għana programmes on two local radio stations have helped me in gaining the trust of many singers and musicians. This led to the founding of Kadenzi in October 2002, followed by the official opening of its club in Qormi on March 14, 2004. Kadenzi is the only society of Maltese folk singers and musicians in contemporary Malta.

  • 37 Herndon, op. cit., p. 321.
    Other examples of generalizations are to be found in Herndon’s work, as w (...)

40In spite of its geographical size it is not correct to draw one common line for the whole musical discourse of folk singing in Malta. The more so when, to quote Herndon, « the music of Malta is basically an intervillage activity, and not a village-oriented phenomenon. The mobility of musicians » and, we would add, folk singers, « as they go from bar to bar across the island, is constant, and seemingly almost random. »37.

  • 38 See, "Tradition as ‘Discovery’ of ‘Marginality,’" part 7.
  • 39 . Ibid.

41Moreover, in the past eight years the situation has been changing, at times at a rapid pace. There still exists "popular culture" which Paul Sant-Cassia in his in-depth analysis of Maltese folk music has recently defined « de rigueur »38 for intellectuals and students. Hundreds of għana aficionados attend the annual Folk Singing Festival as għana is part of their life and they thus come into personal contact with the singers. For other levels of society the festival has been an enculturative experience, the catalyst towards a constant operative process of enculturation, making għana part of Maltese culture and society. Since the second edition (1999) of the Festival Mediterranean folk groups and musicians have been participating and the programme is purposely formulated in such a way as to alternate foreign folk singing and music with Maltese folk singing and music. Hundreds of middle class Maltese as well as tourists attend. The three-day festival, edited and serialised by the present writer, is broadcast on the national television station thus enjoying the largest percentage of viewership. The situation, as partly described by Sant-Cassia in 1991, namely, « (…) a process of ‘discovery’ and ‘marginalization’ as occurred with the Gozo carnival »39 has been changing eventually, due to diffusion and cultural transmission in process. Here we quote Sant-Cassia again,

  • 40 . See "Revitalised rituals, or Reperceived rituals ?" part 8, Exoticizing Discoveries and Extraordi (...)

42n]owadays għana has become an other (rather than the other) like all other othernesses, and therefore acceptable. It becomes an ordinary otherness rather than an extraordinary otherness, and just another vehicle to generate metaphors of difference…. To a great extent għana has been disinvested of the sharpness of (coded) class commentary, as indeed have many other traditional markers of social distinction…40

43A critical eye at the cultural situation in Malta can easily identify examples of voluntary acceptance of għana at various levels. In this process La Bormliża stands to gain a new crop of La Bormliża singers in the near future.

44In 1991 Sant-Cassia wrote:

  • 41 . Ibid.

(…) [M]odern appreciation of għana concentrates much more on the voice, even on the ‘pain’ of the singer, rather than on the uneasy laughter that greets the singers’ riposte. Contemporary appreciation of għana is thus very different to that in the past, and it seeks different experiences.41

45Since then għana has come a long way and La Bormliża stands to gain, even if at the expense of, as Sant-Cassia concludes after Harvey (1996), becoming a « hybrid of modernity. »

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Bibliographie

Badger, G. P, Description of Malta and Gozo. Malta, M. Weiss, 1838.

Camilleri, Charles, "Save our Folk-Music Now", Sunday Times of Malta, 30.01.1966.

Għana, "Malta's Musical Heritage", Sunday Times of Malta, 23.10.1970.

"The Growing Awareness by Mediterranean Countries of their Musical Homogeneity", Proceedings of the First Congress on Mediterranean Music, Alger, 1973.

Cassar-Pullicino, Ġ, "Is-Sehem tal-Folklor fl-Identità Kulturali Maltija" [The Role of Folklore in Maltese Cultural Identity], L-Identità Kulturali ta' Malta [Maltese Cultural Identity], T. Cortis, ed. Malta: Dipartiment ta’ l-Informazzjoni [Department of Information], 1989, 59-80.

Cassar-Pullicino, Ġ. and Ch. Camilleri. Maltese Oral Poetry and Folk Music. Malta: Malta University Publishers Ltd, 1998.

Cassar-Pullicino, J. and M. Galley, "Maltese Għana. Some Remarks on the Process of Invention", Journal of Mediterranean Studies 6/1, 1996, 70-81.

Ciantar, Philip, The Maltese Għana, The Linear versus the Vertical. Dissertation submitted in partial requirement for the BA Degree, University of Malta, 1994.

"From the Bar to the Stage: Socio-musical Processes in the Maltese Spirtu Pront", Music & Anthropology, 5 2000, multi media online.

Erler, Annette, "Musik ist der Malteser Hauptvergnügen", Über historische Quellen und heutige Musikpraxis auf Malta. Historische Volksmusikforschung, Göttingen, 1994, 304-319.

"Instrumental Accompaniment to Maltese Vocal Music", Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis, vol. 12, Leipzig forthcoming, 123-129.

Herndon, M. A, Singing and Politics. Maltese Folk Music and Musicians, Ph.D. thesis, USA, Tulane University, 1971.

McLeod, N., and M., Herndon, "The Bormliża, Maltese Folksong Style and Women", Journal of American Folklore, 1975, 81-100.

Mifsud-Chircop, G. "Għana: una tradizione maltese sempre viva", Avidi Lumi, 3/6, Palermo, 1999, 35-40.

"Musica Folklorica Maltese: La Bormliża", Avidi Lumi, 4/11, Palermo, 2001, 44-47.

"Il-Folklor Malti I, II" [Maltese Folklore 1, II]. Kullana Kulturali [Cultural Series] 56, 57, Malta: Pubblikazzjoni PIN, 2003.

"Malta’s Għana: The Folk Music of the Maltese", Malta. Roots of a Nation, K. Gambin, ed., Malta: Heritage Malta, 2004, 149-162.

Ragonesi, A, Maltese Folksong “Għana’’: A Bibliography and Resource Material/L-Għana Malti: Bibljografija u Materjal Ieħor għar-Riċerka. Ġ.

Mifsud-Chircop, ed. Malta: Malta University Press, 1999.

Sant Cassia, P. "L-Għana: Bejn il-Folkor u l-Ħabi" [Għana: Between Folkore and Concealment], L-Identità Kulturali ta' Malta’’ [Maltese Cultural Identity], T. Cortis, ed. Malta: Dipartiment ta’ l-Informazzjoni [Department of Information], 1989, 81-91.

"Foreword", A. Ragonesi, Maltese Folksong “Għana’’: A Bibliography and Resource Material/L-Għana Malti: Bibljografija u Materjal Ieħor għar-Riċerka.

Ġ. Mifsud-Chircop, ed. Malta: Malta University Press, 1999.

"The Banality of Modern Traditions. Redifining Popular Music as World Music", De la châtaigne au Carnaval. Relances de traditions dans l’Europe contemporaine, Ch. Bromberger et alii, eds, Loriol: Editions A. Die 2004, 121-130.

"Exoticizing Discoveries and Extraordinary Experiences: ‘Traditional’ Music, Modernity, and Nostalgia in Malta and Other Mediterranean Societies". January 1991. http://www.maltese-ghana.ndirect.co.uk

Scarnecchia, P. "L-Għana, il canto a chiterra di Malta", Ittiritmi ’99 – il canto delle isole, la voce del mare, P. Scarnecchia, ed., Ittiri 4-7 agosto 1999, Nuoro 1999, 19-22.

Vella, J. "L-Identità Kulturali Maltija – Il-Mużika", [Maltese Cultural Identity – Music], L-Identità Kulturali ta’ Malta’’ [Maltese Cultural Identity], T. Cortis, ed., Malta: Dipartiment ta’ l-Informazzjoni [Department of Information], 1989, 35-58.

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Notes

1 M. A. Herndon, Singing and Politics. Maltese Folk Music and Musicians, Ph.D. thesis, USA, 1971, pp. 180-81; P. Sant-Cassia, ‘L-Għana: Bejn il-Folkor u l-Ħabi’ [Għana: Between Folkore and Concealment], in T. Cortis, ed., L-Identità Kulturali ta’ Malta [Maltese Cultural Identity], (Malta, 1989), p. 89.

2 The other three sub-types are: l-għana tal-banju (traditional għana stanzas; lit. « singing at the washing fountain »), l-għana spirtu pront (extemporised singing), and l-għana tal-fatt (ballad singing). See, Mifsud-Chircop, Il-Folklor Malti I [Maltese Folklore I], Kullana Kulturali [Cultural Series] n. 56, Malta, 2003, pp. 188-212, Il-Folklor Malti II, Kullana Kulturali n. 57, Malta, 2003, pp. 323-350, and "Malta’s Għana: The Folk Music of the Maltese", Malta. Roots of a Nation, K. Gambin, ed., Malta: Heritage Malta 2004, 149-162.
A recent off-shoot of għana is the makkjetta (humorous song). It has developed since the 1960s due to the merits and persistence of young Fredu Spiteri l-Everest who died tragically in 1965. His worthy successor is the late Fredu Abela Il-Bamboċċu who has a good number of compact discs to his name.

3 G. P. Badger, Description of Malta and Gozo. Malta, 1838, p. 84.

4 See, "Tradition as ‘Discovery’ of ‘Marginality’: Għana and Folklore Mark II," part 7, Exoticizing Discoveries and Extraordinary Experiences: ‘Traditional’ Music, Modernity, and Nostalgia in Malta and Other Mediterranean Societies. January 1991. http://www.maltese-ghana.ndirect.co.uk.

5 Herndon, op. cit., p. 164.

6 Ibid.

7 Recordings in the author’s possession.

8 Recordings in the author’s possession.

9 Personal communication, April, 2004.

10 J. Vella, L-Identità Kulturali Maltija – Il-Muika [Maltese Cultural Identity – Music], "L-Identità Kulturali ta’ Malta" [Maltese Cultural Identity], T. Cortis, ed., Malta, 1989, pp. 35-58.

11 Ibid., p. 37. [Original: « (…) Kuntrarjament għal dak li sostnew u forsi għadhom isostnu xi wħud, mużika ‘folk’ [sic] indiġena ftit li xejn għandna, anzi ngħid li hija kważi ineżistenti. Id-dehra taħt ċerti aspetti kważi fenomenali ta’ numru kbir ta’ psewdo folk tunes hawn Malta fl-aħħar 30/40 sena hija prodott ta’ esiġenzi differenti għal kollox minn dawk li minnhom tingħaġen u tissawwar il-mużika folk pura. Dan il-fenomenu jista’ jiġi attribwit għal interessi personali/nazzjonali kawża, per eżempju, ta’ l-iżvilupp ta’ l-industrija tat-turiżmu, fejn, għat-turist, ikla u daqqa indiġena huma kkunsidrati bħal parti integrali mill-mawra tiegħu f’pajjiżna. »].

12 Original: « (…) Matul i-minijiet ftit kienu dawk il-Maltin li ]assewhom tant kompletament iolati li nibtet fihom ix-xewqa li jikkreaw espressjoni muikali tag]hom infushom. » (Ibid.) [« (…) Along the ages few were those Maltese who felt so totally isolated that they felt the urge to create their own musical expression. »].

13 Original: « (…) Il-knejjes f’Malta dejjem servew ta’ swali tal-kun`erti fejn il-poplu kollu sata’ jattendi ming]ajr ]las, g]al servizzi reli[jui/muikali ta’ livell g]oli: dawn is-servizzi setg]u jitqiesu b]ala kun`erti regolari. Dan g]all-Maltin kien ta’ vanta[[ u fl-istess ]in ta’ vanta[[. Kien ta’ vanta[[ g]aliex il-livell ta’ konoxxenza u apprezzamnet muikali kien dejjem jikber u jikkonsolida ru]u. (Dari ma kinitx ]a[a rari li mastrudaxxa, bajjad, jew nies o]ra tas-seng]a manwali, waqt xog]olhom ikantaw jew isaffru arja minn xi opra Taljana flok xi melodija ‘folk’.) L-ivanta[[ [ie g]aliex din is-sitwazzjoni [[enerat udjenza konoxxenti imma passiva. » (Ibid.) [« (…) Churches in Malta always doubled up as concert halls where everybody could attend, for free, religious/musical services of a high level: these services may be considered as regular concerts. For the Maltese people this was an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously. It was an advantage because musical knowledge and appreciation kept rising and consolidating itself. (In the past it was not a rarity for a carpenter, a whitewasher, or other skilled manual workers while at work to be heard singing or whistling some tune from an Italian opera rather than a folk tune.) The disadvantage stems from the fact that this situation generated a knowing but a passive audience. »].

14 Original: « L-g]ana huwa l-akbar espressjoni (u f’]afna aspetti forsi l-unika vera espressjoni) ta’ muika ‘folk’ [sic] Maltija. Ida minkejja dan, l-interess artistiku prin`ipali ta’ l-g]ana m’huwiex muikali ida letterarju. Fl-ambjent ta’ l-g]ana niltaqg]u ma’ numru g]ir ta’ melodiji, jew a]jar forom melodi`i, u dawn iservu biex bihom l-g]annej jew jimprovia r-rimi tieg]u (l-hekk imsejja] g]ana spirtu pront), jew inkella jirrakkonta f’taqbila storja di[à eistenti (g]ana tal-fatt).
“Kif wie]ed jista’ jinnota, fi-ew[ kaijiet l-element muikali huwa dejjem sekondarju, filwaqt li t-test g]andu l-importanza prin`ipali…
“G]alkemm g]ad irid isir studju sew fuq dan is-su[[ett, jien nissu[[erixxi li l-ori[ni spiritwali ta’ l-g]ana kif nafuh a]na nsibuh fix-xtajta t’isfel ta’ Spanja u din l-influwenza waslet g]andna minn Sqallija. Min sama’ kant tradizzjonali minn dawn l-in]awi mill-ewwel jinduna bix-xebh ta’ kostruzzjoni u eekuzzjoni tieg]u, u l-uu sa mill-bidu nett ta’ kitarra b]ala strument akkompanjatur, huwa wkoll dettall rilevanti ]afna f’dan ir-rigward. » (Ibid., p. 38) [« Folk singing is the best (and from many aspects the only real) expression of Maltese folk music. However, in spite of this, the main artistic interest of g]ana is not musical but literary. In g]ana we come across a small number of melodies, or better still melodic forms, and these serve the singer to improvise his rhymed lines (the so called g]ana spirtu pront), or else narrate in a rhyming pattern an already existing narrative (ballad).
“As may be noted, in both cases the musical element is always secondary, whereas the text takes first place.
“Although this field still has to be researched, I would suggest that the spiritual origin of g]ana as we know it is to be found in the southern coast of Spain and this influence reached us from Sicily. Whoever has heard traditional singing from these areas, would notice immediately the similarity in construction and performance, and the use of the accompanying guitar from the very first, is also a very relevant detail to this regard. »].

15 G. P. Badger, Description of Malta and Gozo, Malta, 1838, pp. 82-92.

16 Cassar-Pullicino and Ch. Camilleri, Maltese Oral Poetry and Folk Music, Malta, 1998, pp. 1-3.

17 Mifsud-Chircop, G]ana: A Living Culture in Malta, p. 85.

18 See, Herndon, op. cit., pp. 16, 308.

19 Cassar-Pullicino and Camilleri, Maltese Oral Poetry and Folk Music, p. 87.
These comments are in full agreement with musicologist Marcia A. Herndon’s. For example, « The Bormlia, a melismatic impromptu haiku-like sung poem, is one of the oldest forms of Maltese music, according to informants. Its antiquity is further supported by its clearly Arabic aspects, such as melisma, melodic contour, and voice type, suggesting that this is a tradition which possibly dates from the Arab occupation of the islands. » (op. cit., p. 78; see also, pp. 307-308) Same remarks are found in N. McLeod and M. Herndon, "The Bormliża. Maltese Folksong Style and Women", Journal of American Folklore, 1975, p. 87.
For a musical example of la Bormlia transcribed by Camilleri, see op. cit., pp. 87-89.

20 P. Sant-Cassia, "L-Għana: Bejn il-Folklor u l-Ħabi" p. 87. [Original: « (…) M’hemm l-ebda raġuni biex wieħed jemmen li l-għana fil-fatt huwa Għarbi jew Musulman; fil-fatt jista’ jkun li huwa ħolqien ġenwin lokali u dis-sura ta’ kant jinsab [sic] f’ħafna nħawi oħra fil-Mediterran, fi gżejjer bħal Sardinja, Kreta u f’Ċipru. »]

21 P. Scarnecchia, L-Għana, il canto a chiterra di Malta, "Ittiritmi ’99 – il canto delle isole, la voce del mare", P. Scarnecchia, ed., Ittiri 4-7 agosto 1999, p. 20.

22 Herdon, op. cit., p. 18.

23 Ibid., p. 202.

24 McLeod and Herndon, op. cit., p. 90.

25 Various references to my radio programme series Mill-Prejjem sal-Kadenza, broadcast on Radio Malta in the mid-nineties. See also, Herndon, op. cit., p. 283.

26 Herndon, op. cit., p. 249; see also, p. 199.

27 Ibid., p. 259.

28 See, amongst many instances, ibid., pp. 66, 145-150, 162-163, 164, 193-196, 200-201, 232, 240, 241, 278, 289.

29 Personal communication, July 2003. [« [L-għannej] kien ibellgħalha ħafna affarijiet lil Marcia biex jinħabb magħha, anki fliexken ta’ l-inbid li ma jkunux inbid kien jagħtiha. Din ta’ l-għana u l-qħab li qed issemmili oħra minn tiegħu! »]

30 These are Frans Mifsud « Ta’ Żaren ta’ Vestru », Janice Spagnol « Ta’ Żeppi ż-Żejtuni », Neil Vassallo « Tar-Ronnie », and Kalċidon Vella « d-Danny ».

31 Herndon, pp. 79-80

32 Norma McLeod and Marcia Herndon, op. cit., p. 86.

33 Male and female folk singers and folk musicians were repeatedly interviewed to the extent that they were eventually convinced that their sub-culture restricted to wine shops, should be projected in public through close collaboration and trust.

34 R. Fsadni, "Second National Għana Festival: A Success – But the Judges Risk Being Immortalised … in Pungent Song", The Sunday Times [of Malta], 30 May 1999.

35 I found the full support of the then parliamentary secretary Joe Cilia, and director of the Department of Culture, Joseph J. Mifsud.

36 As the originator and artistic director of the National Folk Singing Festival, it has always been my topmost priority to involve talented female performers and promising elements of the younger generation in għana. For the first edition (May 1998) only ten-year-old Jesmar Bezzina « l-Artist iż-Żgħir » participated as an accompanying guitarist; for the second edition (April-May, 1999) one also finds twelve-year-old and seven-year-old sisters Melissa and Mirabelle Caruana « Tal-Mellieħa », twenty-one-year-old Charmaine Catania « Tal-Ballu », nine-year-old Jean-Vic Cutajar « Tal-Mellieħa », eight-year-old Rebecca Dalli « Ta’ Birżebbuġa », thirteen-year-old Jean Paul Gauci « Ta’ Seba’ Rġiel », ten-year-old Julia Grima « Tal-Mellieħa », and nine-year-old Jean Claude Zahra « Ta’ Gawdura » as new folk singers, and twelve-year-old Kevin Spagnol « iż-Żejtuni ż-Żgħir » as a new accompanying guitarist. In 1998 there were only two practising female għannejja in Malta and Gozo, Fidiela Carabott « Ta’ Ċikku tal-Madum » and Lordes Mifsud « Ta’ Nazju ». In the seventh edition other female singers will be participating: Susann Agius « Ta’ Ħat-Tarxien », Rita Pace « Ta’ Ħ’Attard », Katerina Saliba « Tar-Rabat », and Marisa Sammut « Tal-Mellieħa ».

37 Herndon, op. cit., p. 321.
Other examples of generalizations are to be found in Herndon’s work, as with nursery rhymes and children’s songs: « In Malta, there are no nursery rhymes or children’s songs directed against the present government or any former occupation forces … » (Ibid., p. 310) Various political songs and rhymes related to the prominent political personalities in the sixties, including Duminku Mintoff, Giorgio Borg-Olivier, Archbishop Mikiel Gonzi and Mabel Strickland, were and still are common knowledge to forty- and fifty-year olds.

38 See, "Tradition as ‘Discovery’ of ‘Marginality,’" part 7.

39 . Ibid.

40 . See "Revitalised rituals, or Reperceived rituals ?" part 8, Exoticizing Discoveries and Extraordinary Experiences: ‘Traditional’ Music, Modernity, and Nostalgia in Malta and Other Mediterranean Societies. January 1991. http://www.maltese-ghana.ndirect.co.uk.

41 . Ibid.

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Référence papier

George Mifsud Chircop, « A new look at maltese high pitched folk singing "La Bormliża" », Insaniyat / إنسانيات, 32-33 | 2006, 197-215.

Référence électronique

George Mifsud Chircop, « A new look at maltese high pitched folk singing "La Bormliża" », Insaniyat / إنسانيات [En ligne], 32-33 | 2006, mis en ligne le 06 août 2012, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL : http://insaniyat.revues.org/3650 ; DOI : 10.4000/insaniyat.3650

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Auteur

George Mifsud Chircop

University of Malta.

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Droits d’auteur

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