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performers outside Porta Reale


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    A GUIDE TO

Maltese Folk Music

by Ruben Zahra




reviewed by: Steve Farrugia — my-malta.com

Written in a simple and fun to read style, as well as being professionally illustrated by renowned author Trevor Zahra and edited by Etnika co-founder Steve Borg , Ruben Zahra's book — complete with Audio CD — provides so much more than an assemblage of information.   It is truly an audio-visual experience, aside from providing valuable reference material.

The book opens with six chapters dedicated to Maltese traditional instruments, complete with historical notes and illustrations, outstanding photographs of the instruments themselves and a description of their component parts. Each of these chapters makes reference to tracks on the accompanying CD where the particular instrument may be heard.

The chapter dealing with the Maltese folksong (Ghana, pron: aa-na) is the contribution of Dr Ranier Fsadni. As the book explains: "historically, several styles of ghana flourished but today there are three main categories:

  1. Spirtu Pront (quick wit, literally 'ready spirit'), an improvised form
    of song duel.

  2. Tal-Fatt (factual), a pre-composed narrative that, despite its name,
    may be fictional as well as based on actual events.

  3. Fil-Gholi (high-pitched), a style of singing on a high vocal register
    whose lyrics are repititive and allusive."
And it goes on to describe the developments occuring pre- and during 1960's Malta, before a backdrop of political and cultural change. The author reminisces: "The hearts of aficionados beat with the memory of brilliant ripostes, sneaky tricks and moving lyrics that made the flesh tingle.  

But if it was becoming a sport, with sometimes dubious practices, it was also becoming a kind of vocation that preserved national identity through music. To be an ghannej was now considered a calling."


The next two chapters deal with the Maltese country dance (il-Kuntradanza and the famous Maltese sword dance (il-Parata). These are followed by another interesting topic: Street Cries. The vivid descriptions are complemented by short music scores complete with the words uttered by the street sellers, as well as reproductions from old lithographs and engravings.

The final chapter treats the subject to traditional Maltese Nursery Rhymes, which can also be heard in the accompanying CD as part of a radio programme, recorded on the 20th October, 1970, compiled by Guze Mallia and presented by Carmen Azzopardi and Charles Arrigo. A mother's gentle lullaby and merry children's voices, clearly audible owing to the remastering of tapes using more modern technology, take us back in time.

Ruben Zahra spent an immense amount of time sampling recordings stored at the sound archives of Malta's Public Broadcasting Services (PBS), who, it must be said, were instrumental in making this work possible. The CD compilation also contains traditional numbers skillfully performed by Nafra, the folk ensemble headed by Zahra himself and making use of both traditional and classical instruments.

Finally we have a publication, that is excellently researched and written, as much as it is professionally edited, printed and bound; a book plus Audio CD, that no lover of Maltese traditions can afford to be without.




The publishers would like to thank:

PBS - Malta for their support:

Andrew Psaila - CEO, Albert Debono - CEO Designate, Mario Micallef - Business Development Manager and Joe Dimech - Radio Coordinator

The National Museum of Fine Arts, Heritage Malta:

Dennis Vella - Curator: Modern and Contemporary art and

Theresa Vella - Senior Curator: Fine Arts


Special thanks to:

The Hon. Francis Zammit Dimech, the Hon. Louis Galea, the Hon. Austin Gatt, Paul V. Mifsud, Charlò Bonnici, Carmen Camilleri Ciantar, Chris Gruppetta, Steve Borg, Trevor Zahra, Ranier Fsadni, Anna Borg Cardona, Guzi Gatt, Patrick Fenech, Manolito Galea, Marilyn Mangion, David and Gill Beacon, Jeremy Montagu, Charles Mangion Iz-Zubina, Guzi Sciberras tal-Mija, Indri Brincat Il-Pupa

The copyright owners of photographs for this book are listed below:

Ruben Zahra: pp. 2, 6, 10 - 25, 33, 37, 38 - 45, 64

Patrick Fenech: p. 9

Trevor Zahra, illustrations on pp. 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, 24

Charles Mangion Iz-Zubina: pp. 30, 32




NAFRA folk ensemble






biography sample tracks sample pages


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