[LISTEN] The giants of Maltese literature given new life in treasure-trove of 120 soundfiles

Unique recordings dating back to 1951 of Rużar Briffa, Anton Buttigieg, Francis Ebejer, Mary Meylak and others talking about their work have been digitised by the University of Malta’s Department of Maltese

A collection of 120 recordings of talks and interviews, many of which have great historical value, have now been made fully available online.

The collection includes interviews with major figures in the history of Maltese language and literature like Rużar Briffa, Anton Buttigieg, Ninu Cremona, Ġużè Diacono, Francis Ebejer, Dun Karm, Mary Meylak, Karmen Mikallef Buħaġar, Pawlu Montebello, Ġorġ Pisani, Pietru Pawl Saydon, Erin Serracino Inglott, Karmenu Vassallo, Kelinu Vella Haber, and George Zammit.

They talk to Ġużè Aquilina about their work and in some cases read some of it. One of the more memorable interviews, that with Rużar Briffa, was recorded a few weeks after his mother passed away and a year before he himself succumbed to a terminal illness. 

In the unique interviews, the writers talk about the Maltese language, literature, oral traditions, and other aspects of Maltese and Mediterranean history and culture. This treasure trove of recordings, a handful of which are in English, includes a number of lectures by the indefatigable scholar Ġużè Cassar Pullicino about Maltese popular traditions, local trades, and less predictable subjects, like the story of coffee in Malta.

There are also recordings in which Ġużè Cassar Pullicino interviews prominent folk singers and musicians like Ġużeppi Xuereb “Ix-Xudi”, Karmenu Cardona, Ġużeppi Grech “Ix-Xlukkajr”, Paul Degabriele “Il-Bies”, and Anġlu Zammit “Il-Ħaħaj” who talks about the “flejguta”, the traditional fife. Their eloquent accounts not only do they provide invaluable information about their art, but also a glimpse into a complex world of relations. 

The oldest recording dates back to 1951. 

The decision by the Department of Maltese of the University of Malta to allow open access is part of the work being carried out on its research portal malti.mt which includes channels on SoundCloud (malti.mt) and Youtube (malti-mt).

Joseph P. Borg converting the original tapes to high-definition digital files in 2004
Joseph P. Borg converting the original tapes to high-definition digital files in 2004

“At a time when a great deal of research is being done on Maltese language and literature, the Department led by Dr Michael Spagnol would like to make as many resources as possible available to researchers in Malta and beyond,” a spokesperson for the department said.

Many of the programmes and interviews, originally recorded on reel tapes, were made by Prof. Ġużè Aquilina and Ġużè Cassar Pullicino, and carefully converted to high definition digital files and catalogued by Joseph P. Borg in the summer of 2004. “It would not have been possible to upload these recordings online without the initiative and meticulous work carried out by Mr Borg,” the department said.

In 2015 the tapes were handed over to the University of Malta Library by the head of the Department at the time, Prof. Bernard Micallef. Additional metadata was provided by Jean Paul Borg and technical support by Daniel Bezzina and Saviour S. Agius.

The recordings include programmes produced and presented by Ivo Muscat Azzopardi, a writer and cultural activist who lived and worked in Egypt between 1919 and 1946 and had very good contacts with Maltese migrants in various countries of the Mediterranean. In one of his programmes on Nies Kbar Maltin (Great Maltese People) he interviews Fr Piju Rapa, the brother of the Franco-Maltese writer Laurent Ropa.

The Department of Maltese in the Faculty of Arts plans to add more unique recordings to its open access archive on malti.mt and SoundCloud.