A sumptuous folktale package hits the shelves

Merlin Library releases a bilingual edition of Hrejjef Maltin complete with audio CD

Ħrejjef Maltin | Maltese Folktales marks the first time publisher Merlin and music specialist Soundscapes collaborate in co-publishing a book. Conceived and compiled by Ruben Zahra, the book brings together a collection of traditional Maltese folktales, in the oldest storytelling tradition as handed down from one generation to the other. Perhaps for the first time, this most traditional of cultural elements is brought to life in 21st century fashion, in a multisensory package. Visually, the folktales have been reinterpreted by 10 of Malta’s finest contemporary illustrators. Marisa Attard, Greta Borg Carbott, Fabrizio Calì, Nicole Diacono, Lisa Falzon, Derek Fenech, Aldo Gatt, Pierre Portelli, Mark Scicluna and Trevor Żahra each chose a different interpretive key and used a different medium: from watercolour to collage to papercut techniques to digital art. A further dimension to the folktales is given by the audio CD that accompanies the book. It contains a storytelling sequence, with the folktales performed by actors Isabelle Gatt and Joseph Galea, accompanied by original contemporary music composed especially for the book by Zahra, and performed on the piano by Tricia Dawn Williams. This is possibly the most innovative aspect of this project, as something on this scale has never been attempted before. Contemporary music and traditional storytelling blend seamlessly – as was demonstrated during a live performance at the book launch. Composer Zahra commented on the musical component of this book: “The innovative illustrations portrayed in the book create a ‘backdrop’ to the stories, in the same way that a piano score of contemporary music on the CD serves as a ‘soundtrack’ to the narrative of the folktales. “The recording presents a dynamic interpretation of Maltese folktales in both Maltese and English by actors Joseph Galea and Isabelle Gatt. “This in itself revives the figure of the storyteller, who is the true protagonist of this artform. I composed the score specifically for this project as pianoétudes (or studies) in a contemporary idiom performed by Tricia Dawn Williams. “Despite the complexity of the score, the music supports the story, enhancing the drama of the narrative just like a soundtrack. The publication of the book is an interdisciplinary artpiece and an encounter between folk heritage and contemporary expression.” Ħrejjef Maltin | Maltese Folktales is the ideal companion volume to Ruben Zahra’s A Guide to Maltese Folk Music, published a few years ago to critical acclaim, and has become a staple on the bookshelves of all Maltese culture lovers. This new volume brought on board artist Pierre Portelli’s award-winning book design skills, making the end product a stunning showcase of the best in Maltese storytelling, writing, music, theatre, illustration and design. This project was launched last Saturday in Sala Isouard at the Manoel Theatre, where guests who jam-packed the hall were treated to a live performance of a number of folktales performed by Gatt and Galea accompanied by Dawn Williams on the piano. During the launch, Ruben Zahra spoke of the genesis of the book, and how the concept evolved and matured into an interdisciplinary piece where contemporary music is appreciated via the art of storytelling. Publisher Chris Gruppetta focused on the bilingual aspect of the project, reflecting a maturity of the local publishing industry where we are confident enough of our Maltese heritage not to feel threatened by the presence of English translation within the same book. Indeed, Ħrejjef Maltin | Maltese Folktales is available in two alternative cover jackets, one in English and another in Maltese. The book content is identical – it is a bilingual book with each folktale told in both Maltese and English.