Maltese, the language, is back in Eurovision heats

Malta could acquire an alternative edge towards attracting the attention of audiences. At least, Toni Sant hopes, ‘for something other than forgettable pop drivel’

Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest heats return with a mega offering of four quarterfinal evenings in the run-up to the semifinal and final to be held in February.

For the second year running, the MESC winner will be once again selected by a mix of audience votes and judges, marking a return to form for the Maltese competition. 

But added to the mix are six contestants hoping to win Maltese hearts with that rarest of ingredients for Eurovision entries... the Maltese language. Singers Aidan, Clintess, Christian Arding, Maria Debono, Marie Claire and Mikhail will present their songs singing in Maltese, hoping to take to Liverpool a Maltese entry sung in Maltese.

Malta’s post-Independence struggles with using its native language in popular music seems to have died with a new generation that ushered in bands like Brikkuni, Xtruppaw, Djun, Brodu and many more. At least 40 years since becoming an independent republic, the colonial hangover that mocked the use of Maltese in pop seems to have been greatly weakened.

Toni Sant, an academic and broadcaster who has chronicled Maltese music and so many of its popular and diasporic offshoots with his Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts, knows that today’s generation can explore its Maltese identities and language more freely without the burden of colonialism.

Toni Sant
Toni Sant

“While the underground scene did its part in experimenting with alternative pop music in Maltese since around the turn of this century, ultimately it is through pop song contests that the general Maltese public is likely to embrace the idea of Maltese-language songs as a natural thing,” he satys in an email from Manchester, where he is the director of the Digital Curation Lab at MediaCityUK with the University of Salford.

“This is not to say that we should be linguistic purists. Languages survive because they remain alive in people mouths and minds. Moreover, we’re discussing pop music here and not academic approaches to language analysis. So we really need to lighten up in terms of discussing the use of Maltese for Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest entry.”

Sant in fact cautions against the fey hopes of seeking national validation in the schmaltzy muzak of the Eurovision Song Contest, which every year sees Malta experimenting with different styles and shows to clinch the trophy. “This is not a winning strategy for 2023 or even 2024 but it can certainly become part of what makes Malta’s future entries more noticeable, especially if coupled with appropriate melodic or rhythmic hooks,” Sant says of Maltese-language entries.

“The best thing about having a Maltese-language song at Eurovision is the opportunity to spread the fact that this small nation has its own language. This is something not only worth noting but something that can give Malta the sort of edge needed in a televised song contest like Eurovision, where difference is a key strategy for attracting attention.”

Sant believes it is very unlikely that Malta will ever win the Eurovision with the same set of strategies it has used in past decades. But by re-introducing the Maltese language to the pan-European stage, he thinks Malta could acquire an alternative edge towards attracting the attention of audiences. At least, “for something other than forgettable pop drivel.”