Folk song festival pushes for Maltese-language music

Ghanja tal-Poplu organiser believes foreigners will respect local singers more if they sang in Maltese.

Justin Galea (left) and Antonio Oliviari perfroming during the 2009 edition of the Ghanja tal-Poplu.
Justin Galea (left) and Antonio Oliviari perfroming during the 2009 edition of the Ghanja tal-Poplu.

Now in its 36th edition, the annual festival of Maltese folksong will continue to emphasise the importance of Maltese-language music, according to the festival's co-organiser Charles Schembri.

"In today's globalised age, there's a danger of losing that precious thing - our identity," Schembri said, adding that the Maltese are wrong to believe that singing in English is the way to go for local musicans.

"The Maltese have convinced themselves that to become popular they should sing in English. But this is not always true. Foreigners will appreciate us more if we sing in our native language - Il-Malti!"

This year's edition of the Ghanja Tal-Poplu will take place at Sir Temi Zammit Hall on 21 April. A spate of local folk musicians, who will be competing for the top prize, will be accompanied by British singer-songwriter Sarah Class. Class's participation is in line with the fact that the festival - which began as an informal activity within the Youth Travel Circle in the 70s - is expanding beyond our shores.

The festival now forms part of the World Association of Festivals and Artists, and according to Schembri, "the authors of the top three songs in the festival will choose singers to participate in festivals abroad".

According to Christabelle Curmi - one of the 15 nominees for this year's award - Maltese folk song in fact remains popular among Maltese expats in Australia and Canada. 

"I've also participated in many international folk festivals abroad - namely Germany, Spain, Canada, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria - and our songs were very well received, Curmi, who is nominated for her song 'Kappar', said.

While most of the other nominees acknowledge that folk song is not adequately represented on local television and radio, folk music does seem to be gaining ground among the younger generation - albeit slowly.

"I think that local folk song, in its broadest sense is still particularly relevant. We have Maltese bands that have their own songs in Maltese and have quite a following, like Brikkuni and Xtruppaw. Maybe they are not given that much exposure on local radios and are still quite underground, but whenever there's a gig from one of these bands, the attendance is quite numerous, Malcolm Bonnici of Mistura said.

"I think it's better than ever, especially with bands like Brikkuni who showed us that a local band could be cool singing and being unashamedly Maltese," Antonio Olivari of Mistura and Tale Kwali added.

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