Voices lost and found | Andrew Alamango

Musician and musicologist Andrew Alamango speaks about his efforts to excavate some musical gems from Malta’s history with the Malta’s Lost Voices project.

Musician and musicologist Andrew Alamango
Musician and musicologist Andrew Alamango

Under the label of Filfla Records, Andrew Alamango seeks to excavate musical gems from our island's history. He will be playing a selection of his findings at Singing to the Unseen tonight, an event forming part of Evenings on Campus

He speaks about how the initiative was received and says that this was a story lost for 80 years which has now come to light with the records and the music.

He says "The records and the music and the phenomenon of recording reflect many aspects of our culture."

What has the public's reaction to Filfla Records in general - and Malta's Lost Voices in particular - been like so far? Have any music lovers of an older generation commented on your output?

Generally speaking there have been very positive reactions to the Lost voices Project. It has surprised and amazed many who did not know about such a project and the story of recording of Maltese music. This was a story lost for 80 years which has now come to light with the records and the music.

These 'sonic sculptures' tell a story of people, musicians composers, poets and music agents who made history in making the first recordings of Maltese music. Clearly, the nostalgic element is very strong and like every photograph of the past, the music evokes memories or the desire to relive those times.

The records and the music and the phenomenon of recording reflect many aspects of our culture.

There has been a lot of interest by those who knew of the story because of some relative being involved in it. They'd never heard the music, for example, but only heard of the stories passed down through generations. Then there were those who realise that their relatives had partaken in the story and rediscovered their family heritage and were very keen to share their stories.

More and more stories have come to light since the publication of this material and people are willing to share their stories. This all constitutes the unwritten oral heritage of the people which should be documented.

The younger generation reacted very positively to the music, finding it quaint, unusual and original. The music and voices are gutsy and reflect a strong sense of identity present at that time, something which as a nation we are still trying to consolidate today. Therefore, the story carries huge relevance today, even if some may think it's all about the past.

What would you say is the most striking, or memorable, aspect of the musicians being rediscovered under the Filfla Records umbrella?

For me personally, there are two very striking aspects. Firstly, the quality of the ghana voices which reflect a very strong Mediterranean character, the quality of which, I'd say, is hard to find these days. Secondly, the use of the language is very strong. There were no issues about singing in Maltese as there are today in international festivals. Even if some singers sung the imported styles of tangos, waltzes and polkas, these were executed in the language and dialect of the day.

Has the music slowly started to establish its own niche? Apart from the older generation, which age/cultural bracket seems to be going for the music the most?

Clearly the project and the music are very niche. atleast for now. However there is a slowly growing appeal for this material not only form older generation but also from a younger audience who look to the past for inspiration in vintage style. For example there is a growing interest in vinyl releases and tangible products which has been lost in digital music.

Filfla records aims to present an aural and tangible experience thorugh releases of music in various medium and formats, with attnetion being given to design and packageing and selling a very particular story and experience. This has a great appeal to collectors of music of all genre, discographers, collectors, audiophiles, academics and all those interested in the cultural history of the island.

What's in store for the Evenings on Campus event?

Filfla Records was set up with the idea of publishing good quality audio products in the form of CDs, vinyls, books, and digital distribution of the music - all for the sake of public access.

Other ways of telling the story could include a short documentary with the story of recording as well as public listening/lectures such as this being presented at evenings on campus.

The idea is to present the story of the music an musicians by playing the music off the original shellac records form 1931. This will be done using modern turntables - it will enhance the visual aspect as well the aural.

Each record has a three-minute story to be told. I will be playing many of the unpublished records from the collection, as well as some published material.

This particular selection will tell as story and the public is invited to give feedback and comment as the story is told.

Singing the Unseen will take place at Atriju Vassalli, University Campus, 21:00. Tickets at €8 can be booked by calling 23 402043/2142 or via SMS 79 843480 or by email through [email protected].