Mel’ isma din… | Justin Galea

The end-of-summer months have proven once again that the Maltese musical scene is alive and kicking. We speak to singer-songwriter Justin Galea, who is taking this one step further by organising an all-Maltese language music festival entitled LISSEN over September 21 and 22 at the Industrial Zone of Kordin.

Justin Galea: “Foreigners are mesmerised by the sound of the Maltese language”. Photo by Francesca Galea.
Justin Galea: “Foreigners are mesmerised by the sound of the Maltese language”. Photo by Francesca Galea.

What inspired you to organise this festival?

As a singer and musician I perform regularly in Maltese and have participated in several local events such as L-Ghanja Tal-Poplu and Ghanafest and sporadically with local punk/folk group Plato's Dream Machine (PDM). I am continually involved in a number of different musical projects all year round and the idea of organising a music event all by myself has thrilled me all along. When the opportunity came to organise a proper event, the idea of a festival intended to expose contemporary music in Maltese came to mind.

The Maltese language as a distinctive and unique feature of Malta's cultural heritage and identity has always fascinated me. After a recent nine-month stay in London meeting young people from all over the world, I realised more than ever how foreigners stand mesmerised at its sound as something they definitely have never heard before.

I believe many would have thought it an arduous job to organise a two-day festival with more then seven acts performing solely Maltese-language music, however, as I am constantly on the lookout for upcoming local talent, choosing the participating acts wasn't too hard.

Do you think that - despite the success of bands like Brikkuni - Maltese-language music remains in something of a ghetto?

Yes, but the situation is improving. There is no doubt that Brikkuni created some kind of revolution in how music in Maltese is perceived and I wonder whether this same revolution could have happened had it not been for Brikkuni. More and more bands performing in Maltese are being formed and this is a sign that artists are realising the advantages of it. As Mario Vella stated more than once, performing in Maltese should allow the artist to explain himself more eloquently through his music. One must also mention the admirable efforts carried out by YTC and the organisation team of L-Ghanja Tal-Poplu festival being the only festival in Malta with both Maltese-language music and and live-band setup.

Undoubtedly, there are artists who find writing songs in English easier but there are also artists that do that with the sole intention of making it in a wider music industry which I believe is not the right way to go about it. On the other hand, it is unacceptable that the only songs in Maltese heard on mass media channels such as TV (if any) are mediocre songs pertaining to competition festivals organised by political entities... except for Alfie Fabri's constant efforts to air Maltese music from his personal archives. I think people in the media should be more involved and on the lookout to expose quality Maltese-language music to their audiences.

How, in your opinion, can Maltese music be made as attractive and relevant as possible?

The last thing music in Maltese can be accused of is not being relevant - if anything, the fact that songs are being sung in the same language we speak at home, at work and in the shops, by people who live in the same small island as we do makes it far more relevant and accessible to Maltese people.

Secondly, although we have some very good songwriters who write in Maltese, a lot of them are let down by sub-standard production, and no matter how good the song is, if the production lacks quality and character, the appeal will also diminish.

Lissen is a good showcase for a variety of acts who all have a distinct character.

WATCH: Maltese music videos brighten up the summer.

How did you pick the musicians featured in the festival, and what do each of them bring to the table?

I wanted the selection to be as diverse as possible but also as contemporary as possible. As I said, I am constantly on the lookout for new talent and picking the acts was not difficult while I had the Maltese-language thematic in mind. Having collaborated with a number of the performers in the past made it even easier to get the contacts and set everything up. I already mentioned how each of the acts brings a style that is completely different from the style of the other performers and this is, at the end of the day, the feature I looked for the most.

Unfortunately, finances are limited and we couldn't involve everyone in the scene, however if the festival is successful we will definitely invite other performers next time round.

Although an effort to highlight Maltese-language musicians is commendable in and of itself, do you think there's a danger in 'segregating' Maltese and English language musicians in this way?

This is honestly a concern I had in mind at the early stages of organisation as I never want that to happen to the Maltese music scene. However I have now realised it is an unsound argument as I consider the Maltese language in the festival to be just another aesthetic characteristic of the music and artistic performance per se. I think that every festival should have some kind of direction in order to create a thematic surrounding the festival. In addition to this, I want other organisers to realise that the Maltese language is as vibrant and contemporary as any other language.

What do you hope people will get out of the festival (apart from a good time, of course)?

As you said, a good time first and foremost! But also I hope people after the festival will have the firm conviction that Maltese language is as alive as ever and can be applied in whatever context imaginable. I would also like the festival to serve as catalyst for other artists to experiment with their art from and remove inhibitions and stigma surrounding the Maltese language. The idea is not to portray it as the best language that ever existed but rather as another tool with which to express oneself, be it musically or otherwise.

The line-up for the festival includes: Brikkuni, Vince Fabri, KażinSka, Particle Blue (September 21); Plato's Dream Machine, Sempliċiment tat-Triq, Danjeli and Brodu (September 22). There will also be Burlesque sketches by the Dazzle Troupe. The festival will start at 20:00 on both days. Tickets for the festival are at €15 for both days, €10 for one day. To book tickets call 79603698 or find the event on Facebook.