Maltese music moves out of the ghetto

The upcoming Maltese-language music festival LISSEN has revealed that contrary to popular belief, singing in Maltese is no longer frowned upon.

Brikkuni performing at the End of Summer Music Festival on 7 September.
Brikkuni performing at the End of Summer Music Festival on 7 September.

An upcoming festival of Maltese-language music has brought into focus the changing perceptions towards the use of Maltese in songs, breaking out of a perceived 'stigma' associated with the use of the Maltese language in music.

LISSEN - a two-day festival taking place over September 21 and 22 at the Kordin Industrial Zone - will bring together both up-and-coming and seasoned local artists under the same roof, with the only restriction of the festival being that they would have to perform material with exclusively Maltese lyrical content.

"The Maltese language as a distinctive and unique feature of Malta's cultural heritage and identity has always fascinated me," Justin Galea, the festival's artistic director (who is also a musician in his own right) told MaltaToday.

"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," Galea added.

Though he does acknowledge that the notable success of Maltese-language bands like Brikkuni has made some musicians less wary of singing in Maltese, Galea is convinced that this is only one part of the equation.

"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," Galea said, while calling on the media to "be more involved and on the lookout to expose quality Maltese-language music to their audiences".

READ MORE: Justin Galea speaks about LISSEN

On his part, Brikkuni vocalist and front man Mario Vella did not believe it was healthy to dwell on any 'injustices' suffered by the Maltese language - at least within the musical sphere - but rather encouraged musicians to plunge into penning Maltese-language music without any fear or shame.

"I mean, it worked for Brikkuni, certainly... I think it's more a case of victimisation rather than stigma. The typical 'oh they don't respect our music because the language is vulgar!' argument. Just push yourself to write the best possible songs you're capable of, and stop complaining. I can't deny that certain radio stations do discriminate but who gives a damn when you can reach the public through other easily accessible channels?" Vella said, while his fellow band member Danjeli Schembri - also a musician in his own right - did seek to identify some reasons as to why Maltese-language music may have been marginalised over the past few years.

"The stigma originates from the thousands of horrible Maltese tracks produced in midi studios for kids singing in festivals in the 90s and noughties. There was a good Maltese music scene earlier - we're talking the 70s and 80s - with The Tramps, New Cuorey and even some rock operas, but the lesser quality of later Maltese-language music created a stigma to say the least. I don't blame any serious musicians who try to distance themselves from this poor-quality material by adopting the English language either."

WATCH: Maltese music videos brighten up the summer.

Schembri's solution towards moving Maltese-language music out of the cultural ghetto?

"Produce good music in Maltese, and then play it on the radio, on the buses, in the squares, in clubs, in bars, everywhere and as much as possible. I am tired of listening to Pitbull on the radio... I can't connect with his whistle blowing," Schembri said.

One of the more interesting new voices in the local scene to emerge recently are the hip-hop duo Sempliciment tat-Triq, who will also be participating in LISSEN.

Identifying their genre of choice as being intrinsically tied to specific urban experiences, the duo said that singing in Maltese wasn't just easy for them - it was simply a natural choice.

"Apart from that, I can't imagine how we'd be able to convey our message in a convincing way, to a Maltese audience, if it wasn't through the medium of the Maltese language itself.

"Also, we don't believe that Maltese-language music is on the rise because it's somehow suddenly 'in fashion'. Maybe it's only now that people are realising that the language is powerful enough to express any kind of feeling and embrace any musical genre - after years of being discriminated against due to class-related issues, Maltese has finally made its way into every musical genre you can think of..."