Maltese blues-folk mix | Mistura

Ahead of their performance at Ghanafest, we speak to L-Għanja tal-Poplu-winning blues-rock duo Mistura, made up of Malcolm Bonnici and Antonio Olivari.

Malcolm Bonnici (left) and Antonio Olivari
Malcolm Bonnici (left) and Antonio Olivari

Would you say there has been a renewed interest in Maltese-language music over the past few years? If so, what do you think contributed to this?

Malcolm Bonnici: More than a renewal, I believe that there is a new kind of interest in Maltese-language music that was never seen before. Maltese-language music was previously associated with only one or two particular genres. Lately we are experiencing a multitude of different genres that use the Maltese language as a tool to convey that music. It is refreshing and encouraging to see such different musical styles emerging that use the Maltese language.

Antonio Olivari: I also think that the result of such renewed interest is being felt, particularly this year, with bands such as Plato’s Dream Machine, Kantilena and other brilliant bands releasing their albums and in a way crystallising this trend with tangible full albums of original songwriting. We hope to contribute as well with our first album being released later on this year.

How important is writing in Maltese for you? Do you think you’ll ever feel compelled to write in English, and do you think this would alter the music substantially?

MB: More than it being important, it is the way I feel most comfortable writing in. I had some scraps written in English that are mainly gathering dust somewhere. So, writing in another language isn’t much of a big deal. It’s just that when I get down to writing, Maltese would just come more naturally.

AO: Actually I find it strange that people keep asking us why we sing in Maltese as if we’re doing something that should be raising eyebrows. You should really be asking Maltese bands singing in English why they decided to do so, and more importantly local radio stations playing music exclusively in English why they do so. We speak, think and therefore also write songs in Maltese – there is no patriotism and no big decisions there. It just is.

How has your sound developed as you went along? Were you both interested in a blues and rock sound to begin with?

MB: I think Antonio is more interested in the blues sound than I am. I'm more into the rockish and a little bit of psychedelia or space rock, (or whatever you want to call it) although Antonio is into that kind of stuff too. Having said that, our approaches blend quite well together. We had started out on the blues sound with our first song written by Antonio, but since then we also experimented with other styles and genres.

AO: I love the blues and I see it as the basis – as having the building blocks – of most modern music. We can have long discussions on this, but I believe that the blues is not just a style of playing but a way of approaching music, especially when it comes to guitar playing.

How did it feel to win the Ghanja tal-Poplu award for Best New Talent? What do you think the ‘Ghanja’ represents, and what does the award mean to you?

MB: That was totally unexpected. Għanja tal-Poplu to me was simply a festival between friends where we have fun performing our own songs together with other participants. I wasn’t expecting any recognition or any award to be honest. So the award for Best New Talent came as a pleasant surprise.

AO: On the other hand, I do feel that the festival could focus on and brand itself as a singer-songwriters festival rather than just being a generic one that attracts singers who ‘borrow’ or ‘buy’ songs from the usual local festival-circuit songsmiths. The organisers need to understand, in my opinion, that they have a rough diamond in the form of a unique festival which needs to be curated properly.

Are you looking forward to performing at Ghanafest? What do you hope to bring to the mix?

AO: The festival is billed as a folk music festival and even though our style is not really pure folk, it seems to sit nicely with other acoustic-based ensembles. Our set will in fact be a sort of ‘unplugged’ gig with acoustic versions of our best songs to date, and will include Matthew Agius on bass and Francesco Sultana on cajon.

MB: Our aim for Għanafest is to simply showcase the flexibility of the Maltese language through our music, and enjoying ourselves on stage while doing so. So, yes I’m looking forward to performing at Għanafest. I’m sure it will be a blast.

Mistura will be playing at Għanafest, Argotti Gardens, Floriana on May 30 at 20:00. For more information, log on to: http://www.maltafolkmusicfestival.org/

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