‘Enough is enough’ | REA

Having launched a direct missive against overdevelopment in Malta through her debut single, ‘Nieklu n-Natura’, hip-hop singer, jeweller and radio host Rachelle Deguara – aka REA – speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about why our current relationship with the environment is becoming unsustainable, and the potential of activism-through-art

Rachelle Deguara. Photo by Andrew Borg Carabott
Rachelle Deguara. Photo by Andrew Borg Carabott

How long have you been interested in hip-hop? What led you to decide to try it out on your own, and how did you find the Maltese hip-hop scene to be like when you started out?

The Hip-hop scene captured my attention in the late 00’s when Missy Eliot was on the rise with her second and then third album, roughly a decade now. From a young age I was always exposed to folk singing (għana) and felt that rap is the contemporary art form to għana with the advantage of possibly putting in more words for the duration of a song. Non-stop upcoming environmental issues led me to try it out during the time when an application for development in Munxar, Marsascala was submitted.

This episode was the driving force and inspiration for my writing. Also, one of the main influences was Drinu from the group Marmalja and he produced the beats and led me to the recording along with the help of 141 Records. The Maltese scene was male dominated with a lot of machismo attitude, however, the crowd was thirsty for new material, so it lent me its ears.

“Hip-hop calls for competition by its very nature, but I don’t think that’s healthy for Malta”

What would you say are some of the most notable acts and developments in the Maltese-language hip-hop scene, and how do you see yourself forming part of that?

Clearly, some notable acts that embrace the Maltese language are the pioneer Hooligan, Sempliċiment tat-Triq, Marmalja, Digby, Soul Movement, Shily and Kapitlu 13, but I don’t see myself forming part of this scene. Hip-hop calls for competition by its very nature, but I don’t think that’s healthy for Malta. It leads to a toxic environment, and in my experience it’s simply a waste of time. This is why I prefer to work in the alternative and indie rock scene. I started back in February 2016 with a gig at the (now defunct) Django Jazz Bar in Valletta, together with Cryptic Street, later collaborating with the electronic artist Yews. I’m working with the punk rock three-piece Bila on their upcoming album.

Your latest song, and its accompanying video, are a clear dig at overdevelopment in Malta. Could you guide us through the process of writing the song, as well as the production journey of the video itself?

After reading a bunch of articles and engaging in some conversations regarding the current situation in Malta I felt like an angry anarchist who wants to change the world, so I sat down and wrote it in a matter of few minutes. It was also due to accumulation of ideas and inspiration which took some time to build. The production of the video started by sitting around the table with Luke, a friend of mine from 141 Records, and visualising minute by minute the process of the video in relation to our lyrics, resources and time frame. Then, I met the crew with whom I was going to work, and explained my vision to them. The video could not have been possible without the help of the volunteers who showed up on the day of the shooting. Then together, we materialised the idea.

Many other artists have been commenting on overdevelopment in Malta recently. Why do you think this upsurge of interest exists, and what would you say hip-hop, in particular, can contribute to the conversation?

We are witnessing this increase of artists commenting on the environment since this issue is now being pushed to extremes. Some businesses are motivated by short-term profit, but in an island the size of a pimple we cannot continue with this overdevelopment, destroying our environment in the process and causing this high amount of pollution every day, irrespective of how well the economy is doing. Enough is enough. People need to be more critical and sustainable for the sake of their future. The contribution of the artists to this issue will hopefully raise more awareness and get people to start giving a damn about it.

“An island the size of a pimple we cannot continue with this overdeveopment”
“An island the size of a pimple we cannot continue with this overdeveopment”

Would you say that artists can help bring about tangible change in this regard, especially considering how there appears to be a ‘united front’ against rampant overdevelopment now?

We both know that we won’t, and if we do it would only be because of an ulterior motive, and not because the government is particularly keen to safeguard the environment. Still, it’s not a question of giving up. Hopefully, eventually, by uniting and putting pressure on the responsible authorities, these acts of rampant overdevelopment may be reduced or at least restricted in the development zone without harming the ecology and residents in the process.

What are some of your other areas of interest apart from hip-hop, and how would you say these inform one another?

My main drive is towards philosophy, and it’s my main interest and reason behind most of my writings. I also produce handmade jewellery which I sell from Mellowmoon, a shop in Marsaskala that I’ve just opened to promote the merchandise of the local alternative scene and sell my jewellery, along with items by other local artists. I’m also the public relations officer of L-Għaqda tal-Malti – Universita and currently leading the organisation of the event Serata Għana u Lejla Rap which is funded by the Valletta 2018 Foundation. Taħt il-Qoxra is a radio program which I host in collaboration with the National Book Council, in which I interview writers and critics from our local literature scene.

What’s next for you?

Only God knows.

 

For more information on Rachelle Deguara’s work, search for ‘REA’ and ‘Mellowmoon’ on Facebook

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