A musical army of friends | Noah Fabri

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Noah Fabri about Karmaġenn, a multi-disciplinary, multi-artist project ostensibly led by him and stemming from the desire to tell a coming-of-age story about a constellation of Junior College students over Christmas time, whose inaugural album will be launched on December 6 at Offbeat, Valletta

 Noah Fabri
Noah Fabri

Karmagenn sounds like a very particular musical project, given both its general musical direction and the sheer amount of members involved in it. How did the idea of it all come about, and how would you say it differs from other musical bands/projects on the island?

I’ve wanted to tell this story for a while; it’s based on the people I knew at Junior College, and on things I observe in the streets. I started working on what turned into its lyrics first, messing around with different images and anecdotes and stories. A collaborative album seemed to be the natural way to tell the story, so I decided to write and record every song with one or two other artists and build the album up that way.

I wanted to like learn from my friends and how they make music, so part of the fun of this project was going to friends’ garages, and homes, and writing and recording the album with them there. I’m not sure what makes it different from other local music, other than that it has this story going through it, because it involves a lot of people from other local projects.

How did the project evolve to the point where you’ve started putting together this upcoming album?

It started out with the story. Then it was like, meeting up with different people, playing them ideas, seeing how they work, and recording. I had to structure this album a little differently from previous projects I’ve worked on, where I would have just written and recorded a lot of material and then picked and chosen the ones I liked best. Based on the ideas we’d come up with, and the mood of the songs, I figured out how the story could fit, so I had to figure out a sequence pretty early on.

I recorded with Mark Abela ‘iz-Zizza’ first, and he really supported me not just by playing on the album, but also by letting me borrow his PA for a gig and use his garage to record with Rafel Grima. I took that song to Jimmy Bartolo; Samwel Mallia and I worked on a song that Mario Vella came to sing on, on the same day that Leo Chircop took a few pictures. I took a few demos to Michael Vella Zarb who drummed on them, and Ryan Farrugia came over to play sax on one; Keith Fenech played trumpet on another.

Karmagenn album cover, illustration by Martina Farrugia
Karmagenn album cover, illustration by Martina Farrugia

I redid a few demos to structure them a bit more, then reworked them with Caroline Spiteri, Rebbeca and Martha Theuma. And I wanted the story to come through on the album’s artwork, so I met Martina Farrugia and Carl Caruana, we talked about the project, and they worked on their pieces. Catherine Farrugia was at Junior College at the same time as me, so she knew what I was talking about.

What else can you tell us about the album? What kind of sound has Karmagenn cultivated, and what kind of stories do its lyrics tell?

Everyone involved brought their own influences, and I listened to a lot of what my friends were listening to while we came up with the songs. Depending on who I was working with, we talked about some kind of music we both like, and that got into some of the song. So there was some Italian singer-songwriter stuff, a lot of jazz, punk, and the soundtracks of coming of age movies, because that’s what the story is.

It’s the week before Christmas at Junior College, and these five friends hang out – Naomi, who has a crush on Warren and it’s getting her wired up because she’s a lesbian; Jeanelle, her best friend who works at a sushi place with her; Kaldon, who’s really good at cooking; and Jamie, who likes Patti Smith and art and has a crush on Naomi.

Okay, I’ll be honest; there was another reason I wanted to tell the story... there was a kind of discourse I was seeing that I wanted to counter.
There was this project I remember seeing where a few artists did this really beautiful artistic thing by the sea, and I thought it was gorgeous and poignant, but it felt really detached from the reality of my life, and of Malta as I’m living in it now. I find that kind of catharsis, or whatever, not just by the sea or in some barren pristine-myth rural fairy land, but like, in the movement of bodies around the Gżira/Msida/Ħamrun/Marsa area, and the contradictions of Malta as it gentrifies, and the energy of all these diverse communities which are all Maltese and negotiate really fascinating identities, and the miscommunications between people grocery shopping, and so on. So I wanted to write about that because that’s what I find special.

What do you make of the local music scene? What would you change about it?

There are lots of little groups of people who come together to make the music scene, and they interact with and move between other arts scenes; for the kinds of people I tend to hang around with, the scene is something very special.

The people I’ve met in the last two years have been genuinely the kindest, sweetest, open-hearted individuals who very casually really care about one another.

There’s this connection that can go beyond where we come from so that we break out of our usual ways of looking at the world and make music together. That sounds like (or rather, is) the sort of thing I’ve said and been told at two in the morning at good parties, but it’s true.

I feel very lucky to have made these friends, and they define me, I guess. I don’t know if I want it to change, but I think it’s interesting sometimes to observe the social differences between different parts of the scene, and the different ways they like, articulate their identities and engage with other social groups at different venues.

What’s next for you? (Fantastical replies are also allowed.)

I’m going to do this hip-hop/jazz project where I make-up black circles around my eyes, and then I’m going to stage a musical where everyone dresses in very elaborate Rococo clothing and sings Broadway songs in Hebrew. I shall attempt to make a vegetarian Maltese sausage, and start a mobile café where I walk up and down Mile End distributing gluten-free imqaret in red and white checked paper bags. With my friends we’re going to start a record label and publishing house called Counterfeit Money Press. After that I’ll finish my dissertation about food, but hopefully the revolution will have happened before then.

Karmaġenn will be launching and performing their debut album with a specially-formed line-up on December 6 at Offbeat, Valletta, 8pm. For more information, log on to: https://karmagenn.bandcamp.com/