[WATCH] Songs in Maltese are still looked down upon, composer insists

Maltese language in the music industry is being cast out by industry leaders in favour of the dream of making it abroad, some local songwriters believe  

Singer-songwriters Philip Vella and Freddie Portelli
Singer-songwriters Philip Vella and Freddie Portelli

Local artists who write music in the Maltese language find it more difficult to gain recognition because their music is looked down upon, according to singer and songwriter Philip Vella.

Vella was a guest on TVM’s Xtra Sajf where he said that the feeling that a Maltese product is bad persisted in Malta, with people avoiding Maltese music like the plague.

He said that as a result, most artists avoided the Maltese language. The fact that the Maltese market is very small when compared to other countries also limited artists’ ability to earn money from music.

“Opportunities for a Maltese songwriter to write songs in Maltese are practically non-existent. Very little music is played on the radio. We are in a situation where we believe the Maltese product is a bad thing, and so we avoid it like the plague,” Vella said.

He argued that, unlike other European countries like Italy or France, there was no usch thing as a Top 20s Chart for Maltese songs in Malta.

“There are a few individuals who have taken complete control of the local music industry and they believe that their standard is the only standard…and they destroyed Maltese music,” Vella said.

He added that there was a time when Maltese music wasn’t good, when many artists were producing music but very few were original. This, he said, was thankfully no longer the case.

Long-standing Maltese music icon Freddie Portelli, who was also a guest on the show, said that certain individuals in the Maltese music industry were selling the dream that artists may make a hit abroad and that success abroad was the standard, when this was in fact not the case.  

"Another thing is radio," he said, arguing that radio was important for his career and the reason why listeners still remember his early songs to this day.

"In Canada, by law, one in every three songs played on the local radio stations has to be local. I told authorities to do a similar thing here in Malta, to at least play one local song for every five."

Portelli said that while the authorities had agreed with him on the issue, it had never been addressed.

Lyricist Emil Calleja Bayliss said it was extremely heartbreaking for him to approach a radio station with an original song written in his own native language and to be turned down because of it.

“[They won’t play it] not because it’s not good, but they say it’s because it’s written in Maltese,” he said.