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A Particular Nakedness: The Vernacular in Contemporary Maltese Music

Thursday, October 16, 2014 by

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mikiel Anton Vassalli, reformer of the Maltese education system and a veritable founder of modern Malta. One of the most extraordinary effects of his achievements has been the creation of art in Maltese across the fields of literature, theatre and music. During the past decade, Maltese lyrical production has expanded and intensified across several music genres with bands such as No Bling Show, Brikkuni, Norm Rejection, Xtruppaw and Kantilena. 2014 has seen two significant and dynamic albums released onto the local music scene; the first being Plato’s Dream Machine’s Għera, followed by the self-titled album of newcomers Fastidju.

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The reason these two musical projects have caught the attention of the authors is not purely the fact that their tracks, or most of their tracks, are penned in Maltese. Many other musicians have done this before and contemporaneously to them. With these two bands, there is something particularly local, a culturally inextricable element. It is hard to identify the exact aspect which foments this distinctive Malteseness. It is an essential quality that emerges not solely from subject matter, narratives, or aesthetics, but from their conveying of experience.

Fastidju’s songs deliver the sensations and struggles of a state of mind through music, and this capturing of emotions is embodied in the frontman himself. Nigel Baldacchino, the founder of this musical venture, relays a manner of physical angst when he performs. Yet this is not simply a youthful gesticulation of rebellion. It is intrinsic to his poetic musical renditions, which are described by Baldacchino himself as “visceral, abrasive, euphoric.” The music is powerful and agitated, bordering on heavy metal distortion, though prevented from falling into such categorisation. There is something very organic about Fastidju’s sound which is bound up with the lyrical creative process.

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One of the most poignant tracks on album was Vjaġġ ma Spartaku, Baldacchino’s expression of kinship with the insurgent slave, a dissident of the Republic, and the lessons learned whilst journeying with him. Another notable track, Torqod Ukoll, was closely reminiscent of Mario Azzopardi’s poem Lullaby lil Yevgeny in its lamentable expression of love to a dear one. A profound love, but one which is tainted with an intuitive anxiety for the mundane reality of living.

Not all of Fastidju’s songs are conceived in Maltese. The album is methodically divided into side A and side B – dedicated to Maltese and English pieces respectively. When Baldacchino was questioned about this linguistic divide, he responded that a strong interrelationship existed between the Maltese tracks, a justification which aptly underlines their notional basis. This reasoning affirms the Vassalli’s philosophy of language as an expressive concept of a people and their experiences. Fastidju’s album division is not superficially linguistic, but fundamentally conceptual.

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This disclosure of the local is likewise attributable to the music of Plato’s Dream Machine, an avant-garde experimental act which has defied the laws of tradition with their new release Għera. A vast array of themes constitute the totality of this vibrant album ranging from the purely conceptual to the appraisal of practical everydayness. The interplay of these elements has ensued into a unique impetus which does not solely bestow existential traits present in their lyrical and melodic compositions but further unveils a subtle philosophical construct that resides at the core of this captivating project.

In their debut album, the mediation between opposing forces is cleverly executed through a distinctive praxis which sees the use and affluent articulation of the Maltese language by their central figure and frontman Robert Farrugia Flores, accompanied by an innovative blend of mesmerising electronic effects and acoustic sounds. In this respect, the lyrical projection of Maltese circumvents the stereotypical connections attributed towards it as an impoverished rudimentary linguistic archetype which is simply fit for primitiveexpression. Thus, the title of their latest release Għera, which translates from Maltese into English as ‘nakedness’, resonates the Hegelian logic par excellence in an appeal to ‘return to the primitive elements of the future’. The embracement of the vernacular in correlation with the avant-garde therefore eloquently defies the linear motion of time and typifies a path-breaking synthesis in which the ‘Being’ and ‘Becoming’ are essentially one and the same.

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This effect is mirrored in the music of Fastidju and Plato’s Dream Machine, though each to their own particular effect. Both the instrumental and lyrical sections interplay between a cusp of contrasting sounds contests and evocations, defying the presupposed belief of a binary opposition between the traditional and the futuristic. For Plato’s Dream Machine, the abolition of the assumptive binary opposition is exclusive to their recent release as it demarcates a transition from a folk based genre to their current contemporary approach. This synthesis of time is present in Fastidju, yet it is more pronounced in the surpassing of space by adaption of a familiar musical genre to a local and personal context.

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These albums have demonstrated the endeavours of talented artists who have shed light on the fruitfulness of the Maltese language and their pioneering musical abilities, consequently opening up a new trajectory in Maltese music which embodies the exigencies of an integral and modern identity.

Follow Fastidju here and Plato’s Dream Machine here.

 

Category Music,Performance

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