category: Gazette,Music

The Man Preserving Our Musical History

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by

When No Bling Show released their single Marija s-Sabiħa last year, I couldn't help but be spirited away by the għana sample that introduces the track (it comes in at about 2:27 in the above video). Even though the NBS track itself is beautiful, there was something haunting and otherworldly about the old sampled Maltese voice singing about Mosta (maybe he was foreseeing the tale of the cat killer?)

It turns out, this sample didn’t just appear on NBS’ album by chance. Malta’s musical history is rather scattered and undocumented; a lot of it is remembered through word of mouth, and lost when the pedagogue passes away. It was not until 1931 that a Maltese musician first recorded a track in Malta; and this is where Andrew Alamango, an ethnomusicologist, comes in. From organising alternative music events, to research and digital archiving projects, Andrew is attuned to his Mediterranean context and the sounds weaved into its cultural fabric – and he is intent on celebrating his country’s rich musical past.

Andrew Alamango listening to music

Andrew’s Malta’s Lost Voices project, which is being conducted under Filfla Records, is an exploration of Malta’s recorded music history, one which finds its beginnings in 1931. Sourcing out records in local and international collections, record shops, discographers and the sound archives of the British Library, Andrew has been able to investigate the tangibility of vinyls and the digitisation process of music from these analog artefacts. The importance of the digital in our age is a matter of due consideration, as Andrew stresses. Yet his preoccupation with retaining the ambience of vinyl music consumption in these digital transcriptions is an integral aspect during the sound restoration process. The Malta’s Lost Voices Project has been published in CD-Book form, and Andrew is researching the possibility of establishing an open-access online archive for research and reference purposes. If this materialises, musicians will be able to familiarise themselves with Malta’s popular music tradition and generate a contemporary dialogue with the island’s rich past.

Andrew studied musicology at the University of Malta, studying both Western and Mediterranean systems of music composition. He engrossed himself in the popular musical traditions of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, training in Cairo, Istanbul, under a Tunisian teacher in Paris, working on projects in Palestine and Jerusalem and on activities in Greece. He is currently reading for a Master’s in Digital Archives and Ethnomusicology, with a focus on the preservation of Malta’s traditional music heritage and the infrastructural necessities of such.

His research is imparting contextual cultural links that għana music has that are unknown to the layman (Portuguese Fado or Greek Rembetiko anyone?) even though, traditionally, għana was the music of the people. His research leads to a rather fascinating discussion on the roots of Maltese popular music, the relations of this music to its geographical surroundings on cultural and aesthetic grounds, as well as to Malta’s European history. By studying popular music traditions, Andrew has been able to form links between the characteristics of local għana with the musical traditions of the Mediterranean region.

His belief that traditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition intermingle to create something new, needs to be preserved is laudable and should be supported. Especially on an island as small as Malta, where we have our own traditional music, it is still key for our formation as a country to be exposed to other forms of music, to hear local music from out there, as it were.

Category Gazette,Music

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