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Unravelling the Appreciation of Maltese Artists: A Local Perspective

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

How much is the Maltese artist really appreciated?


I grew up in an era when it was a common belief that if it is Maltese, it is not good enough. This was not just in music but on every product these islands produced. This is one of the reasons that got me to appreciate the local talent and product even more. But a question that pops in mind….is there any reality in this belief? When did this originate?


Oreste Chircop

Well, I cannot answer the second question because as I mentioned, I grew up amongst these beliefs, but I can surely say that it is not true that the local product is anywhere inferior!

And living proof to that are those artists that made it big in countries away from our shores…from Hamrun born Oreste Kirkop, who moved to England in the 50’s performing in Convent Garden paving the way for a Paramount Pictures contract steering him to the leading role of François Villon in the 1956 film version of The Vagabond King, Marc Storace who moved to London in 1970 (an article featuring Marc was printed on Melodija on July 7th) and Joseph Calleja who made his operatic debut as Macduff in Verdi's Macbeth at the Astra Theatre in Gozo and went on to become a prize winner at the Belvedere Hans Gabor Competition the same year at the age of 19.


Many others tasted success abroad, success that would not materialize if the product was not up to standard. How many remember The Rifffs single ‘Dance Music For The 80’s Depression’ released in April 1982 on the UK based Alternative Music Records and making it up the UK single charts, or Germany based heavy metal band High ‘N’ Dry featuring Gino Micallef on bass and Joe Mizzi on vocals, who released an album titled ‘Hands Off My Toy’ (also featured in an article on Melodija) in 1988 and earning them a spot supporting Krokus and Iron Maiden.


The list of artists around the globe throughout the years is very long, but getting back locally, how much are local bands and artists appreciated here on the islands?

Maybe one of the reasons that there is this lack of appreciation comes from the fact that many of these artists and musicians are relatives and friends, who we see as fellow mates, drinking buddies and friends and although we are conscious of their ability, we are more comfortable around them as friends. This is of course normal and happens all around, the only difference is that we live on a small island where everybody knows everyone else.

The question asked at the beginning of this article, or rather the answer to it prompted to mind recently while attending a small festival in Germany. I was sort of surprised to see attendees with t-shirts of Maltese bands and was more surprised to see foreign bands wearing them as well. Metal On Metal owner Simone, who was wearing a Sacro Sanctus vest, was true to the point in saying: “Maltese heavy metal is all around. There is so much talent on the island”.

Later on that evening, while talking to Simon from Arkham Witch he specified how much Maltese guitarist Aldo De Le Rose was important to the music the band composed and released since he joined the band. At the moment, Aldo took some time off the band, but Simon assured me he’ll be back with his famous jeans shorts and shredding as before. Aldo used to play with Manslaughter here on the island before he moved to the UK.


On the same night Michi from German band Insulter wore a Hemplifier vest on stage.

All this talk with these exponents reminded me of another occasion when a Maltese band triumphed during a festival. This time the band was on stage and they were by far the best band on the night. This was on Saturday 10th April 2010 at the Chapel in Göppingen, Germany. The festival was the seventh edition of Doom Shall Rise and Nomad Son were the sixth band on the bill playing after Rituals Of The Oak and right before Doomshine who asked Forsaken’s Leo Stivala to join them on stage for a couple of songs.

Leo on stage with Doomshine - DSR 2010

It was the first time for me to see a Maltese band perform on a stage in another country, and it was an overwhelming experience, but when after the show you get stopped and fellow metalheads congratulate the band and ask you to pass their salutations it makes you even prouder to be Maltese. Another recent occasion like this happened during last year’s edition at Metaldays in Slovenia when Pilgrimage and Bound To Prevail awed everyone in front of the stage.


Angelcrypt in Germany

One must of course mention bands like Bila, Manatapu, Martyrium, Angelcrypt and of course Beheaded and Forsaken plus many more, too many to mention, who year in year out get invited to play all around Europe. Beheaded even played in South America and Asia and in a few days’ time Lord Adder will play in China and Damaged & Co. in Israel.

So once again, when comparing all this….how much is the Maltese artist really appreciated?

I don’t believe that any artist should get a godlike distinction, any artist whoever he is, but every artist at whatever level his music is should get the gratitude and admiration for his product. After all, what would the world be without art?

I also strongly believe that this appreciation should come from entities who are supposed to endorse arts, as governments should. And although I am against certain aid from authorities and am even more against that artists expect these authorities to step in at every hurdle they encounter, there are exceptions!

While I was attending the already mentioned festival a friend of mine informed me that the bands rehearsing in the Birkirkara Garage Complex were given 3 months to evict the premises as their contracts shall not be renewed. This, might not happen to all the bands all at once and I'm not going to go into the merits of whether it's just or not. The whole building is privately owned, and it seems nothing illegal was done. But is all this ethical? Let’s explore this a little bit more.

I do not know the exact number of bands who use this facility, which by the way is in an inhumane state with no restroom facilities amongst other negatives. But let’s assume that there are around sixty bands. So in three months sixty bands are out on the street with their equipment and any other stuff stored in these rehearsals rooms such as merch etc. The stuff can be stored some place else but that will also mean that bands cannot rehearse and this will affect the live scene as well, which will on the other hand also affect income for these bands, less income for the venues, which are still recuperating from the dreaded covid period and concert goers deprived from their favourite pastime.

One must also consider that some of these bands are in full rehearsals for already booked gigs, some might even be abroad, or in full flight of preparing to record, or already in the process. An anonymous (for obvious reasons) band member was right when he expressed that this “just really f*****d up the local band scene here in Malta! That’s progress I guess!”


Beheaded in Europe

It is in these parameters that I strongly believe the government or authorities should intervene. Not that they should stop the owners from exercising what’s in progress but ease any difficulties the bands are set to encounter.

But let’s face it…. the last time anyone from the higher authority did something in favour of the bands in Malta’s underground scene was when Dr. Alex Sciberras Trigona, then Culture minister, upon the requests done by the late Erich il-Punk Azzopardi passed the legendary rooms inside Fort Tigné, which were disused after the British forces left the island to AST for the bands to use as rehearsal spaces. But this was in the 80’s and since the bands were ‘asked’ to leave and the area developed. Since then, the bands never received any more assistance regarding this matter from anyone.


So, to conclude this article I ask once more: How much is the Maltese artist really appreciated?

My humble opinion: I appreciate and respect every artist in any genre of the arts, all arts. Anything an artist or musician creates is an original piece of art that equips you with the vocabulary to understand and, while introducing you to various mediums. Music helps create understanding of the world around us. It is an essential part of cultures across the globe because it allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences. Some people might not think that is important and would not appreciate it or recognize the efforts put into it to create awe-inspiring piece. As intriguing and inspiring music can be it is not appreciated by some people who have lost their sense of creativity or fascination with sounds and colors.

And maybe that is also why many of us don’t appreciate the local talent more……


Footnote:

This article was already written and ready to be published until Sunday morning, when Facebook was full of posts regarding what happened to The Travellers during the EuroPride concert on Saturday when they had their microphones turned off during a rendition of ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. Even Ira Losco had her set cut short, but at least she was told to not perform her final song. From information I managed to gather from different sources, the band was supposed to perform a set of thirty minutes, but the event was already behind schedule. This is something that happens very often during events with many acts, and the polite way to move forward is to ask the bands to cut short their set by a song or two. This, it seems, only happened during Losco’s set, while The Travellers were left with their mouths open (literally) with no sound coming off the stage. I do not believe that the organisers meant to humiliate the band in front in of over 30,000 people, but whoever took the decision to order the sound team to stop the set and switch off the sound acted very unprofessional and not in the best interest of the event and the bands.

photo: The Travellers/Facebook

This decision caused an online controversy after they posted their disappointment on social media and I have tried to check if there was any statement from the organization team but to no avail. Does this mean that the local talent lacks appreciation? Well, this incident doesn’t prove it as such, but one has to ask the question: What would have happened if instead of The Travellers and Ira losco there were foreign acts performing?

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Well said Noel & I agree 100%!!! A big applause to you for this article but it's also the perfect time to thank you & others like you who always give your support to the local scene & local talent! \m/

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