• Michael Bugeja

TRANIA: CONTEMPORARY ETHNIC MUSIC


“Trania’s musical influences span over 40 years of Blues, progressive rock, folk, Latin and jazz music.”

This quote, lifted from the liner notes of Trania’s self-titled debut CD, triggers enough interest in the music contained within, but it’s the album’s sub-title, namely ‘contemporary Maltese ethnic music’, that gives the project that extra edge. Featuring 10 original compositions, the album strongly reflects the aspirations behind the band’s music as well as its name, which is derived from the Maltese word tranja, meaning a sea swell. In the band’s own words, “like the wave coming from afar that never breaks and is more or less continuous, Trania’s music is a continuation of Malta’s musical heritage into the future”.

Trania is Mark Attard (keyboards), Walter Vella (flutes and saxophones) and Jason Fabri (percussion). The CD launch will in­clude a live performance to be held on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Palazzo De Piro, Mdina. Entrance is free. The project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund, Palazzo De Piro and Music Link. For more information, look up Trania on Facebook.

When and where did the idea to form Trania stem from?

Trania started out over four years ago in a very casual way; a group of musicians getting together to play some chilled-out music. The idea was to have a rather laid-back, spacey feel where we could just enjoy improvising on a theme. We weren’t actually thinking of any genre, but of rhythmic patterns and rudimentary sounds produced from modern instruments. Over time we started to incorporate more primitive instruments such as the ‘flejguta’, a very basic reed flute that used to be played by shepherds idling away the time. This instrument was substantially refined enough to play a decent melody line while retaining its original tone, and now with these re­cordings, a whole new dimension to its versatility can be appreciated.

What were the initial aspirations for this project?

Our main aim is to widen the scope of folk and ethnic music. Today's musician carries a lot of diverse styles and influences in his head, and when he performs he usually uses a lot of these ideas. Call it global influence, but look at popular music – there are absolutely no borders, and songwriters can write in any form they want. With our music we have recollected all this and created a distinctive sound that is our very own while retaining the folk/ethnic concept. Some of the compositions are very strong rhythmically, unlike your typical Maltese folk tune. This is because we believe our musical heritage has been heavily compromised in the past with religious taboos. Being so close to – and for a time under the influence of – North African civilisation, (Maltese music) must surely have absorbed a strong sense of complex rhythmic patterns, so we make use of North African instruments like the Djembe and Tarbouka alongside Western percussion.

Given your different and versatile musical backgrounds, what did you seek to explore through Trania that you perhaps hadn’t done in other musical projects?

The concept behind Trania is basically an exploitation of the trio feel, which gives a fair amount of musical freedom of expression and leaves space for improvisation and colour to the music we compose. All three of us have been involved in many different projects and music genres, so we had to seek another style of music we could make our own; a fresh fusion feel of what we experienced till now, but which creates a unique sound and experience to our audience. There are ethnic elements and a hint of jazz too on the album, but the folk element is very upfront.

Consequently, what do you feel Trania’s mix of influences brings to your music that perhaps hasn’t yet been explored or attempted in contemporary Maltese ethnic music?

There is particular emphasis on Mediterranean rhythms and timbres on this album. But the modern sounds of the keyboards and drums help to inject a contemporary feel into the nostalgic Mediterranean music, creating a musical journey that is unique to Trania. All our influences are like ingredients in a recipe that is as experimental as our imagination allows us to be.

The music on the album has a very progressive approach in the way musical motifs are taken on and developed. Did you set any parameters when you started writing the album or was it more casual?

Actually, we chose a number of tunes from our repertoire that clearly contribute to our concept of Mediterranean sound and rhythm-sampling and the taste of folk music from different countries directly linked to the Mediterranean, in­cluding North Africa. Other tunes not listed in this album are more inclined towards contemporary sounds but still with folk and ethnic relevance especially when it comes to rhythm.

Although this is your first album, Trania has already established a presence on the music scene through a number of live performances….

As our music is a combination of melodic lines and improvisation, the rendering of each piece of music is always different in its execution. That is our forte. The overall mood can change from one performance to another. Our past gigs have been mainly concert type of events as the music needs a captive audience that is willing to listen to the nuances in our playing. We aim at the discerning type of listener who appreciates a new spectrum of sounds and is open to new ideas.

This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (03 June 2012)

#live #ethnic #jazz #event #sundaytimes