SEMPLICIMENT TAT-TRIQ: CROSSING BOUNDARIES
As the lyrics to their song Radju Valium openly and explicitly declare, Sempliċiment tat-Triq (STT) aren’t necessarily interested in getting mainstream exposure, at least not at the expense of compromising what they stand for, anyway. So it might sound odd then that their first opportunity to perform abroad came by way of a live appearance at an event that caters for the masses“.
A couple of years ago we performed with Dripht at the Beer Festival,” recalls Ħaxxaxxin, one of STT’s two frontline rappers. “After the gig this French guy came by and asked us if we’d be interested in playing in France.”Thus, a small part of the continent got its first taste of STT – accompanied by French DJ Brozer – in the flesh. The feedback following that first foreign excursion was enough to prompt a second French tour last year, which also included a couple of dates in Spain. It led to the release of STT’s debut CD Qumu Minn Hemm last September, which features Iswed Tnejn Zokkor, a song that attracted quite some attention when it was released in 2012. “It’s really a compilation of some of the tracks we’ve recorded in recent years,” Żdong, the other half of STT’s vocal front tells me. “We’d been getting asked by lots of people for our album, so we had to get it together.”
Most of the tracks are collaborations, and while this is a common trait in hip hop circles, STT seem to have a particular tendency to push barriers doing it. “We’ll work with any artist or band really, as long as their message is on the same wavelength as ours,” Żdong explains, referencing the social issues they regularly address in their music.A case in point is Chile Con Malta, the track they recorded with Chilean crew Gramatica Brutal, which that band featured on their second album. “We’re working on another track with them for their new album,” Ħaxxaxxin adds. STT have also worked with Italian hip hop artists, and, in fact, their latest release, Real Recognize Real, due out in a few days’ time, also features rappers from both Italy and the US.“The bottom line for such collaborations to work is that the mindset has to correspond on both sides,” he continues. “Besides, working with people from different genres also helps us to expand our musical horizons – it brings us in contact with other ideas and experiences.”
Indeed, they have no qualms about stepping outside of hip hop to make music, having already worked with Dripht and Zalza Kukkanja in the past.Moreover, the latest development in the STT camp captures all of the above, in that they’ve taken their collaborative streak to another level by bringing in a full band line-up featuring musicians from the punk scene, namely Nick Morales, il-Fre and Ryan Abela. “We tried a little experiment at last year’s Rock The South festival and performed as a band,” Żdong explains. "It was more of a jam really, but we felt it worked, so we’re taking it to the next level”. This has seen the band undertake a demanding rehearsal schedule, with the biggest priority being the revamping of STT’s repertoire into a guitar-driven hybrid without losing sight of their hip hop element. Just like one finds all sorts of people on the street, so it is with our music, it’s a mixture of different sounds“We feel there’s something to learn from any genre,” Ħaxxaxxin quickly points out. “The songs have been reworked, so rather than just hip hop, there’s also a punk rock edge as well as traces of reggae and ska. "Or, as Żdong coins it only too well, “any style that has a rebel streak is interesting to us…ultimately, the name STT comes from the street, and just like one finds all sorts of people on the street, so it is with our music, it’s a mixture of different sounds”.
The band’s next event will be a performance on the opening night of this year’s Rock the South festival on April 11. “This time we want to present ourselves as a proper band, which explains why we’re working so hard.” Well, that, and the fact that the gig actually kick starts STT’s Drink Coffee & Destroy tour – their third beyond Malta’s shores. The extended affair that will see them perform at least 13 gigs in the space of 16 days, the tour will take the band to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and France, with the final gig in Paris towards the end of April.
STT is not the first Maltese band to tour abroad, but it is possibly one of very few to do so singing in Maltese to foreign audiences, which I assume must bring with it some interesting moments, surely. “Actually our songs seemed to go down very well despite the language barrier”, Żdong recalls. “When we were in Marseille, for example, we spoke in our dialect and communicated better than in English with the locals.” He says they were quite intrigued at the interest foreign people showed in the Maltese language. “Ironically, foreigners seem to appreciate it more than we do here,” he adds, clearly hinting at the reluctance of some local radio stations to play Maltese music.
Of course, the fact that STT’s songs tend to be rather explicit might be a deterrent in this regard. “It’s not about just our songs in particular, but the general situation,” Ħaxxaxxin clarifies. “Our songs are hard-hitting and aggressive, anything but commercial,” he says, explaining that their main concern is to use their music to convey a message. “We’re interested in what goes on around us, in this country as well as on a global scale. It comes natural to us to address these same issues in our songs.” Żdong nods in agreement. “We’re explicit because we use the language of the street, which is, after all, the language most people speak. It’s not gratuitous, and if some people think our songs sound aggressive, perhaps it’s because they’ve become numb to the reality and what is going on around them.”
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An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (March 30, 2014)