It is quite ironic that folk music, which was the music of the masses, became a musical undercurrent. Yet, through being an undercurrent, it has also helped to revive and strengthen many music styles and genres - from Brahms' Hungarian Dances to John Barleycorn in Traffic and hundreds of other examples in between. In turn, folk has been revived thanks to many young talents who understood the pristine and genuine appeal that this music has. Malta has also been experiencing such folk revivals time and again, and the recent spate of talents that have graced the scene over the past decade is a clear indication of a movement that has also moved with the times.
Such a movement has also manifested itself in Għanafest, Malta' s own folk music festival which has also grown not just in popularity but also in its presentation and diversity. The local and foreign acts, time and again interacting, have attracted considerable attention not just from diehard folk music lovers but also a new generation and also a lot of foreigners who have come to appreciate Maltese and Mediterranean music. The same can be said for the various talks and presentations of various Maltese folk instruments like the flejguta (Maltese flute), żafżafa (Maltese friction drum) and the żaqq (Maltese bagpipes).
This year's edition will be quite different and quite diverse from previous editions since it will be supported by the Malta CHOGM Task Force in anticipation of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which will be held this November.The music will feature instruments that are indeed associated with Commonwealth countries and which over the years have also gained considerable popularity thanks to their exposure in Britain, the cradle of popular music and indeed various world music programmes, aired by the BBC World Service, the cradle of world music broadcasting and the world's radio station.
Jali Diabate, who comes from a renowned family of musicians will be displaying his expertise on the kora, the traditional 21-string West African harp, popular all across the continent. Besides France, where a considerable number of musicians from former colonies have migrated and performed, the kora has also been adopted by some young British musicians like Josh Doughty. Based in Catania, Sicily, Jali Diabate is a youthful, tenacious kora musician who has contributed significantly to preserving kora playing in the traditional Mandinka ethnic style, but he also did a lot towards charting a future through his compositions and eclectic performances featuring African and Italian musicians.
The sitar, an ancient Indian instrument got its big break in pop music thanks to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones back in the 1960s and was used extensively by many other rock bands thereafter, such as Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin among others. Ashwin Batish was certainly aware of all these happenings with this majestic influence, not least in California, where he is based, and from where so many sitar-influenced psychedelic bands originated some 50 years ago. Batish also comes from a popular music family: his father is the legendary Bollywood singer and music director Pandit Shiv Dayal Bashir. Ashwin Batish however, has also carved his own niche with his unique sitar playing and his songs “Bombay Boogie” “Sitar Magic,” and “India Beat” sold successfully in India. His ways and means of combining classical Indian sitar with funk, calypso, jazz and dance rhythms will be a high point in this year's Għanafest.
Celtic music will be represented for the first time in Għanafest thanks to Rura. Rooted in Scottish folk traditions, this multi-award winning, Highlands-based band have been renowned for their gritty, melodic and emotive music. Their haunting, jagged music shows a new angle to Scottish folk, retaining its fiercely independent and assertive delivery which has made it unique and outstanding. They do so thanks to a powerhouse mix of highland pipes, whistle, flute, fiddle and bodhran playing.
Maltese għana will once more feature prominently, with many veteran acts delivering heartfelt, sometimes spontaneous folk songs in various different styles. Folk’s power lies in its telling of simple stories, the stirring tunes, the stunning rich voices and the regeneration of folk styles from young talents. These will again feature prominently this year, thanks to the sagacious collaboration of Rita Pace/Yvette Buhagiar with guitarist Evan Plumpton, and Corazon's teaming up with Walter Vella and Domenic Galea. Flamenco dancing, a fast growing popular style will also feature thanks to the Allegria Dance Company and there will also be lectures and workshops from the performers, as well as a children's workshop on folk music. Tberfil, the decorative painted lettering often found on old buses, will again feature in this workshop thanks to its overwhelming success in recent years.
Despite its increasing popularity, the festival is still intimate enough for its details to be curated lovingly. Even the food is carefully picked to a theme: no commercial entities are in sight: you are likelier to find pastizzi, imqaret and all things traditionally Maltese, making this festival – devoted to music, food and crafts – much more than just a series of concerts.
Gћanafest offers a unique opportunity to experience the different styles of Maltese folk music in a very sincere and heartfelt style. It offers an opportunity for newcomers and tourists to learn about Malta's past and present. Set against the picturesque setting of the Argotti Gardens, and Marsamxett Harbour, with its timeless themes, stirring tunes and rich voices, this is a festival that will impress and move.
GĦANAFEST Malta Mediterranean Folk Music Festival 2015 is organised by Arts Council Malta and supported by the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, CHOGM Malta 2015, The Phoenicia Hotel, MSV Life and TVM. The Festival will be held from 12-14th June at 7pm, at Argotti Gardens, Floriana, within walking distance from Valletta. Tickets: €3 per night or €7 for a three-day block ticket available at the door. Parking available at the Floriana Boy Scouts headquarters, right next to the venue.