Thursday, September 07, 2006

One and three, thirteen (BINGO)

What is it with the numbers 1 and 3 that is giving me so much joy this fine Thursday morning?

I wonder...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

My Lampost

Friday, June 02, 2006

Viva San Cipress...

Tonight Xtruppaw will release their much anticipated album, and predictably enough, it does not disappoint. In fact, I can say that it surpassed my expectations, particularly in the variety of styles that it covers. Now, I should declare my bias outright and say that not only am I one big Xtruppaw fan, but Jeff is my cousin and I think that these guys are some of the coolest and most friendly people that I know (and not only because of their generosity with the whisky in drunken days past). The Xtruppaw phenomenon has made an instant hit. About a year ago they were playing their first ever gig. Now they have just launched a full length CD. In all honesty, I think that their success is in part directly attributable to their satirical lyrics, entertaining performances and their general fun factor. In this regard, they are by no means pioneers, as others have done these things before. The main difference I think has to do with their solid song-writing backbone. Beneath the crude lyrics, their website and their live performances one finds a treasure of some incredibly infectious tunes, without which Xtruppaw would have never been the phenomenon that they are today. People should not let themselves be distracted by the lyrics at the expense of the music. They are both essential ingredients that make a formula like Xtruppaw work perfectly, the two sides of the Xtruppaw coin if you will. I wanted to make this point clear, as although I will be specifically writing about the lyrics, I don’t think that the lyrics can in actual fact be separated from the music.

Xtruppaw’s single greatest achievement, lyric-wise, is how effortless they manage to articulate the local social reality. Like a series of photos taken on a random day-trip around the island, most of the songs conjure mental images that are genuinely real. The humour is, in general, derived from this authenticity. There is, for example, nothing spectacularly funny about a statue of a lion, but its reference in ‘Rajt ma Rajtx’ is a detail that without much elaboration takes you directly to a Maltese front garden; it is the detail that makes the difference. ‘Nenannana’ should make those who have aesthetics at heart cry, rather than laugh. The smiles, however, come as a result of years of seeing ‘Nenannanas’ running around the island and knowing that you can completely relate to the singing. Similarly, it is not improbable that all listeners have a name and a face to attach to the anti-hero throwing up in a sink in ‘Glorja Tonna’. The satire is fed with observational humour which makes it all the more powerful. ‘Kont ser intajru x’hin gie jghannaq’ is another example. Who hasn’t been assaulted by a drunken friend who, with dark patches under his armpits, feels he needs to demonstrate his love and affection? This is why people relate to the band with particular ease. They bring to the world of music, a collective reality that we constantly share.

In their own way, Xtruppaw document the times we’re living in; which is why they are a milestone in the history of local youth culture. They speak the language of young people and voice their concerns and experiences. ‘Generazzjoni ta’ Meqrudin’, in fact, is something of a youth anthem, a musical middle finger creatively presented to the older generation who judge young people through yesteryear’s spectacles. Those interested in youth in general and youth culture in particular cannot afford to be unaware of this band. Those that do know about Xtruppaw, should listen. Like any good satire, Xtruppaw make a relevant point; tons of them actually. Throughout the album the character, folly and culture of the Maltese people is dissected with clinical precision, and although some references, like the hoffor in ‘Ghanja ta’ l-iXtruppaw’, are a bit of a cliché, they nonetheless reflect the priority they enjoy in the list of local grievances. ‘Is-CD ta’ l-iXtruppaw’ almost makes you grateful for all the annoying things that we must keep up with while living in Malta. So next time you are presented with such a situation, be thankful for it, it just might be the next ‘Xtruppaw’ hit.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

And now for something completely boring...

As you may, or may not, have noticed, I haven’t been blogging regularly these past weeks. I wish I had an interesting story to tell about being abducted by pot-head aliens who play 70s rock, but I don’t. The truth is that I’m, wait for it, busy. Assignment deadlines, prospective heavy workloads, upcoming test and pending recording are all playing liquidiser in my head at the moment. So unfortunately, I have little time left for blogging. Hopefully this corner would resume some time in the beginning of August when I cheekily come to ask you to buy the CD that I would have just finished recording. Until then, I bid you sweet farewell. One last thing before I go, keep your ears open and close to the ground because 'is-CD ta’ l-iXtruppaw' is coming your way soon. And it’s definitely something to text home about.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Da Vinci load (of ...)

I was never interested in the Da Vinci Code. I don’t have time for those kinds of books. But I was compelled to take interest after learning that my uncle is spearheading a campaign to ban the movie. I knew him to be a bit of a fanatic, so I can’t say that I was surprised. Within the context of a liberal-democratic society he has all the rights to protest and to try and convince people to not watch it. Asking for a ban is out of the line though. One shouldn’t be able to use democratic means to subvert democracy.

This Da Vinci Code circus has all the characteristics of a moral panic. The reasoning behind this crusade is typical of any moral panic. Something is threatening our social values and we must do everything we could to stop it. Stanley Cohen discusses this in depth in his ‘Folk Devils Devils and Moral Panics’. The only panic that should arise out of this story is a panic about the threat to our little democracy; particularly when one considers that we already don’t have much of it. If the fervent Catholics think that it’s a sin to watch the movie, they just shouldn’t watch it. What you don’t do is call for its ban. What next? Criminalise adultery? Witch-hunt the atheists? Have blasphemy wardens?

What I find irritating in this whole issue is how insulting these Catholic fanatics are to their brethren’s intelligence. They seem to think that people are nincompoops. Are people so gullible that they will be magically brainwashed by a movie? In Malta? The country that wants Christ on its Euro coins? A country where you can spot scores of church domes from any modest hill? The country that teaches Catholicism in schools, forces indoctrination on kids (duttrina) and is pretty much holier than the Vatican? The country that prides itself in an abundance of bare-footed pilgrims? Is Catholic Malta’s faith so weak that a hyped up Hollywood movie is such a threat that it must be banned? Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Culture Club

Culture is the buzz word of the Right. They want to preserve, promote and protect it. Or so they say. They’re not racists. They just love their country and their culture (like the Romeo who professes his love for his wife by hating all other women). They don’t hate the foreigners, but they're just a threat to our national identity. Or so they say.

Their analytical naivety is, in my opinion, their fundamental weakness. Yet paradoxically it is what gives them their strength. The strength of mass appeal. It’s easy to rally people around ‘our culture’ without defining what that is. If one asked all the people at the ANR demonstration last October what they understand by the term ‘Maltese culture’ they would have all given a different answer. Culture, as a concept, is a tough nut to crack. I would not burden myself with the difficult task of coming up with a comprehensive definition of such a vast concept. I’ll leave that to professional sociologists. Nobody in their right mind would dream of coming up with an original definition in a short blog entry like this anyway. But that is besides the point. Or is it? I mean, if sociologists struggle to come up with a definition of culture, how are the Right-wingers talking about it as if it’s an uncontested, universally accepted and a uniformly understood concept? What do they understand by culture? L-Ghonnella u l-bigilla? The Maltese language? Or general patterns of behaviour? Speculation gets us nowhere, so for conveniency’s sake I will take up a random definition to work with. Hiller (1933) defined culture as:

The beliefs, system of thought, practical arts, manner of living, customs, tradition, and all socially regularised ways of acting…So defined, culture includes all the activities which develop in the association between persons or which are learned from a social group, but excludes those specific forms of behaviour which are predetermined byinherited nature (Hiller, in Kroeber et al, 1952: 82).

If anything, the first thing that one must acknowledge and which the Right cannot seem to get is that culture is not static. It’s not fixed and unmovable. It’s not a shared mass of patterned behaviour. We’re not lemmings. Within the territorial borders of the Maltese islands we find a kaleidoscopic variety of ‘beliefs, system of thought, practical arts and manner of living’. ‘Customs and traditions’ are not shared either. Not only that but one cannot say that the current patterns of behaviours and lifestyles are intrinsically Maltese either. What is so Maltese about a young person’s weekend routine of partying and eating kebabs for example? How does this ‘Maltese culture’ that the Right speaks about, connect a young rocker from the North of Malta and an old bizzilla woman from a Gozitan village? For all it’s worth, these people are living in different worlds even if they share the same flag and possibly, although not necessarily, the same language. Her traditions are alien to the rocker and you can be sure that he looks at her work with tourist eyes when he’s spending a weekend in Gozo; and I would dance naked in the streets if she can carry a conversation with him about local bands Beheaded and Forsaken.

What does the Right consider as ‘Maltese culture’? What is it that they’re defending exactly? This is something that they never seem to be eager to explain. In my eyes it is obvious why. Why seek to define your concept if you can appeal to more people by being general and vague? That is their strength. They yell ‘Maltese culture’ in the microphones, they write it in the letters to the press and hold it up high as their sacred banner. That way the rocker and the Gozitan woman can equally relate to what they’re saying even if the term ‘Maltese culture’ creates in their heads opposite mental images. This unifying factor is just an imaginary relation. There is no one whole, static ‘Maltese culture’ that connects all the people born under the flag.

Maltese culture is in constant motion and it changes; it evolves. Besides, how the mere presence of other cultures forces people to change their ‘beliefs, systems of thought, manners of living’, without their own consent is a bit perplexing. Of course there will be influence, but that is reciprocal and is not done at gun-point. If culture was indeed the concern of the Right, they should promote it by being active in cultural activities rather than bash and feel threatened by other cultures. If I’m permitted to re-use the previous Romeo analogy, I would say that it is a sign of sheer insecurity if Romeo feels that the presence of other women is enough to interfere with his relationship with Juliet. Food for thought. Local food for thought if you will.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cyber Monument

This is a cyber monument dedicated to the brave people below.

Buddy Bell, Fred Brancel, Robert St. Clair Call, Charles Carney, Stephen Clemens, Joanne Cowan, Ken Crowley, Anika Cunningham, Scott Dempsky, Joe DeRaymond, Sam Foster, Christine Gaunt, Michael Gayman, Sarah Harper, Rita Hohenshell, Jane Hosking, John LaForge, Mary Dennis Lentsch PBVM, Robin Lloyd, Linda Mashburn, Don Nelson, Liam O'Reilly, Dorothy Parker, Gail Phares, Jonathan Robert, Judith Ruland, Delmar Schwaller, Cheryl Sommers, Donte Smith, Edward "Naed" Smith, David Sylvester, Priscilla Treska, Fr. Louis Vitale, Jamie Walters, Frank Woolever, Jerome Zawada.

Who are they?

The School of the Americas

“Babylon system is the vampire
Suckin' the children day by day
Me say de, Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire
Suckin' the blood of the sufferers
Building church and university
Deceiving the people continually
Me say them graduatin' thieves and murderers”

- Babylon System (1979), Bob Marley

Never has a song lyric been so fitting. To all those unfamiliar with the work of the School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation, I suggest you visit this School of Assassins by Jack Nelson Pallmeyer.