Keeping Malta's Music Alive
Sunday September 19, 2010 (Michael Bugeja - The Sunday Times of Malta)
Everybody knows the story of how the classic Maltese song Viva Malta was written. After all, its composer Freddie Portelli has fortunately told the tale many a time during his countless performances all over the island. But how many people know that the first international pop hit by a Maltese artist was Jon Lukas’ Can’t Afford to Lose in the 1970s, or that the Maltese rock scene started to emerge in the 1960s thanks largely to a British band based in Malta to entertain the British troops stationed here? ‘Not many’ is the probable answer, and the reason for this is that the Maltese modern music scene’s development and growth has never really been properly documented in an easily accessible manner. Up until now, the closest thing to it would be to spend ages at the National Library sifting through decades of newspapers, but that’s hardly what one might call easily accessible now, is it?
There have been efforts throughout the years to find alternatives by some individuals, such as the short-lived RockMalta.com and JJ Formosa’s (more) indie-focused The Alternative Joint, both sites having surfaced soon after I had launched my own Lib66 Homepage of Maltese Music back in 2002. All of these sites however - mine included – were reliant on a ‘personal homepage with free-hosting’ approach and so their growth was relatively slow to the point that they couldn’t (and didn’t) keep up with the evolving technology and the fast-paced development of the local music scene.
Fortunately, around the end of 2005, Dr.Toni Sant, Director of Research in Arts and New Media at the University of Hull and a familiar face in Maltese broadcasting and the arts, launched the first of his Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts, a weekly series of short programmes focusing entirely on music by Maltese artistes, extending his attention also to those based abroad or with Maltese family origins. The series is now in its fifth year and growing in popularity. More importantly, all of the podcasts – right up to this week’s 226th edition – are readily available online, providing a historical overview of the Maltese music scene’s development on demand.
Inspired by the positive reception to his podcasts, the efforts of the above-mentioned websites, his own experience as a participant in the Maltese music scene and his expertise in multimedia, Dr. Sant envisaged a structure that could incorporate all of these factors into one comprehensive set-up that could finally provide an easily accessible archive. More than that however, it had to be an online structure that allowed for ongoing development to be continuously documented; rather than being just a source of reference, this website would need to be a living thing.
Roping in a number of people to assist him, Dr. Sant and his team have been working incessantly under the radar to co-ordinate the M3P Project. In case you were wondering, M3P (not MP3) stands for Malta Music Memory Project and it’s going to be officially launched this Saturday with a symposium that will include presentations by the M3P team and various people related to the local music scene, a Networking Workshop to explain how the website works and an evening concert that will also form part of the Notte Bianca schedule featuring bands that aren’t often heard on the local airwaves.
Interview with Toni Sant
What, in a nutshell, is the M3P project?
M3P is short for the Malta Music Memory Project. This project revolves around a collaborative multimedia database of Maltese music and associated arts.
What was it that inspired you to embark on such a project?
There are no proper national sound archives in Malta. There are no seriously organized broadcasting archives either. However there are several impressive, even if small, private collections by enthusiasts who could easily provide for this gap through a system of collaboration that can put together an archive that open and all inclusive. Take a look at Facebook as a closed, exclusive example of this and you'll get a sense of what I'm on about here.
Truth be told, I've also been looking for a way to combine my interest on art and entertainment in Malta with my professional academic activities in the UK. So on a personal level, this project aims to do just that. In the process I believe that we will be creating something that's beneficial and useful for generations to come.
When, roughly, did work on this project commence and what were/are the main obstacles you’ve encountered along the way?
Work on this project started with my series of Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts in 2005. However it was only last year that the concept started crystallizing after I wrote a position paper about the project for the Journal of Music, Technology & Education. That paper succeeded in getting us grants in aid of the work for the University of Hull and the Malta Art Council's Malta Arts Fund.
This is a project with a beginning but no end. What is its ultimate aim and why is it so important to Malta’s music and culture?
The ultimate aim is to have a living collaborative multimedia archive of Maltese music and associated arts that serves as an active document and forum for Malta's amazing arts and entertainment. Ideally the database is not limited to Malta, in the long term, but I'm a firm believer in learning to walk before trying to run.
Last but not least, the website is being launched next week with a number of related activities…
Yes, it’s going to be officially launched this Saturday with an inaugural symposium at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity featuring a number of presentations by various people related to the local music scene and the project itself. This will be followed by a Networking Workshop to explain how the website works to interested parties. The launch will also include an evening concert called You Rarely Hear This On the Radio! at Hastings Garden that will also be part of the Notte Bianca activities taking place all over Valletta that same evening. I will be divulging more details about the M3P Project in my podcasts at ToniSant.com and during this Friday’s edition of ROCKNA radio show at 7pm on Radio 101. Meanwhile, I urge people with an interest in the local music scene to visit the website at www.m3p.com.mt.