Ninu Gatt Ir-Rajsu
Ninu Gatt Ir-Rajsu
is a renowned improvised verse folk singer. He was born on the 20th February 1947 and hails from Żebbuġ. He grew up in Triq l-Anġli, close to the Angels' Chapel where his parents, both from Żebbuġ lived. His father was from the Tal-Lekkuku family, his mother from Tar-Randan.
He is quite unsure about the real origin of his nickname Ir-Rajsu, but remembers that he was called so when still a child by his grandmother, upset that he had just walked on her wet floor. Hence she exclaimed Qisek ir-rajsu tgħaffeġ, which literally translates 'You walk across the floors just like a captain.' derived from the Maltese word 'rajjes', a captain or leader.
His personal connection with folk music started by pure coincidence. As a young twenty-year old he didn't own a car, but one of his friends from Żebbuġ did. When the weekends came, it happened that he was constantly outnumbered three to one by his friends who opted to go down to Żejtun to attend to a folk music session, rather than frequent the bright lights of Valletta, the capital.
These were the late 1960s when a folk session in Żejtun at venues like Ġolin Ta' Kostanza, Menu Abela or Żaren Mangion Il-Folfol would have featured the cream of improvised verse folksingers, Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej, Ninu Galea l-Kalora, Pawlu Degabriele l-Bies, Żaru Mifsud Il-Għaxqi and Salvu Darmanin Ir-Ruġel. It is a line up that young folk enthusiasts can only dream of.
On one occasion Ninu and his friend visited Żejtun their regular dose of għana, only to discover that the event had been cancelled due to the town being in mourning. There and then they headed off to Għar Lapsi for a traditional rabbit meal, where fuelled with Maltese wine downed with the meal they started folk singing, albeit without guitar music.
This was the moment that Gatt realized that he had folk music within him, where with more wine helpings his improvised verse improved and he shed his inhibitions. The next day, his friends called on him, impressed by his capacity to folk sing.
Around 1973 there happened to be a folk music event at their local Labour Party club and as soon as the folksingers where gathering to begin, one of Ninu's friends approached Ninu Galea l-Kalora and told him Here's a good folk singer, while pointing at Gatt.
Kalora called him over to join the assembled four, including Żeppi Ellul ta' Fellusu, Żeppi Meli ta' Sika and Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej. In għana terms this meant that the session now had an uneven number, which was quite a rare occurrence that happened usually when someone didn't turn up. There was an additional risk, that of trying an untried singer. Yet Kalora knew that the enthusiast that had urged him to take notice was a known face at folk events and therefore a good ear as well.
He did well and was asked for other events, until Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej, knowing that Gatt resided in Żejtun, invited him to folk sing on Rediffusion, with his group of chosen folksingers. The sessions were probably re-recorded on by other programmes, the norm adopted by the Maltese radio management who had no clue or little respect of archiving purposes.
He did several Rediffusion sessions and on television, including one spirtu pront bejn tnejn shot on Għar Lapsi cave with Ċikku Degiorgio tal-Fjuri in programmes hosted by Charles Coleiro.
Gatt has two favourite folksingers from the golden age of għana - Ninu Galea l-Kalora and Żeppi Meli ta' Sika. Galea had the ability to keep to the subject being sung about, knew how to build on the argument but stayed clean, attributes of making him a complete folksinger.
Gatt has his favourite folk ballads, the famous Ġuzeppi u Maria by Żaren Mifsud ta' Vestru and Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej's ballad about a boy who was murdered by his own cousin in Żabbar. However, Gatt has also one folk ballad to his credit, which he wrote about the tsunami that his Asia on Boxing Day, 2004. It is called It-Tsunami and has thirty-six quatrains with a duration of around forty minutes. It was performed once, in Qormi at Il-Giża's and recorded on video.
Gatt is not keen on big stages for folk events, but prefers the intimacy that small venues offer, where the performer and enthusiast are within close quarters.
Having folk sung within the circle of the major folksingers, he is one of the most renowned folksingers who are currently inactive, although his interest in għana has been rekindled with his presence in the audience at folk music events. Enthusiasts keenly awaited his return to the field in 2013.