Ġużeppi Camilleri l-Jimmy tal-Fjur

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Ġużeppi Camilleri l-Jimmy tal-Fjur was born in Qormi on the 21st January 1917, the son of Pawlu Camilleri Tal-Fjur and Antonietta nee Bartolo. The origins of the family nickname are unknown.

Bust of Ġużeppi Camilleri l-Jimmy tal-Fjur in Luqa.

Childhood in Luqa

He grew up with his maternal grandmother in the Wied il-Knejjes area of Luqa. His first encounters with folk music were through someone nicknamed as Il-Jimmy, who used to take the young with him to għana events. His father Pawlu was a ganger, a foreman who overlooked a gang of coal heavers at Marsa harbour. The young Ġużeppi started as a water boy providing for the thirsty labourers, and also tending his father's potato and onion fields near the Ir-Rixtellu area in Luqa.

The army years with the Royal Malta Artillery

Aged eighteen, Camilleri enlisted with the Royal Malta Artillery, his private number being 4191. In the Second World War (1939-1946) he was a sergeant stationed allover Malta, including Bengħisa and St. Elmo in Valletta. His son Emanuel recalls him narrating how he was one of the soldiers manning the Maltese Bofors coastal guns on that ill-fated Italian thirteen vessel attack, including nine e-boats, on Malta on the 25th July 1941 when Maltese gunners and British RAF pilots repulsed them heroically.

Ġużeppi married Pawla Camilleri Ta' Ċaċu, also from Luqa. To avoid the devastation brought on this village, subject to enemy bombardment being close to the major airfield of RAF Luqa, the young couple moved to Birżebbuġa, a favoured seaside locality in south-eastern Malta, given that there was a direct bus link. The marriage bore five children: Ninu, Leli, Joe, Ġorġina and Marija, who passed away at birth.

Immersed in the folksinging scene

Camilleri started visiting Il-Qajjenza, where Pawlu Degabriele l-Bies had his famous shack, well-known in għana circles and where many happenings recorded by tape recorders were held. It was he that he folksung with three other greats, Pawlu Degabriele l-Bies, Mikiel Abela l-Bambinu and Salvu Darmanin Ir-Ruġel and with Ġużeppi Barbara l-Fukli in Ta' Bendu wine shop in Birżebbuġa.

His home village Luqa remained closed to his heart, returning at times to folk sing at Iż-Żonga's wine shop close to the main square. Iż-Żonga was known as the first person who owned a gramophone in the locality, incessantly playing Maltese folk shellac records, featuring Leli Cilia ta' Żabett and Ġużeppi Xuereb Ix-Xudi . Accompanied by lead folk guitarist Indri Brincat l-Pupa and Luqa folksingers, hundreds would converge.

The war struck an impressive imprint on Camilleri, and in 1957 while living in Birżebbuġa, he penned the ballad entitled Id-Diżgrazzja tax-Xelter, but better known by enthusiasts as Il-Fatt ta' Ħal Luqa. Another ballad folksinger, Ċikku Degiorgio Tal-Fjuri sought permission to sing this ballad, on another vocal key.

In 1960, after twenty-seven years as a sergeant, Ġuzeppi emigrated to London, where he worked with the Royal Mail. The following year he returned to Malta, with the thought of emigrating to Canada. These plans were disrupted by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and instead the family sought new pastures in the southern hemisphere.

Emigration to Melbourne

In September 1962 Ġużeppi emigrated to Australia on the Italian liner M.V. Fairsea. His son Emaunel recalls the commotion that his father's arrival brought with the substantial Maltese community residing in Melbourne, excited that such a noted folksinger had arrived amongst them to stay. Swarms greeted him on the Melbourne wharf. A few months later the rest of his family joined him. During his thirty-one years in Australia, he returned to Malta three times. He remained active in the folksinging scene until six months prior to his demise, having folk sung all over Melbourne and during his visits to Blacktown, Sydney and kept a strong friendship with Fredu Abela l-Bamboċċu and other folksingers.

Camilleri passed away on the 21st September 1994, at the age of 76 years. In retrospect, his numerous folk singing recordings are on the priority recovery list for the National Archives għana national memory project, and feature in the Leli Muscat l-Gaxulli folk music collection brokered by folk music researcher Steve Borg.

A bust commemorating Camilleri was erected in his hometown of Luqa.

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