Mikiel Bonnici n-Negli

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Mikiel Bonnici n-Negli

Mikiel Bonnici n-Negli

is an improvised verse folk singer. He was born on the 5th of August, 1945 and hails from Żejtun. His father was Ġanmari Bonnici Tat-Tloppi, a coal heaver and cousin to Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej. Mikiel's nickname In-Negli was given to him for the family he hanged around with.

Sea urchin selling

Bonnici grew up in the Santa Marija neighbourhood, close to Our Lady's chapel. As a young fourteen year old he used to row his father fishing boat in San Tumas, while the latter was octopus fishing or gather sea urchins. People in Żejtun knew him as a sea urchin seller, then as a bus conductor, until July 1964 when he emigrated to Australia through the assisted passage scheme after a Żejtun member of parliament, Alexander Cachia Zammit promoted the idea of seeking a better life overseas.

Bonnici was to spend thirty five years in Australia, and prior to emigrating, had only attended one folk singing event due to the encouragement of Mikiel Abela l-Bambinu, in Ħaż-Żabbar where he heard Leli Sultana l-Moni, Ġużeppi Camilleri l-Jimmy tal-Fjur, Żaren Mifsud ta' Vestru and Salvu Darmanin Ir-Ruġel. It was here when he realized that he had għana in his veins.

Settling in Australia

In West Melbourne he met two young cousins from Żejtun, both known as Nenu ta' Peppin, who asked him to join them on an għana recording that they were sending to their relatives in Malta. The first time In-Negli publicly folk sang was around 1966 in the North Sunshine Hall, adjacent to the Catholic church, when he partook in a bout of improvised verse that had a farrad, an uneven number with Żaren Attard Il-Bukkaċċ, Leli Sultana l-Moni, Salvu Galea tal-Kalora and Toni Pullicino t-Tullier, with the folk sung subject being engaged to be married. Galea continued to encouraged him to folk sing.

Bonnici was to folk sing with Sultana at the Sydney Opera House on the centenary of Maltese emigration to Australia, recalling the words

                      Mitt sena ilu minn ġo Malta
                      L-Maltin qabdu jemigraw
                      Issa waslet il-festa tagħna
                      Mela ejja lilha niċċellebraw.

He was then to feature on a makjetta song, together with Fredu Abela l-Bamboċċu and Renald Abela l-Bamboċċu ż-Żgħir, entitled Tliet Għażżenin, which was released on vinyl.

In 1972 Bonnici returned to Malta since his mother was on her deathbed, and he stayed for a six-month period, taking the opportunity to folk sing with Salvu Darmanin Ir-Ruġel, Żaren Mifsud ta' Vestru and Ninu Galea l-Kalora at Lucy Casha's outlet in Alberttown.

Mikiel Bonnici n-Negli being interviewed by Steve Borg at the PL club in Żejtun, February 2014.

Founding of the Negli Station in St. Albans

Back in the Southern Hemisphere, Bonnici continued being employed within the Maltese communities, far better than his first employment as a bottle sorter with a brewery in Spotswood, Melbourne. He was impressed by the traditional Maltese feast of San Girgor that former Tarxien residents organized in Portarlington, thirty one kilometres east of Geelong, that also begs for documentation.

When in St. Albans, he was approached by Leli Sultana l-Moni to found a Maltese folksingers' society. Spurred by this idea, Bonnici began hiring the Community Hall on Friday evenings, and began inviting folksingers including Leli l-Moni, Ġorġ Aquilina ż-Żgħir, Żeppi Debono ta' Kalumbu, Ninu Attard Tal-Bukkaċċ, Mario Cassar Il-Paspar and others to perform in what became known as Negli Station, the first għana club in Australia. Other than Melbourne and Sydney, Bonnici also folk sang in a private residence in Adelaide.

In 1998 Bonnici returned to Malta for good. His favourite folksinger is Pawlu Seychell l-Għannej, since he could keep his tempo with the guitarists and folk sing on all notes. Bonnici lives in Żejtun and still attends to folk singing events on a regular basis.

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