Toni Spiteri tal-Ġebel
Once here he opened a limestone quarry in Tal-Balal and another new limestone quarry at Is-Sejba in Imqabba, hence the nickname Tal-Ġebel, literally meaning Of the Stones. Toni's grandfather, also called Toni, used to folksing amongst friends, whereas his grandmother Ċetta, from Birkirkara was known for her improvised verse, if only sung in the backyard.
Toni Jr started folk singing at six, when he entered an improvised bout, botta u risposta with Karmenu Spiteri Il-Pupu, who was employed to clean and feed the livestock and fowl at their farm, and Toni Jr improvised a wounding song about Karmenu's female friend, who bought him bread and milk.
He was spotted at this tender age for his folksinging talent by Frans Baldacchino l-Budaj, one day when on his way to mass. It was here where he met Toni's father and invited him to send his son over to further develop his folksinging skills. He has the honour of being the only aspiring folksinger that was coached by il-Budaj.
Baldacchino took Toni under his wings and introduced him to modern folk grupp Etnika and to folksing in several churches around Malta. With the sudden demise of Baldacchino in 2006, Toni abruptly stopped folksinging, only to reappear in a summer event in Qormi in 2012, with later appearances in Marsaxlokk.
During Għanafest 2013 he sang the ballad Kundanna u Mrar, with thirty stanzas, written for Toni by Frans Baldacchino l-Budaj about an incident that occurred in Madrid. He remains grateful to Frans Il-Budaj, who nurtured his love for għana and whom he considers are his favourite folksinger of all. The other two favourites are Ġużeppi Xuereb Ix-Xudi, for his impressive voice and rhyming abilities and Karmnu Fenech Il-Ħandrolla.
Toni explains his respect for Il-Ħandrolla with a succinct analogy. He reminds me of Death on Judgement Day, since he treats all folksingers the same, without giving any kind favours by being lenient with friends, and hard with others. For him all folksingers are equal, not necessarily in singing level, but in honouring them for who they are. And I like that attitude and his words.
Toni is today considered as one of the future stalwarts to keep this tradition alive. His sister Maria Spiteri Tal-Ġebel has also given to għana and performed at the Mnarja Folk Fest in 2013. He is currently preparing to embark on folk ballad writing.