Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Maltese Ship... And Maltese Music ...

I discovered some of my favourite music when an obscure country ended up in the news. It is impossible to think about a country without wondering what kind of music the locals listen to.

When the "Arctic Sea" ship disappeared recently, amid suspicions of contraband and illegal arms dealing, one of the little factoids that came to light was that the ship was registered to the Republic of Malta, an island nation of 400,000 about 50 miles from Sicily and 170 miles from Tunisia. It was a part of the British empire from 1814 until its independence in 1964. Malta was of critical military and psychological importance to Britain in World War Two, during which it endured savage Axis bombing. King George VI awarded the George Cross, a decoration for bravery to Malta collectively in 1942 in recognition of its sacrifices as a nation.

The Maltese language is a fascinating blend of Sicilian, Arabic, French and English. Its etymological core is Semitic, although it is written in the Latin alphabet. The population of Malta is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. A look at a Maltese English dictionary is like walking through a dictionary of etymology. Italian and Semitic cognate words abound such as Mija (pronounced "mia") which means "100" and sounds a lot like meah, which is the same word in Hebrew. "Hat"translates as "kapell", which is similar to the Italian "capello" Leaven translates as "hmira". Anyone who has burned leftover bread before Passover has said the Aramaic prayer, "Kol Khamira". There is in fact a long history of a Jewish presence in Malta. A small remnant of Maltese Jews remains on good terms today.

The Maltese music scene is quite vibrant. Maltese music blends well with Maltese history and geography, which is a mix of Arab, Italian and other influences. I hope my readers will appreciate the music, language and aesthetic beauty of Malta. Please do not wait for another international crisis to unfold under the Maltese flag such as the alleged hijacking of the "Arctic Sea" ship along with its Russian crew. Hopefully, happier circumstances than high seas piracy or international intrigue will bring the tiny Republic of Malta to my reader's attention.

Please check out the music videos below.

Freddie Portelli-Wied tal-Dmugh

Qalb li Thobb, a Maltese all star collaboration

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