What are the origins of the Maltese folklore “għana”?

Music and melodies are constant accompaniments of mankind and virtually every country has its own traditional folklore music – Malta no less. Over and above this traditional folklore music known as “għana” Malta has also reflected period music reflecting different eras.

The Maltese “għana” has different forms and probably knows its origins from Spanish tradition and its ties with nearby Sicily. The folklore researcher and specialist Ġużè Cassar Pullicino found the early form of “għana” dating back to 1792 during the final stages of the Knights in Malta. At the beginning of the last Century, the German diplomat Bertha Ilg, who lived in Malta for many years, collected and documented over 200 popular songs of the period.

Musician and researcher Andrew Alamango said that during the first 30 years of the last Century there were various forms of music including folklore, using mandolins, orchestras, sacred music and popular music compositions by Maltese musicians.

Alamango said the “għana” is important and remains important because of its vocal traditions, consisting of the skills of impromptu coupling of rhythmic phrases set to music. It is a basis of the Maltese language that is set to music that is typical of the countries of the Mediterranean region.

Charles Coleiro, another well-known Maltese folklore specialist, said it is important this musical form remains alive and active.

He said he would like to hear more of it during the traditional folklore event Imnarja which is being increasingly dominated by more popular music forms. Coleiro said that “għana” should have its own special and prominent niche. Coleiro said it is still popular among youths and played in village bars and coffee shops.

Maltese “għana” singers known as “għannejja”, from the past, have remained remembered and are still popular and Żebbug in Malta gives special mention to Manwel Cilia who died 51 years ago but his talent and style remains popular today. Luckily his compositions are still available and have been collected by Andrew Alamango and recorded.