Some 15 years ago a small but enthusiastic group of friends on the Mediterranean island of Malta succeeded in achieving the unachievable: to almost singlehandedly revive the lost Maltese roots music genre.
“…the band who are single-handedly spearheading the renaissance in Maltese roots music” – Jon Lusk (fRoots magazine)
The group that was to be called etnika followed a trail of fascinating archival and field research, unearthing and rescuing long forgotten instruments, exotic melodies and genres from the verge of extinction. The hardest work however was to infuse new life into these dusty treasures, to reinvent a fresh sound and provide a relevant contestant within the contemporary context.
The unlikely yet irresistible result was enchanting and at the same time it challenged people’s perception of their own musical identity, turning the tide toward a newly found national pride that soon made etnika an instant success.
Over the next seven years etnika became malta’s most prominent folk band with highly anticipated, must-see yearly showcases ETNIKAFE that featured over 20 performers on stage. They toured extensively representing Malta, and performed internationally in over 15 countries and prestigious venues of Europe and North Africa, including the Montreux Jazz festival. Their energetic and oddball style eventually provided a blueprint for a multitude of offshoot projects.
Following a long hiatus in which etnika members (some of the best Maltese musicians of international renown) pursued their own projects in Malta (Maltas Lost Voices, Trania, Beangrowers, The Shh), Istanbul, Paris (Akalé Wubé, Festen) and Seville (Puerto Flamenco, Eduardo Trassierra Trio) a new idea started to form.
The collective nostalgia created a need to go back to the essence of the music, to form a reduced, back-to-basics touring band with which etnika members could express a more profound sentiment and work on an almost unplugged acoustic sound, free from effects and fanfare. Hence the addition of the asterisk to the name; the new *etnika is a heartfelt footnote, a passionate and sincere musical investigation, the unwritten text between the lines, a new story waiting to be told.
Always an unlikely a mix of artists and characters, now in this reduced 6 piece band the quirkiness of the setup becomes acute: oud and biambo (jew’s harp), Maltese flute and flamenco footwork, double bass and Maltese lullabies. The enchanting melancholy echoes over complex rhythms, old Maltese instruments find their way into the sizzling current soundscape on a fascinating musical journey of Malta and the Mediterranean. Expect a few detours, expect the unexpected, this port-cabaret band has a big heart.
“…the undisputed keepers of the flame” – Kevin Drake (Malta Now)
“…some of the most interesting and challenging music you are likely to hear on this earth-like world” – Jim Foley (Rootsworld.com)
After an eight year hiatus, we recently regrouped with a streamlined setup, revisiting some of the music created since our last recording in 2003. For this album we began rearranging the material by first looking at the essence of what worked in each song, and then by forwarding the oddity of the current instrumentation and band lineup.
We also created six new tracks for the album that we are very excited about, as they started taking us into a new musical direction. These are still based on some aspect of the traditional Maltese music, whether it may be lyrics from the 1930´s recordings, a traditional għana song, folk rhymes or a popular tune. As always, it was a challenge to include some of the remaining local instruments and to play them in ways that would sound fresh and surprising within the new context. Tanbur, żummara, bijambo, żafżafa and flejguta offset the effected guitars, retro-futuristic synths, unconventional percussion and footwork, deep, groovy bass, raspy sax and haunting whispery vocals. The unlikely result is a new sound we started to refer to during the recording as ‘Tripfolk’.
ALISON GALEA: voice, keys, electric guitars
ANDREW ALAMANGO: electric guitars, oud, tambur, żummara, backing vocals
WALTER VELLA: tenor & baritone sax, flute & alto flute, flejguta
OLIVER DEGABRIELE: double & electric bass, keys, bass synths, backing vocals
ANDREJ VUJICIC: cajón, katuba, bijambo, tambur, żafżafa, kalimba, typewriter, body percussion, backing vocals
FRANCESCA GRIMA: footwork on wood & pastizzi tray, body percussion