The Malta Independent 21 October 2021, Thursday

Rediscovered Maltese folk instrument to be launched at this year’s Għanafest

Malta Independent Sunday, 2 June 2013, 10:34 Last update: about 8 years ago

A musical instrument which up till now only features in 18th century lithographs of Malta will be launched at this year’s Ghanafest, the Mediterranean folk festival which is held annually in June at the Argotti Botanical Gardens. Joining the ranks of Maltese instruments such as the zaqq, zummara and flejguta, it will be the first time that the Maltese lyre or lira has been heard in centuries.

The instrument - a pear-shaped, three-stringed bowed instrument central to the traditional music of Crete and other Greek islands – appears in 18th and 19th century lithographs.

In 2010 Dr Vicki Ann Cremona, ambassador of Malta in Tunisia, invited Ruben Zahra – artistic director of Ghanafest and leader of the Nafra folk ensemble - to conduct research in Tunisia with the support of the Cultural Diplomacy Fund - Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This research at the Ennajma Ezzahra - Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music in Sidi Bou Said led to tracing the roots of the Maltese instrument in the Byzantine tradition with an offshoot of the same instrument in Calabria.

Ettore Castagna, an Italian ethno-musicologist, musician and expert of the lira collaborated with Ruben Zahra on the research and reconstruction of the Maltese lira. The reconstruction of the instrument was entrusted to Pietro Forlani, a master luthier from Calabria.

Nafra’s concert at Ghanafest on 8 June will portray the music journey of this research from Tunisia to Italy towards the revival of the Maltese lira. This concert will feature oriental violinist from Tunisia Mohamed Lassoued and Ettore Castagna playing the Maltese lira.

The rediscovery of the lira – like folk music in general - raises questions about the relationship between music, memory and the people. How much does Maltese music tell us about ourselves as a people, about our past and our culture? How much of it has been lost? How much can be revived?

Running between the 7 and 9 June, Ghanafest aims to celebrate the diversity of Mediterranean folk music, bringing together a rich programme of ghana, Maltese music bands and foreign folk bands. This year’s theme is “Islands” and musicians from Crete, Corsica and Sardinia will take audiences on a musical journey throughout the festival days.

Apart from Nafra, the Maltese bands, too, will bring their own rich mix of traditional and contemporary at this year’s Ghanafest. So on 7 June, Maltese band No Bling Show will present their hip-hop / ghana fusion project featuring young refugees in collaboration with Marc Cabourdin. This project is supported by V.18. And on 9 June upcoming Maltese band KazinSka will give a contemporary rendering of Maltese festa music. And then of course there is the ghana itself, which will run throughout the festival, which offers a unique opportunity to experience the different styles of ghana.

This is a festival which is not just a series of concerts – there is also an exhibition and series of workshops on traditional instruments as well as a special programme for children. Ghanafest is also complemented by traditional Maltese food and Maltese crafts, on display in an artisans’ market, making this an event for the whole family where young and old can mix in a friendly and fun spirit of celebration.


GHANAFEST – Malta Mediterranean Folk Music Festival 2013 is supported by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts and the Parliamentary Secretariat for Culture and Local Government. The Festival will be held on the 7-9 June at 7pm, Argotti Gardens, Floriana – within walking distance from Valletta. Tickets: €3 and €7 for a three-day block ticket available at the door. Parking will be available at the Floriana Boy Scouts headquarters, right next to the venue.

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