Standing on a chair to be seen by his audience, six-year-old Nordai Desira belted out traditional Maltese folk songs, għana, in a high-pitched, crystal-clear voice.

Many crowding Ta’ Ġanna Bar, in Żejtun, yesterday, wiped their moistened eyes, visibly moved by the youngster’s talent.

Nordai and his grandfather, and another għannej before them, treated the Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, José Herrera, to the traditional folk singing at the Żejtun bar where sessions of quick-witted, spontaneous għana on Sunday mornings are the norm.

The għannejja sung the praises of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat after the Labour Party routed the Nationalist Party at last month’s general election, touting the party’s Malta For All slogan.

In true għana fashion, little Nordai wrapped up the session with a quip, singing that “now that we have given you our trust, we hope you won’t forget us”.

Earlier on, in another bar in the locality, Mikiel Cumbo, L-Iżgej, and Grezzju Dalli, Il-Garawwa, steered clear of controversy by performing the high-pitched aptly-named għana fil-għoli and the lively makkjetta (humour) respectively.

Traditional Maltese folk singing will again take centre stage at Għanafest, which, this year, will be held between June 7 and 9.

Organised by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, the festival aims to celebrate the diversity of Mediterranean folk music, bringing together a rich programme of għana, Maltese music bands and foreign folk bands.

Dr Herrera noted that what was traditional was not necessarily preserved, which was why such festivals were vital. A sure method of raising interest in such music, he added, was to blend għana with other genres of music.

Artistic director Ruben Zahra said that, although the traditional għana was the backbone of the festival, Maltese bands would be bringing their own rich mix of traditional and contemporary music.

On June 7, Maltese band No Bling Show will present their hip-hop/għana fusion project featuring young refugees in collaboration with Marc Cabourdin.

A concert by folk ensemble Nafra on June 8 will be followed the next day by upcoming Maltese band KażinSka, which will give a contemporary rendering of Maltese festa music.

This year’s theme is Islands and musicians from Crete, Corsica and Sardinia will take audiences on a musical journey at the Argotti botanical gardens, in Floriana, where the festival is held annually.

The traditional singing will be complemented by traditional Maltese food and crafts, on display in an artisans’ market.

Mr Zahra said that children were pivotal to the continuation of traditional folk music, which was why they would be investing in them. Sessions will be held where children will come up with a topic, which is then taken up by an impromptu spirtu pront għannej to display the skill and quick-thinking involved.

Entrance tickets cost €3 for a day or €7 for a three-day block ticket and will be available at the door. Parking will be available at the Floriana Boy Scouts headquarters, next to the venue.

The different forms of għana

The roots of għana are buried deep within traditional Maltese way of life, while being generally associated with the working classes.

There are three main types of għana: fil-għoli, tal-fatt and spirtu pront.

Għana fil-għoli, also known as La Bormliża, requires males to reach extraordinarily high soprano ranges without breaking into falsetto. This style mimicked the early informal għana sung by women but, due to its extreme vocal demands, this style is very seldom practised.

Għana tal-fatt involves a melancholic ballad style, where a single għannej recounts some tragic event.

The spirtu pront is today’s most popular type of għana. It is sung by two or more għannejja as a song duel. The għannejja carry on an impromptu conversation, stanza for stanza, with a guitar interlude between each stanza. This requires a great deal of quick thinking and the ability to rhyme.

Most of the subjects are of a gentle frivolity, although such texts might also symbolise problems in the process of social communication.

The village of Żejtun is considered by the għannejja as the ‘cradle’ of għana due to the many għannejja who originated from it. The locality’s Luqa Briffa Garden is dotted with busts and statues of renowned għannejja, such as Pawlu Seychell, L-Għannej, Żaren Mifsud, Ta’ Vestru and Frans Baldacchino, Il-Budaj.

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