Maltese Folk Music and Singing: Ghana
Traditional Maltese folk music has deep roots that date back to the 16th century, since music has always played an important part in the every day life of Maltese people.
This type of local folk music is called ghana in Maltese (not to be mistaken with the country Ghana).
It can safely be said that folk music in Malta was heavily influenced by its geographical location. In fact, researchers state that ghana is a combination of the famous Sicilian ballad mixed with Arabic tunes.
In the old days, visitors to the Maltese islands used to comment that they were very impressed with the Maltese people’s seemingly natural ability to sing and ryhme.
This folk singing was widespread on the islands and you could hear men and women singing while doing their daily activities on the farm, in the fields or around the house.
Ghana was in fact the music of peasants, fishermen and working class men and women.
A close look at the lyrics will reveal that each song usually recounts a story about life in the village or some important event in Malta history.
Street hawkers used to sing folk songs to attract attention to their products and declare how their products where better than the ones the seller next to them was selling! That’s traditional Maltese marketing for you!
The acoustic guitar is the prominent musical instrument in Maltese ghana
Nowadays the ghannej (meaning folk singer) is usually accompanied by three guitarists. However, in the old days there used to be other musicians accompanying the singer.
Musical instruments used included the zaqq (a form of bagpipes), the zavzava (a type of drum), the tambur (a tambourine), the argunett (a mouth harp) and the accordion.
Types of Ghana
There are many types of Maltese folk singing but perhaps the two main categories are the following:
BOTTA U RISPOSTA (or Spirtu Pront)
This type of ghana requires a lot of skill and is the most popular form of ghana. Usually sung by two singers, this is more like a song-duel. Each singer has to come up with fresh verses on the spot so whoever’s singing must be a quick thinker and also has the uncanny ability to ryhme. Nothing is prepared beforehand so it’s all improvised singing!
This type of folk singing is very melancholic and in this type of ghana, the singer usually recounts a story that ends tragically.
Where can you hear traditional Maltese folk music and singing?
In the centre and south of Malta, some band clubs and bars organize Ghana Nights.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across some impromptu folk singing in a village bar!
Prominent heritage and cultural events usually include ghana singing as well.
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