Singing to the tune of a dream
She is born in Malta, sings in Spain and is known as Troffa Ħamra. Singer and musician RUTH ABELA is temporarily back on home soil to perform with her band, Los Mechones. She tells Ramona Depares how she is living her dream performing in Barcelona.
She is born in Malta, sings in Spain and is known as Troffa Ħamra. Singer and musician Ruth Abela is temporarily back on home soil to perform with her band, Los Mechones. She tells Ramona Depares how she is living her dream performing in Barcelona.
Ruth Abela’s music career was pretty set in Malta – or so she thought, before she packed up a suitcase for what she planned to be a six-month stint travelling around Spain “meeting musicians and sharing musical experiences”.
Having established herself firmly on the Maltese scene – playing the saxophone with bands that ranged from folk groups Zizza Ensemble and Brikkuni, to the more classical Johann Strauss Big Band and Siggy’s Band right to the punk/ska band The I Skandal – the plan was to get back on track in Malta right after the Spanish holiday.
It wasn’t to be. Abela fell in love with Barcelona pretty much immediately. Making friends, particularly within the musiccommunity, was not a problem and before she knew it she was reading for a Masters in Music Therapy in the Spanish city that never sleeps.
This was two years ago to the month. Since then, not only has Abela achieved her dream to start writing her own songs and to bring together her own ensemble, but she’s also established herself rather firmly on the Spanish gigging circuit.
“I had never found the right time and opportunity to follow this dream. Then in Barcelona, after I paid for my tuition I suddenly found myself without money and without a job. I decided to start playing in the metro and in the streets to survive.”
Although musically Abela had always considered herself as a “Jack of all trades”, playing a variety of instruments, it suddenly hit her this was really ‘her’, singing and playingthe guitar.
“Everyone used to warn me off trying to be a full-time musician. So I opted to become a physiotherapist. I still love that profession but I’d never realised how rewarding it is to live from music. It’s not easy and it doesn’t make you rich, but being able to survive doing what you really like to do is incredible.”
Busking in major cities is rather cutthroat, but Abela was an immediate hit, withpeople asking her for the names of the tracks she’d play, wanting to look up the music online. There was still a dream to achieve, however; that of getting together her own band. Abela decided to go for it.
“I met Maria, a classical tuba player from Barcelona, when I was reading for myMasters. She knew Eloi, the trumpeter, who knew Feliu the drummer... and with this chain of friends we started to get the songs together.
“In the meantime I met Rafa, a jazz and rock guitarist; he fit perfectly in the band. That was it: Troffa Ħamra and Los Mechones was born.”
Abela tells me that all the musicians in the band come from different musical backgrounds, covering jazz, rock, classical and funk. Abela’s songs also present a fusion of the genres she loves best – from reggae to bossa nova, swing, funk and flamenco.
You could say that it was through busking that Abela finally found her window ofopportunity. Busking is something she would love to see more of in Malta – not for the money, she adds, given that you don’t encounter many buskers with ‘rags to riches’ stories.
“Busking offers Maltese musicians the opportunity of a full-time job in music. The ambience and atmosphere that are created when making music in the streets are second to none.
“In Malta, many equate the idea of playing in the streets to ‘begging’. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Music is made to be shared, so why limit it only to concerts in theatres and bars? Also, busking works both ways: people who are interested and who stop to listen and enjoy should leave a coin as an appreciation...why not?”
It is clear that the widespread belief that it is very difficult to make a career out of music is one of the things Abela would love to change about the Maltese way of thinking. She remembers how everyone discouragedher from following her first choice (music)at university.
However, unlike Frank Sinatra, for Abela it’s not a case of ‘regrets, I’ve had a few’ but more a case of no regrets whatsoever.
Today, she tells me, she’s absolutely comfortable with her band, living every performance to the max. She mentions the time the group played at the Harlem Jazz Club, one of the premiere concert bars in Barcelona.
“I was afraid we wouldn’t fill the place, but it was packed. The owner offered us another gig. That was pretty cool, of course. Now I’m really excited to be playing with my band in Malta. I’ve been wanting to share my music with my fellow Maltese friends and I’m quite curious to see how it will be received. Many Maltese know me as a sax player, not asa singer.”
Next on the horizon is recording a CD together with Les Mechones. I ask her about her inspirations, about what gets her into the song-writing groove, so to speak.
Abela views song-writing as quite a personal experience, a therapeutic way of expressing her anger, sadness, happiness, impatience and other myriad human emotions.
“I am inspired by strong emotions like love or heartbreak. I never write a song because I ‘want’ to, but I only because I ‘need’ to. All tracks represent different stages of my life.”
She stops for a minute to think.
“I guess if there’s anything I’ve learnt from this whole journey, it’s that dreams are an important and serious matter. You need to work hard to achieve them.”
Troffa Ħamra and Los Mechones, supported by Zalza Kukkanja and KazinSka, will be performing next Sunday at Zion Reggae Bar, St Thomas Bay at 7 p.m. and on July 11 at Gardjola Gardens, Senglea at 8 p.m. (free entrance). The event is supported by the Malta Arts Fund and by Senglea council. For more information visit www.facebook.com/troffahamraylosmechones.