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Recording the story of Malta’s lost music

This was the decade of the young Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey.

In the 1930s the pop charts were not born and there was no television.

But record-players were becoming a part of our lives... and saw the birth of the long-playing record at 33 rpm.

Next would come radio.

The new, young music was with us every day ... but it was not all about the young kid on the block Frank Sinatra and the others from across the water. It was about Malta ’s singers, too.

Sadly, many of their recordings are lost. But the drive to keep the first Maltese records from the 1930s accessible to the public continues with the release of an affordable double CD yesterday, which retains the “tangible” feel of the nation that music is losing.

Malta’s Lost Voices project, initiated two years ago by musico-logist and researcher Andrew Alamango, did not stop with the collection, cataloguing, digitising, sound restoration and collation in a high-quality CD-book form, which is now out of print and lacks the funds to be reproduced.

Through the release of more CDs in the series, Mr Alamango wants to guarantee that the Maltese music recorded in 1931 and 1932 in Tunis and Milan – which is now available in a database at the National Archives in Rabat – would not die out.

“It has a huge educational importance in terms of our identity, history, language and grammar, as well as politics,” he said.

Now he hopes his pilot project in sound preservation, supported by the National Archives and the Education Ministry, will lead to the setting up of a national sound archive, which the country lacks.

It could be an example of how to go about it and the first step towards it, he maintains.

The whole collection includes 160 records and is the earliest documented sound of the country, which Mr Alamango describes as an “audio photograph or sonic sculpture of the time”.

Sourced from families who inherited them, flea markets, antique shops and collectors worldwide, they have all been digitised but only 30 have been published so far.

One CD includes għana, guitar and instrumental music, as well as parlanti (comic storytelling, accompanied by small orchestras), while the other focuses on the tangos and waltzes of the dance culture in cafés and restaurants during the interwar period.

“The music was genuine, authentic and gutsy. It was not done for recording purposes,” Mr Alamango said.

The idea is to have a series of “vintage, regional, collector’s items, which tell the whole story”, in this case by reproducing it in the style of an old newspaper of the time, and reproducing the book in CD format.

“It is about creative and tang-ible packaging. It is not about the music alone but about the stories and experiences which complement it, and vice-versa.”

The ongoing release of vintage music from Malta by Filfla Records, Mr Alamango’s local music label, will also include a vinyl in September.

“We are missing the tangibility and high-quality sound of the vinyl now that we are accustomed to listening to music on laptops and iPhones, moving from the physical needle on the gramophone record, savouring the sound and reading the sleeve notes to today’s digital disposable music,” Mr Alamango said of the changing technology and experience of music for modern listeners.

“I recall listening to an LP for three weeks at a stretch, moving the needle back and forth.

“Now, we are exposed to more and can have a playlist of five gigabytes of music, which we do not even listen to and do not appreciate owning.”

In his quest to keep the first music of the past alive, a documentary is in the pipeline and Mr Alamango also intends to organise public listening sessions for the records.

During his research, stories of agents and musicians have been coming to light and Mr Alamango has also stumbled upon Malta’s first recording machine.

It was bought by the owner of the Carabott music store in Merchants Street, Valletta, from the Marquis Scicluna in the 1920s and is now in the hands of the National Archives.

The “gem” is a steel tower that musicians could step into, with side shutters they could draw around them to avoid external noise, throw in a coin and record their sounds into a microphone for a limited time.

These were engraved on a little aluminium disc at 78 revolutions per minute, which was then spat out and could be listened to through headphones.

The plan is to raise funds to restore the machine, which is on display at Damato Records in Valletta, where the double CD was launched yesterday.

www.filflarecords.com

According to the website www.digitaldreamdoor.com the top 50 songs of the 1930s were ...

1. In The Mood - Glenn Miller

2. God Bless America - Kate Smith

3. Over The Rainbow - Judy Garland/ Glenn Miller

4. Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) - Benny Goodman

5. Silent Night, Holy Night - Bing Crosby

6. Minnie The Moocher - Cab Calloway

7. Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday

8. Crossroads Blues - Robert Johnson

9. Moonlight Serenade - Glenn Miller

10. If I Didn’t Care - Ink Spots

11. Mood Indigo - Duke Ellington

12.One O’Clock Jump - Count Basie/ Benny Goodman/Harry James

13. Wabash Cannon Ball - Roy Acuff

14. Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye) - Carter Family

15. Stormy Weather - Ethel Waters/Leo Reisman (Harold Arlen)

16. Body And Soul - Coleman Hawkins/ Paul Whiteman/Libby Holman

17. I’m In The Mood For Love - Louis Armstrong / Little Jack Little

18. Begin The Beguine - Artie Shaw

19. I Can’t Get Started - Bunny Berigan

20. A Tisket, A Tasket - Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb’s Orchestra

21. All Or Nothing At All - Frank Sinatra with Harry James

22. Don’t Be That Way - Benny Goodman

23. Pennies From Heaven - Bing Crosby/ Eddy Duchin/Teddy Wilson featuring Billie Holiday

24. Roll ‘Em Pete - Pete Johnson & Joe Turner

25. Tea For Two - Art Tatum

26. Heartaches - Ted Weems

27. Cheek To Cheek - Fred Astaire/Eddy Duchin/Guy Lombardo

28. Deep Purple - Larry Clinton (Bea Wain)/ Jimmy Dorsey

29. Boogie Woogie - Tommy Dorsey

30. At The Woodchoppers Ball –

Woody Herman

31. Stein Song (University Of Maine) -

Rudy Vallee

32. It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) - Duke Ellington (Ivie Anderson)/Mills Brothers

33. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? - Bing Crosby/Rudy Vallee

34. Night And Day - Fred Astaire & Leo Reisman/Eddy Duchin

35. Cherokee - Charlie Barnet

36. Marie - Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard)

37. Puttin’ On The Ritz - Harry Richman with Earl Burtnett

38. The Way You Look Tonight - Fred Astaire/Guy Lombardo/Teddy Wilson featuring Billie Holiday

39. Star Dust - Louis Armstrong/Benny Goodman/Tommy Dorsey

40. Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen -

Andrews Sisters

41. And The Angels Sing - Benny Goodman (Martha Tilton)

42. All Of Me - Louis Armstrong/Paul Whiteman (Mildred Bailey)

43. Cocktails For Two - Duke Ellington

44. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You - Tommy Dorsey

45. Heart And Soul - Larry Clinton

46. Stompin’ At The Savoy - Benny Goodman/Chick Webb

47. Back In The Saddle Again – Gene Autry

48. Tumbling Tumbleweeds - Sons Of

The Pioneers

49. My Prayer - Ink Spots/Glenn Miller

50.Once In A While - Tommy Dorsey/ Horace

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