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All the feels

Ray Calleja and Ronald Briffa. Photos: Christine Joan Muscat-Azzopardi

Ray Calleja and Ronald Briffa. Photos: Christine Joan Muscat-Azzopardi

The theme turned political for this year’s eagerly-awaited Kelma Kelma Nota Nota concerts, and Ramona Depares finds the mix of kitsch and poignant as endearing as ever.

You would think we were all fed up of election talk, right? What with snap elections and all the drama that came before and after, hearing more about our (honourable?) MPs is the last thing we would be keen on.

Unless, of course, it is the amazing team behind Kelma Kelma Nota Nota (KKNN) that is doing the talking. Or the singing. And the dancing. Or all three. The theme behind KKNN – the series of concerts that showcase Maltese language, music and culture at quirky best – was Jekk Ittuna n-Number 1. And we all know they are fighting words in the Maltese political context. 

The KKNN concerts are the brainchild of Michael Spagnol (he who created the highly popular Kelma Kelma Facebook page), musician Daniel Cauchi (who also roped in the participation of his Big Band Brothers for that full orchestra effect) and showman extraordinaire Ray Calleja. Together, the trio forms an unlikely but super-effective team, and this year it was no different, with the concerts being so popular that the time was extended to one and a half hours, with an interval and an extra concert added on to the schedule. And, by the end of it, people still clamoured for more.

But let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start, especially with the extremely catchy Jekk Ittuna N-Number 1, a joint effort between Daniel and Ray. A truly funny piece that brought in all our favourite players from last June’s event of the year, from the powerduo Marlene and Godfrey; to Salvu Mallia and his rather brash statements; to Anne Fenech’s by now infamous (ahem) pastizz. 

An eclectic programme delivered by some very talented individuals

This, together with the next act, lost no time in setting the tone for the evening, taking the audience right where they wanted it to be without any ado. Barely had the last notes of Jekk Ittuna n-Number One sounded than the chords struck with that infamous 1980s Labour anthem that will surely have had many members of the audience cringing. But, of course, it is also this that makes the KKNN series such fun – this ironic celebration of Malta’s top cringe-worthy moments. The anthem heralded the arrival of comedian Ronald Briffa, clad in Labour red, of course, who proceeded to kick off a laugh-a-minute duel, with Ray playing the role of his PN counterpart.

The banter was interspersed with snatches from popular songs, not only in Maltese: Red, Red Wine and Marija l-Maltija being the most notable. But despite the constant bickering, the piece did end with a positive message urging everyone to put political differences aside. A tad too optimistic, perhaps?

Daniel CauchiDaniel Cauchi

The beauty of KKNN is that it somehow manages to mix the funny banter with the rousing kitsch songs and the poignant ones that are actually touching. All this, seamlessly. At no point does the audience feel that the jump in mood jars. Thus, the battibekk between Ray and Ronnie was followed by a beautifully touching track, the New Cuorey’s Bħal daż-Żmien Konna Flimkien, to which Anna Azzopardi lent her powerful voice. But things don’t dip for too long, and Trevor Zahra’s poem L-Ewwel Darba turned out to be the perfect follow-up, offering just the right amount of naughty giggles.

The evening showcased several songs and it’s impossible to go through them all, so I will stick to the highlights. The adaptation of Freddie Portelli’s Viva Malta u l-Maltin to pit the spotlight on Marlene and Godfrey was one such highlight, the lyrics witty and spot on. Morphing the popular tune into the Innu tal-Karnival towards the end was a stroke of comic genius. The same can be said for the KKNN version of David Azzopardi’s Hawn tal-Pastizzi, which became Hawn Konrad Mizzi and which, obviously, also paid tribute to the unlikely role the humble pastizz played in the last election. The theme itself may be predictable, but it’s execution was certainly not: the line about how Anne Fenech “taqbdu bit-tissue”, a very subtle double entendre that flies right over the heads of the younger audience members, was priceless. Who would have thought that the cheesecake would wind up as this year’s working class hero? 

Another highlight was the Big Band Brothers’ (who were on point all night) take on Tony Camilleri’s Rajt Ma Rajtx, a super cool percussion-based version that somehow reminded me of the energy of Jovanotti’s L’Ombelico del Mondo.

On the poignancy stakes, Bayzo’s Qalu li Raw scored very high, as did New Cuorey’s L-Aħħar Bidwi f’Wied Il-Għasel, at least with the audience. I have to admit that this year’s version of this iconic song was not among my favourites as I felt that it did not play up to the words’ and music’s famed introspective feel. But the audience lapped it up, so what do I know. 

Back to the funnies: the US-style presidential debate between Ray Putin and Ronald Trump tickled many a funny bone with puns galore. As did another Trevor Zahra poem, the title of which I missed, albeit in a less in-your-face manner. 

The concert came to an end with three crowd favourites: The Malta Bums’ L-ewwel Tfajla li Ħabbejt, Joe Grech’s Maria l- Maltija and Freddi Portelli’s Mur Ħallini – three very good choices that had the audience leaving Pjazza Teatru Rjal on a high. Once again KKNN generated all the smiles and all the feels with an eclectic programme delivered by some very talented individuals.

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