Philip Ciantar

From the Bar to the Stage:
Socio-musical Processes in the Maltese Spirtu Pront

The term ghana ('singing', pronounced aana) (1) refers to a genre of Maltese traditional folk singing, which in itself incorporates three main sub-genres: la bormliza (2), tal-fatt (3) and the spirtu pront (4). All ghana singing involves a tight voice type with the straining of throat muscles and controlled use of diaphragm muscles to produce a loud sound (5). The most practised nowadays is the spirtu pront (literally 'quick witted'): a style of improvised rhymed-singing, which in its contemporary form is performed by either four or six ghannejja ('singers', pronounced anneyia), accompanied on guitars. In the spirtu pront, two to three song-duels (depending on the number of participating ghannejja) unfold simultaneously on the basis of a riposte (botta) and counter-riposte (risposta). 

The spirtu pront is performed by urban working class men mainly in village bars and clubs; almost no women sing it (6). Spirtu pront sessions are also organized on popular feasts such as Imnarja (a Maltese folk festival) and during Maltese 'traditional evenings' (the latter are very popular in summer especially during the week preceding the village or town festa). One can also listen to the spirtu pront on radio and television especially on Sunday mornings. Due to the popularity of the spirtu pront, the term ghana is sometimes used as to refer specifically to this kind of singing by both the ghannejja and the Maltese public in general. 

The present essay attempts to show how during a spirtu pront performance, the type of audience and the various kinds of pre-existing social ties that may exist both among the performers themselves and between performers and members of the audience can influence, and in certain cases determine, the execution of this kind of event. This essay will focus on these social relationships, considering them as active agents behind a series of socio-musical processes that can vary from one context to another, making out of every spirtu pront session a unique experience for both the performers and audience. The arguments brought together here will be based on ethnographic descriptions of two contrasting sessions. A number of musical examples elicited from the same sessions will also be analyzed. The performances occurred in the summer of 1995 in two quite distinct contexts: one in a small village bar with an audience mainly composed of ghana dilettanti, while the second session took place on Imnarja eve in a much more formal context in the presence of an audience having a variety of interests in what they were listening to and watching (7). The situations examined in this paper will continue to shed light on the fascinating quality of the spirtu pront. The latter, apart from having the dual quality of being rooted both in history and in contemporary social realities, is a clear index of people's ancient traditions and, interestingly enough, of the same people's current tastes (cf. Nettl 1973: 5). 

  1. Ghana in Maltese Culture and Society
  2. The Spirtu Pront: Style, Performance Practice and Context 
  3. Towards an Ethnography of Spirtu Pront Performance 
  4. Conclusion 
  5. References 
  6. Endnotes 

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