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Public Lecture: Music Matters XXXVII - Dr. PHILIP CIANTAR (University of Malta) "Saying it differently: Political activism and parody songs in Malta"

When:We 26-04-2023 17:00 - 18:30
Where:Heymanszaal, Academy building

This is a public lecture in the Music Matters series.


The use of parody songs in politics, especially in electoral campaigns, is widely considered to be an effective means by which political messages are transmitted in a way which is familiar, accessible, enjoyable, and appealing. The present paper scrutinises the value and use of parody songs in Maltese politics by focusing on three examples derived from the Maltese popular music repertoire. Scrutiny of these examples is set against snapshots from Malta’s political history most relevant to each.

The discussion commences by considering a number of political parody songs by the then popular Maltese singer Gaetano Buttigieg (1923-2004), also known at that time as Gaetano Kanta. Buttigieg’s political parody songs examined here were concerned with the politico-religious conflict of the early 1960s between the Maltese Catholic Church and the Malta Labour Party as well as with the electoral campaigns that were held in Malta around the same time.

The historical context complementing these initial examples then serves as a background for the discussion related to parody songs from the environment of għana (Malta’s folk song) which offer a contrasting perspective to that of Buttigieg.

Subsequently, the discussion then passes on to focus on a political parody song from the years leading to the 1987 general election and the use of popular tunes from local festive band marches for that purpose.

In order to provide further insights into what these songs meant and how they were made to mean in their respective social and historical context the discussion will also consider some related aesthetic perspectives most relevant to each example.

About the speaker

Philip Ciantar is an Associate Professor in the Department of Music Studies, School of Performing Arts (University of Malta) where he teaches ethnomusicology and related areas. Following his first degree from the University of Malta, he furthered his musical studies at the University of Durham (UK) where he graduated with an MA in ethnomusicology. He also holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Sheffield. His research interests lie in the areas of Andalusian music; Mediterranean music of the oral tradition; Maltese popular music; music and colonialism; the transmission of musical knowledge; and musical analysis in world music studies. His publications include articles in a variety of journals and edited volumes, as well as entries in leading music encyclopedias. Among his publications are two monographs: The Ma’lūf in Contemporary Libya: An Arab Andalusian Musical Tradition (Ashgate 2012; Routledge 2016) and Studies in Maltese Popular Music (Routledge 2021).

In addition to his research, Prof. Ciantar is also active in musical composition and produced a number of works for voice, symphonic orchestras, brass ensembles, concert bands, and string orchestras. Some of these compositions are published by Universal Edition (Vienna). He is a member of the scholarly editorial board of the online encyclopedia 'Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart' (MGG) ['Music in the Past and Present'] and Liaison Officer for Malta at the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM).