Persisting on the Sideline – part 1

Francesco Sultana

Vida speaks to Francesco Sultana, craftsman of traditional Maltese instruments to find out the motive behind such craft, in a day and age very often dominated by the latest electronic instruments.

“It all started at university really, when I came across the instruments at a series of lectures by Ruben Zahra. By the end of the year I tried to learn and make the reed for the Bedbut, which was partly successful due to a difficult process. I was aided by Ġużi Gatt, a linguist and folklorist who I look up to, as is the case with Ruben, for managing to preserve what’s now basically left. Ever since I finally got one right, I kept on practicing to the extent that I eventually started using it for my own music as well.

The Żummara was made by the rurals literally for the sake of fun, as 5 holes impose huge limitations as to what music one can genuinely produce. It was made from what was available by nature, and the Maltese cane (qasab), can act as a ready made tube. Canes are usually harvested in January or February and are then left to dry for a period of up to more than 18 months if still greenish. Sometimes a horn was added at the end to make the instrument louder. The Żummara is a primitive instrument, it does not work by tuning systems or so, however, one can still finetune and get lucky from time to time by getting one that can actually play a scale in tune.

In my case the primary goal is to have an instrument that actually plays well so I can use it for my own purposes in making music. The fact that not many people know about it pushes me to delve deeper into the traditional side of it, where I sometimes give workshops and set up stands to show people what other valid heritage we have.

Many tend to get curious about what these instruments sound like. The elderly, if they were ever lucky enough, would sometimes remember something done as a child themselves, nostalgically speaking. But most elderly have not even seen one throughout their whole life. Given that I haven’t released anything musical yet, my audience is only limited to workshops or stand set ups at festivals. However, it’s encouraging to see many people stopping by for a while to give a look or listen to such instruments. I have never yet encountered anyone who frowned in disinterest at the sight of such craft.”

© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Żahra