time to explore with esplora

Traditional Għana music placed on UNESCO list of cultural heritage

Traditional Għana music placed on UNESCO list of cultural heritage

That’s right, folks! The traditional Għana folk music has been placed on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage of mankind, following unanimous approval!

The decision to approve Malta’s application for the music was made during the 16th meeting of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee, which was held in Paris. The application required the consent of the communities concerned and therefore, a number of signatures from għannejja and għana enthusiasts were collected, with a group even submitting a video emphasising their support for the initiative in, of course, għana form.

Għana folk music is, in fact, the second element of the intangible Maltese cultural heritage that has gained international recognition, with the first being the Maltese ftira, which was included on the list last year.

The same meeting also added the rumba dance from Congo to the list, sparking absolute delight and joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. It joined the Cuban rumba, the Central African Republic’s polyphonic pygmy music and the drums of Burundi.

What exactly is Għana?

Traditional folk singing, Għana, has a number of variations including Għana tal-fatt, Bormla għana and għana spirtu pront.

The first, which translates to factual għana, is a long, narrative poem sung by a soloist, usually from memory, to record important local events in collective memory. The second, Bormla għana, makes use of simple lyrics, sung using a large vocal range and a specific style, where a single syllable is sung while moving several notes in succession. This style was historically sung by women but has declined in popularity today, by comparison to the more male-dominated quick-wit style.

Speaking of the quick-wit style, għana spirtu pront is the most popular form of għana. It’s an improvised duel between one or two pairs of singers, which focuses on rhymes, convincing argumentation and witty repartee.

The community includes guitarists and singers called għanejja, who regularly perform in local bars or domestic environments. A strong camaraderie develops between the performers and audience through friendly exchange, as the sharing of jokes an recalling of shared experiences is commonplace, fostering a sense of shared identity and community.

Għana, originally practiced primarily in farming and fishing areas in the inner harbour region has become more popular among the general public in Malta. That being said, there are currently no formal organisations for community members and there’s no formal register of performers, but informal estimates place the number at around 250! Men predominate among public performers and audience members today, though women are starting to perform again, especially in contemporary styles.

What do you think of this news?