The Etnika project was launched in August 2000 to
build awareness of traditional Maltese music and to
revive Maltese music traditions which have either
become extinct or are near to extinction. Etnika’s
recovery of ancient folk instruments has sparked
popular interest by weaving together island and
regional traditional strains with classical European
influences and a variety of contemporary sounds from
rock to electronica.
In England, Maltese researcher and music enthusiast
Steve Borg stumbled upon 16 Maltese folk melodies,
airs and dances and in Malta he found mid-20th
century recordings of the instrument known as iż-żaqq
(the stomach), which is a type of bagpipes, in the
archives of PBS.
Borg enlisted the help of ethnomusicologist Ġużi
Gatt to reconstruct Maltese folk instruments that
had fallen into disuse. Gatt tracked down former
players, and experimented with local natural
materials to produce replicas of iż-żaqq.
He also developed a prototype iż-żummara,
a reed pipe with a single cane and reed, usually
amplified with a cow’s horn bell. He went on to
il-fifra (cane whistle flute),
(a frame drum with a goatskin head) and iż-żafżafa
(a friction drum with a ceramic body and goatskin
Maltese composer Ruben Zahra taught himself to play
the instruments and used them to compose new music.
He says: “I have tried to create a unique modern
sound, not a museum piece.”
Etnika has since cultivated an expanding audience.
“People hadn’t actually heard these instruments
before,” says Andrew Alamango.