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Għana, (pron. aa-na) is the generic term for Maltese folk song.  Historically, several styles of għana flourished but today there are three main categories:


(quick wit, literally ‘ready spirit’) Spirtu Pront is essentially an improvised song duels between two għannejja, each trying to outsmart the other in argument.  Generally, two song duels are held simultaneously:  the first singer matched against the third, the second against the fourth.  Such an arrangement gives each singer more time to compose a response.  Usually, the subject of the duel emerges early in the encounter itself, with the singers provoking their adversary.

Manuel Beġiġ, & Gabriel Żeżin

TAL-FATT (factual)

Għana tal-Fatt usually only involves one għannej.  Nowadays, the singer is often the composer of the lyrics; whereas in earlier times, certainly in the first half of the twentieth century, it was common for għannejja to sing texts composed by others and published in għana booklets.  The subject of fattijiet may be tragic or comic and may be based on actual events or fiction.


Salvu Kalora, Lippu from Imqabba, brothers Frans & Toni Sponoz

FIL-GĦOLI (high-pitched)

While the other two styles (Spirtu Pront and Fatt) are driven by verbal play and narrative, għana fil-għoli favours the musical qualities of the voice as the song develops in melodic contours over the regular pulse of the guitar.  The prolonged melisma of the words draws the listener along with them, inviting him to stay with the sense and colour of the sound, rather than attempt to follow the meaning of the words.


Kelinu, Ciranu, Fredrick, Salvu & Toni










Għana is as much a part of our heritage as the Neolithic temples and the Baroque churches, says Ruben Zahra.  And, like those, it’s here to stay.

Who is the għannej?

The għannej is more than just a singer.  He is a poet with the capacity of improvising verse in rhythm and in rhyme.  The most popular style of għana is known as Spirtu Pront, essentially, an improvised song-duel between two għannejja.  Usually, the subject of the duel emerges early in the encounter itself, with the singers provoking their adversary.  The għannej demonstrates his ability in the craft by observing the correct metre of the verse, matching the rhyme and composing a clever argument to outsmart his opponent.

Would you say għana remains the domain of the older generation? 

Is it dying; or has it made a comeback?  In what way is it changing?

A lot of people might have the impressin that għana is dying out or that it is only fostered by old-timers.  Għana has always been a subculture.  Għana sessions are hardly ever publicised on the official media or on national cultural calendars.  Għana sessions take place every Sunday morning in a few wine bars around Malta and the enthusiasts that follow għana are well aware of these hubs.  Every fortnight or so, other sessions are organised – that are disseminated simply by word of mouth.  There are several young għannejja and folk guitarists.  The youngest protagist is seven years old Nordai Desira from Żejtun, who sings with his grandfather Joseph Muscat ‘in-Nizza.’

How much does Maltese music tell us about ourselves as people, our past and our culture?

How Much of it has been lost?  How much can be revived?  And should we care?

Maltese folk music portrays an interesting mix of different Mediterranean ingredients that, in many ways, represents the Maltese character.  The Maltese bagpipe, iż-Żaqq, is probably of Aegean origin; yet the terminology of all its different parts is Arabic.  The guitar music that accompanies għana fil-Għoli, another style of Maltese  folksong, is sung on a high vocal register with a distinct melodic contour reminiscent of other forms of Mediterranean chant.  I believe that every country should preserve, foster and care about its own heritage.  Għana is part of our heritage, just as much as the Neolithic temples and the Baroque churches.