Janelle Borg (of Maltese punk band Cryptic Street) reports on the women at the forefront of the Maltese music scene, exclusively for LOUD WOMEN
I have been raised by the Maltese music scene. From when I started getting involved in bands and musical projects at the tender age of thirteen, my life involved gigs, rehearsals, studio sessions, organizing events, seeing venues in Malta open and close, hanging out in iconic bars and cafes popular with the local scene, and the like. For a country with a grand total of 475,700 inhabitants, Malta’s underground scene has flourished in spite of a lot of obstacles. Being a woman in this scene, it felt natural to continue this series by interviewing some game-changing players in my homeland’s underground scene, that are helping to break the glass-ceiling and promote women’s involvement in music.
Alison Galea – an alternative music pioneer and chameleon who, along the years, has been vital in establishing a couple of Malta’s most innovative musical projects.
Leona Farrugia – a young artiste and arts apasionado experimenting in music and photography.
Yasmin Kuymizakis a.k.a Yews – An electronic musician, sound artist and sound designer. Additionally, she’s the co-founder of Malta Sound Women Network, which aims to connect, support, mentor, promote and educate women and girls in electronic music and sound.
1. >>Can you introduce yourself and your involvement in music?
Alison: My main roles in music are being a part of Beangrowers, formed in the 90s, The Shh, a duo side-project, and Etnika, Malta’s first and most-known Maltese “tripfolk” bands. Over the years I have also participated in other projects, including Phillip Boa and the Voodooclub (Germany) and French jazz band, Festen.
Leona: Generally, I try not to label anything, so I don’t really categorize myself as a ‘musician’. I try to be creative every day, so for me personally, it’s more of a creative thing and a way how to express my thoughts, creating something thanks to these thoughts. I started out with Cryptic Street. Together with the original members, the band started in secondary school as a school project. The girls really believed in what I can offer, and I continued to work after that.
Yasmin: I have my one-woman electronic act called YEWS, plus I am one of the founders of the Malta Sound Women Network which is an organisation affiliated with the Yorkshire Sound Women Network (UK). We aim to bring like-minded women together; to share knowledge and skills in music and sound technology, sonic arts, production, audio-electronics…and anything to do with using a kit to create sound.
2. >>How would you describe the Maltese music scene?
A: The Maltese music scene is very rich in genres and has grown so much in recent years, but it’s comparable to a goldfish in a bowl. It lacks the freedom to be more explorative because alternative artists are not really understood by most. It is also restrictive in terms of performance spaces and audiences.
Y: For a tiny island, we have a lot of talent. We have some good popular music from bands such as The New Victorians, but I’m more familiar and involved in the underground scene in which there’s a pretty good variety of music. For example, some hip hop from 215 Collective, industrial techno from Llimbs, electro/house from Jupiter Jax, classical and experimental from Jess Rymer and Tricia Dawn Williams, quirky lo-fi hits from Bark Bark Disco, and I can’t leave out Malta’s alternative gods: Brodu, Beangrowers and Brikkuni… just to mention a few!
L: It has a lot of potential, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Maltese and I’m in a band….but there aren’t a lot of people who try to go beyond Malta and break internationally. It is easy to get comfortable in Malta. But seeing it from another perspective, Maltese people have a lot of things to offer and it’s such a shame that they just get too comfortable sometimes.
3. >>What is your most memorable music-related moment in Malta?
A: My most memorable music-related moment in Malta was when I got to perform “The Priest” with Beangrowers at the European Film Awards party to Wim Wenders. He danced and sang along to all the words. It was a proud moment for us as a band and for me as a lyricist, because he not only invited us to form part of his film’s soundtrack but he actually really knew and liked the song.
L: I think, for me personally, it’s when I supported The Hives with my other band nosnow/noalps. I mean, meeting them backstage and eating pizza with them is quite a thing….definitely a highlight!
Y: My most memorable moment must be performing at the yearly Xmas event Pudina in 2016. This party is organised by another extremely talented Maltese musician, Danjeli, and has been going strong for over ten years now. When Danjeli asked me to perform, I was nervous as my music was too mellow for a club setting. So I wrote and produced a completely new set specifically to suit the space. And wow! Did that go well! I got a lot of support and encouragement from that gig. It was a beautiful night.
4. >>Do you think that women and non-binary folk are well-represented in Malta’s underground music scene?
A: I am happy to see more female musicians these days because they express a sense of freedom in the way they perform which is way better than a decade or more ago. However, there are still too few women making music out there than I would like to see/hear. Till now, Malta’s underground music scene still remains a very male-dominated scene. I want to see more Maltese women kicking ass on stage!
L: Maybe? I think it’s a yes…but the thing is I really hate these labels. After all, we’re a bunch of musicians…a bunch of creatives. Personally, I support everyone, whoever you are, and whatever you label yourself as.
Y: Malta’s underground music scene, like everywhere else, is very much male-dominated. In the past, I have noticed festival line-ups and events with not one single woman/non-binary on the bill. However, things are changing, slowly, but they definitely keep getting better. Organisations like Electronic Music Malta, for example, organise events that promote women in electronic music and are very supportive to the Malta Sound Women Network. Moreover, more women are joining the underground music scene and performing on a regular basis. I can mention bands like Fuzzhoneys and Cryptic Street, and electronic artists such as Hearts Beating in Time, Sunta and Princess Wonderful.
5. Any future plans for you and your projects?
A: Working on releasing a new album with Beangrowers in 2019 and also hoping to release another video for one our new tracks. One day I would like to create my own solo project comprising of songs I have written in different phases of my life.
L: There’s definitely something cooking. With Cryptic Street we’ve just recorded some material. As a creative, I’m trying to involve myself in different projects. I’m also trying to get more into studying different disciplines in order to have more ‘solid’ work. I think that the job of an artist is not to focus on one specific, boring thing, but to constantly experiment and challenge yourself.
Y: As Yews, I am working on an EP at the moment. With MSWN, we are working on making things more official and becoming a Voluntary Organisation. We have plenty of ideas for workshops. On the 13th of February, we have an event in collaboration with EMM (Electronic Music Malta). We have a screening of the documentary ’Raw Chicks. Berlin’ with an introduction by Jess Rymer and I (founders of MSWN) and a performance by Juliane Wolf.