At All Around This World we’re not strangers to forms of cultural song that pit two improvising singers against each other with the goal of besting each other with the use of
supreme creative abilities–from the extempo wars of the Caribbean to Lebanese Zajal and beyond, the idea of pitting two poets against one another in jovial public battle is one that many concepts have embraced. In Malta, the “spirtu pront” form of the local folk music known as għanna–pronounced “ah-na” (the għ is silent)–is a particularly beloved form of art.
In a typical spirtu pront session, two għannejja are lined up against each other in what is imagined to be about an hour-long competition. The two għannejja start by introducing themselves (in song), then they start singing about a particular topic which has either been predetermined or just develops in the course of their musical conversation. The topics are
sometimes very serious, addressing social issues and political themes, but they generally deal with them using wit.
While each of the għannejja has a lot of latitude in what he sings, there are also
strict rules for the form. For example, each improvised response must a rhyme.
Plus, phrases should be in four lines, with 8 syllables in the first, 7 in the second, 8 in the third, 7 in the fourth. Third, the singers music use a poetic version of the ancient Maltese language which often has multiple meanings, draws heavily on proverbs and shared stories, and can come off as seeming self-righteous–which is why għannejja sometimes shake each other’s hands during the performance, letting the other know that what is being said is just for the competition and should not be taken personally.
A traditional spirtu pront has three guitars as accompaniment, with the guitars
performing a kind of music that has both Eastern and Western elements woven into it. The guitar playing provides time for each għannej to take a moment to think while coming up with a response. There is no distinctly chosen “winner” in a spirtu pront, though audiences know who got the best of whom, and a crowd will clearly have its favorite.
In class we’re going to try to be Maltese għannejja participating in a spirtu pront, verbally jousting about important issues of the day.
AllMalta.com/ghana = all għana, all the time. Go here for your introduction to għanna | watch a għana spirtu pront session featuring Tony Camilleri and il-Bambinu | For even more information, including a nice description of a spirtu pront session, visit Wikipedia’s entry on the various forms of għana” folk music from Malta