Maltese trio Trania will be launching their album later this week. I caught up with musician and artist Walter Vella to hear about the group’s  Mediterranean style music.

What is the story behind the name?

The band’s name is derived from the Maltese word tranja meaning a swell from the sea and it bears a direct meaning of our music. The swell that constantly hits our shores is coming from a far-off unknown source, in a way like our music. The music is a blend of many styles, styles that as mature musicians we have been exposed to throughout our career.

Where does the band derive its influence?

Our music comes from everywhere, but we try to stay close to home, i.e. the Mediterranean basin, where the rich and diverse cultures surrounding its shores generate currents which reverberate and mutate to all four corners of this enclosed sea.

The band started out playing chill out music based mainly on rhythmic patterns and improvisation, with a light, obscure melody.  After a while this extended to include some original compositions and I had this idea to include the Maltese reed flute, the flejguta, in our repertoire. I was also experimenting with three-piece bands at the time, having released two experimental albums, Take Off with Nazca, and Advanced Decomposition, an art/music project.

How did the trio come together?

I opted for the trio sound in order to give the band members more space to play. The three members of  Trania all come from different musical backgrounds and apart from this group  we are busy with other bands and projects.

Mark Attard is a member of the band Fakawi and gigging all over the island as session musician.  We met when I was playing regularly at BJs in Paceville in the 90’s and then we played together in a band with singer William Mangion.

Jason ‘Chubby’ Fabri, our percussionist started out in rock music, He was also a core member of the popular Maltese folk/ethnic group Etnika, and when I joined them in 2000 we played together and travelled extensively for 8 years. I was also involved in his excellent album From where I live,  which was released in 2002. I personally was involved in many other bands and projects and was lucky to have had the chance to travel and record albums along the way.

What can you tells us about this first CD?

Called Trania, the CD is the fruit of 4 years work. The compositions are all original and the challenge was to do something contemporary and yet give the music that Maltese/Mediterranean feel. It is not a true folk music CD by any measure as we unashamedly play a hybrid mix of rock, jazz, chill-out, traditional and other styles. I use the flejguta extensively and a few of the compositions were written specifically with that instrument in mind. I also play the concert and alto flutes and soprano saxophone, while Mark plays piano and synths/bass. Jason plays a mix of drum kit and a darbouka/djemba ensemble.

 How does the CD fit within today’s music industry?

These last few years, musicians have taken a nose dive in that now you have the ascent of the almighty DJ Demigod. Believe it or not there are a lot of people out there that don’t know a guitar from a piano if they see one. They have no idea what music with instruments is all about as they only listen to ‘drum and bass’, trance etc. Gone are the days when all 4 and 5 star hotels used to employ one and sometimes two quartets daily in their hotels, and people used to go there to listen and dance. Thank goodness I was part of that scene as late as the mid 90’s. These days, small establishments are hosting bands, which is a positive thing. But these usually have limited space and a small audience. Through Ghanafest and to a certain extent Etnika, traditional and contemporary folk music is gaining in popularity, with a few bands forming specifically to play this genre of music.

The main aim of this debut CD is to try and move away from the standard folk idiom that many people perceive, and present our ethnic musical heritage through a different lens. I particularly like the songs Taxxa tax Xik and Maqbud fl’ghanqbut as both make full use of the flejguta throughout the whole number. Għanja, with the participation of the soprano, is probably the most popular thanks to its pure and sweet melody. The most experimental and “out there” composition has to be Għar Rih isfel, where I play two flejgutas simultaneously, accompanied only with percussion and monotone bass, with 3 different rhythmic patterns crisscrossing each other. Other pieces are more traditional and we have a couple of chill-out influenced numbers. Although the album may seem like a mixed bag, there is a unifying mood that is evident throughout.


What are your own personal influences?

Throughout my early career many bands and musicians influenced me. Many of these are rather obscure early 70’s progressive rock bands like King Crimson, East of Eden and Blood sweat and tears who all bordered a lot on jazz. By the mid eighties I was totally hooked on the jazz rock/latin sounds of Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Brazilians like Hermeto Pascaul and Airto Moreira. I also try to listen to world music from anywhere in the world. There is an enormous well of creativity out there.

 Butterflies before performing?

It’s always important to let the adrenaline flow before a concert, but that usually vanishes when we play the first notes though. In a band like ours, where improvisation is always overlapping melody lines, team work is very important. We have to constantly listen and feel each other’s vibe.

I have been lucky in that I played with the best musicians locally. I have played with some excellent musicians abroad and am looking into ways of collaborating and performing with other foreign musicians as well.

 Where do you find your inspiration?

Our source of inspiration is usually other musicians and listening to their music. One of the ‘secrets’ in jazz for instance is to listen endlessly to the leaders. Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans etc. They themselves have drawn inspiration from other sources of music, many times ethnic music from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

 Your thoughts about the music industry today?

Technology is what it is and you can’t fight it. Rather one has to find ways how to utilize it and make it work to your benefit. This is one of Trania’s main aims, merging modern sounds of synthesizers and electric piano with traditional instruments like the flejguta and North African percussion plus modern drum kit.

Trania’s will be launching their CD with a live performance by the band at Palazzo De Piro in Mdina, on Wednesday June 6 at 20:00. Entrance is free of charge. This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund, Palazzo De Piro and Music Link.

This interview was published on The Times TV Guide.