An edited version of this review was published on The Sunday Times.
If there’s one summer event that is guaranteed to gather the alternative/indie crowd, then that’s the annual summer concert given by Maltese folk group Brikkuni. Only, maybe against likely odds, these musicians have managed to strike a chord also with the mainstream – which means that this season’s gig found a hugely assorted crowd showing up at the old English prison, which is where the event was held.
I was particularly tickled to spot a granny who has definitely seen the best part of six decades swaying along to It-Tnejn. Really.
A word about the venue. I had already attended a gig by Paradise Lost and the (now defunct) Lesser Gods at the old Prison near Paola. For those with an eye for this sort of thing, the place is fabulously evocative and a casual meander along the corridors inside brings with it a certain frisson.
On a more practical note, the courtyard is ideally placed for a summer concert or any type of performance really. Besides being massive there are no people living in the immediate neighbourhood, thus eliminating potential permit problems. Add ample parking and you start wondering why on earth there aren’t more events organised there.
Surprisingly (or maybe not) the show kicked off with a performance by Teletubi, the straight-talking puppets that were such a hit – and created so many controversies – on the eponymous television show some years ago. I believe the show was actually taken off the air on the basis of vulgarity, but I might be wrong.
The crowd lapped it up, of course. I have to confess that as a rule, Teletubi don’t offer the brand of humour that I appreciate. However, even I couldn’t help a couple of sniggers at some of the well-placed barbs. As is the wont of all self-respecting satirical comedy acts, our politicians fared the worst and there was more than one reference to the recent political upheavals.
Puppet protagonists Duminka, Joshua and Jason alternated between sketches and sing-a-longs. The latter were greeted by an amount of bafflement by the crowd, making me think that perhaps this was not exactly the typical Teletubi audience.
However, Teletubi didn’t build their following by being shy and retiring. Other comedy acts might have viewed a semi-silent crowd as disheartening, or as a shortcoming. Teletubi turned it into part of the act, with the audience finally giving its seal of approval through cat-calls and whistles. As was to be expected, the sketches that targeted the actual members of Brikkuni – particularly frontman Mario Vella and keyboardist Danjeli Schembri – met with the loudest guffaws…
Which brings us right to the Brikkuni part. Their summer concert invariably includes some sort of, for want of a better word, ‘bonus’. I still smile when I remember the life-sized purple chicken prancing about on stage some three summers ago. What better way to launch a track called Fil-Gallinar tas-Sultan, right?
This year visuals were added to the mix, with scenes from several cult movies (that in one way or another tied up to the individual tracks) projected on the big screen set up behind the band.
The effect was at times nostalgic and at others disturbing, hilarious, evocative… Just to render the idea, one of the clips chosen was from the Turkish Star Wars.
The opening track, Kunsenturi, established that the sound was excellent, with both music and vocals given their due – a detail not to be underestimated, particularly given that lyrics play such a significant part in this band’s music.
The gig started out with some of the more mellow tracks from the band’s second album, Trabokk, alternating with the heavier Kuntrabanda material like Ritornell and Kollox Suġġettiv.
This proved to be a great formula, giving the crowd time to catch its breath and to enjoy the more introspective tracks before being caught on the next wave of euphoria that the pieces from the first album tend to create.
Speaking of euphoria, the highly-spirited rendition of Hava Nagila was unexpected but went down a treat, with several members of the audience attempting the traditional dance. Some less successfully than others. I was also happy to see the return of the well-loved instrumental piece in tribute to Ennio Morricone for this particular concert.
The jewels in the crowd-pleasing crown were, arguably, Fil-Bar Ta’ Taħt Il-Knisja and Il-Gadazz. I much suspect that no matter how many other great tracks this band might give birth to, there is no escaping the popularity of these two.
The night ended with Żufjett – no encore, tsk tsk. Then again, by now the heat must have taken its toll on the members, even more so than the audience.