Marmalja’s debut album, titled Demm Ġdid Vol. 1 Dissett, has just landed. I caught up with the hip-hop outfit to hear about which toes the no-holds-bar duo have been stepping on.
When Claude ‘il-Lapes’ Agius’s and Andrea ‘Drinu’ Delicata’s daily hangouts in the Santa Margherita area of Mosta evolved into breaking beats and rapping together, they had no idea that years down the line their passion would have grown into Marmalja, one of the main names on Malta’s hip-hop scene.
“Our roots are truly under-ground. At first we only rapped for friends, on the street, at Higher Secondary… our following was a street following. Then, one day, I attended an open mic and this led to a collaboration with Jon Mallia, of No Bling fame. Suddenly our name was out there. We took part in the No Bling project Cafe Kristall and we became motivated to take Marmalja further,” il-Lapes tells me.
And take it further they did. Four years down the line they have just launched their debut album, Demm Ġdid Vol. 1 Dissett, which the duo describes as a “a mixture of tracks, some controversial, some nostalgic, some a powerful social commentary that will undoubtedly sting the people they are targetted at”. The album, which is supported by the Malta Arts Fund and produced by Niki Gravino, was preceeded by a single, Pressjoni, and accompanying video, which Marmalja produced together with Fabrizio Fenech and Crew.
“The whole album is the result of our efforts. Every single job related to Marmalja, we try to do ourselves. And if we have to outsource, like with the video, we collaborate with young, emerging artists. We like to work with like-minded people, particularly those who aren’t part of the mainstream,” says Drinu.
The video for Pressjoni is available online, as is Demm Ġdid – for free. While this might be an increasingly popular strategy with foreign indie artists, it is a departure from the current Maltese trends. What made them go for this option?
“We will be distributing a number of hard copies for free during our upcoming concert, but it’s a very limited number. We preferred making the album accessible to all those who are part of the underground scene and even anyone who might not be familiar with hip-hop yet.
“Also, the album is in Maltese, the language of the street, which remains so unappreciated from an artistic perspective that we also decided to raise awareness about this,” il-Lapes says.
This language thing is a sore point with the guys from Marmalja. The contemporary musicians and bands who use Maltese for their music are there, they acknowledge, and some of these also come with a strong following, albeit not necessarily on the mainstream scene. And here is where the problems start.
“Most radios refuse point blank to play songs in Maltese – it’s actually part of their policy. One of the directors of a popular station even went so far as to state this on television.
“Why does this happen? What is the reason that radios refuse to support our own language? The album also addresses this questions and others that, perhaps, have never been addressed so bluntly before.
“Demm Ġdid is also about the issues that require a voice. We wanted to provide that voice through a medium that we are passionate about – hip-hop, ” says Drinu.
And, indeed, the first time I hear the album this is the first thing that strikes me – the duo’s passion about the issues they talk about in each of the 12 tracks.
Santa Margherita is perhaps the least controversial one, the one that gives an intriguing explanation about where these guys are coming from and where they see themselves going.
It’s a track that all Mostin will certainly identify with and love, even if underground hip-hop is not quite their thing.
Then there’s Pressjoni, and even upon a first hearing I can see why il-Lapes and Drinu chose this as their first single. A heartfelt indictment of everything that is wrong with the system, it tells the listener – using beats that are sometimes melodic, sometimes harsh – about the duo’s disappointment with the way government operates without thought for the man in the street, the way capitalism is the new god of society, the way pre-packaged music receives the awards, while more creative artistes remain unacknowledged…
The track feels a bit like Marmalja are firing at every single way Maltese society every let them down.
Another strong entry is Din l-Art Ħelwa, a call-to-arms (in the metaphorical sense, of course) that uses a re-interpretation of our national anthem as its basis.
Again, the element of social commentary is strong and the track touches on various problems that mark the generation of new millennials.
These are but three of 12 entries that make up an album that is not afraid of showing its roots. The language is explicit, but not needlessly so and the impassioned pleas ring truthful.
“Underground rap gets bad press. Maybe because we like to express ourselves strongly, but that’s mostly because hip-hop is all about defending the underdog. All the tracks have that one element in common. And, of course, the underdog does win in the end, on our album anyway.
“The second album, which we are already working on, will be released in the near future and will have a more mellow sound,” the duo concludes.
Marmalja’s new album can be downloaded for free here.
Marmalja will be performing on April 25 at The British Legion, Valletta. They will be accompanied on stage by Dean Montanaro, Pete Galea, Glenn Montanaro, Nadine Fenech, Mandy Vella and Chris Vella. More details here.