I still get occasional flashbacks to playing in the school band. I failed miserably with the accordion, had slightly better success with the melodica (mine was green and cream in colour), and finally settled on the recorder. To this day, anytime I hear Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy I’m back to marching around the GAA groundsmelodica in full uniform, playing my heart out. I can still remember the white shirt, the tartan kilt, the blue sash and the colourful broach. And for one tune in particular, all I remember are the notes:

Soh, lah, soh, fah, me, re, doh … it rattles around my head namelessly driving me slowly mad.

Malta has a great tradition of bands. As far back as the Middle Ages, playing music during feasts and processions was the norm, although back then, instruments were limited to drums and flutes. Even though band clubs existed in the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the influence of military bands and the musical influence of Italian refugees escaping from their civil war became evident. Groups of individuals got together to form small bands. The community stepped in to sponsor instruments for those willing to learn how to play them and the band’s raison d’etre was to take part in the village festas.

IMG_1420 (800x557)In 1947, there were about 60 bands in the country. Today there is closer to 100. Every parish has one and some have more than one. The club itself is a social centre, where members and parishioners alike meet regularly.

IMG_1425 (600x800)In Birgu, one of the Three Cities, there’s a Belgian-owned restaurant next to the Band Club that has a huge colour photo of the band on its wall. It was the first time I’d fully appreciated the effort that goes into these bands, the seriousness with which they’re taken, and the importance of their roles in the community. As I looked at the picture on the wall, the chef in the open-plan kitchen was busy making complimentary tapas for the band to accompany their beers once they’d finished their practice.

And as festa time approaches, they’re practicing in earnest. Already, in some churches, the massive statues are being taken out of their nooks and transferred to their pedestals as they wait patiently to be processioned through the streets on their feast day. And leading the parade will be  il-banda.


4 replies
  1. Steven Micallef
    Steven Micallef says:

    And a :”Good Morning” to you Mary!!! You have only just scratched the surface with this subject. In every town or village on the island there is a least one and some cases two band clubs. Some of them are the heart and soul of a village. You cannot have a Maltese “Festa” without a band march!!! It is simply unheard of!!! They are a living part of the Culture and Tradition of the Island. Come the local “Festa” and the Band Clubs are proudly dressed up in their most beautiful decorations!!!!

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Hey there… Any idea of the age groups Steve? Teens, adult, elderly? Is there a patter? It’s it something that’s in the family?

  2. Steven Micallef
    Steven Micallef says:

    Well it depends. As far as I know (but stand to be corrected) legally, one has to be actually over 18 years to be a full member. Every band club has various sections in it`s set-up. Music section, were children and others go to learn a musical instrument. Usually this is provided for free and they end up playing for the band. Youth section, were they help in organizing various activities and work on new decorations etc. Women`s section, were they to organize activities to help with fund-raising, such as Coffee Mornings and Tombola / Bingo etc.
    In some cases whole families are involved in one way or another. Most of the activities held are for families. A band club needs people of all ages to move on. The elder members have the experience, whilst the younger members have the energy. A good committee is a great asset to any band club. A healthy finance is also very important for the running of a club.
    The club I attend “Stella Maris Band Club” are this year celebrating it`s 100 Anniversary and as one would expect more activities will be held.
    The busiest time for any band club would be when it`s Patron Saint feast is held and celebrated.


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