By Neil Attard
Creating a Song…
Neil caught up with The Travellers to find out more about the raw process of composing their new song ‘Ilkoll Flimkien’, and album, ‘Iljuni fis-Silġ’.
Prior to the release of their new album Iljuni fis-Silġ, the talented Maltese group, The Travellers, released a single titled Ilkoll Flimkien, which has been successfully doing the rounds throughout the Maltese media. This song has not only been played extensively on various Maltese radio stations, but it has also reached the number one spot on some radio charts to boot. But if you paid some degree of attention during your Maltese poetry classes, perhaps this song might ring a bell, as it was inspired by Professor Oliver Friggieri’s poem – Jekk.
The Travellers originally started back in 2013, when a then up-and-coming group decided to take the next step and start creating their own material. Initially, they starting producing songs in English, but they quickly opted to change their lyrics to Maltese, in an attempt to go against the grain and create something new, fresh and different.
They released their first official extended play in 2016 called Xemx u Xita, which surpassed all of the band’s expectations. Their tunes started spreading like wildfire and ended up being played on almost all Maltese radio stations. In the wake of their new-found success, The Travellers started working tooth and nail to release new content to satisfy their listeners.
In early 2018, The Travellers released their single, Ilkoll Flimkien, amid much fanfare. After an interview with the group, lead songwriter, Andrew Vella, admitted that the song has quite a unique backstory. Andrew revealed that when he was coming up with the song, he wrote a catchy chorus and a melodic instrumental composition. Unfortunately, when trying to conjure up the rest of the lyrics, he was experiencing a writer’s block. Interestingly, some verses of the poem Jekk sprang to Andrew’s mind and that was how the song came to be.
Andrew confessed that his plan was to try and recreate the poem using his own words. However, trying to beat the master – Prof. Friggieri – at his own game (with his wealth of experience stemming from his storied career) proved as futile as trying to fight a silverback gorilla with an inflatable balloon. As a result, the group decided to get in contact with Prof. Friggieri in order to feature verses from his poem in their song.
The group was understandably nervous to pitch their idea to Prof. Friggieri, especially since they had to substantially change the poem in order to make it fit the new medium. The Travellers were surprised as the renowned poet was remarkably thrilled at the notion that something he had written quite some time ago was being rejuvenated into a new art form. Oliver Friggieri not only gave them permission to change the poem as they deemed fit, but he also gave them the green light to use any other poem which they thought might work.
After minor changes, the poem fit like a glove within its new medium. The group, always willing to undertake new challenges, opted to take the song into production and that was how Ilkoll Flimkien came to fruition.
Their first official album, Iljuni fis-Silġ, debuted in April 2018 on Spotify and iTunes. Other than being a cool name for an album and the inspiration for their initial track, the name Iljuni fis-Silġ (Lions in the Snow) also has a subtle meaning behind it. Lead singer, Chris Gatt, explained that the Maltese language wasn’t really associated with the music medium. Much like you wouldn’t usually spot a lion in the snow, you don’t normally hear Maltese music in the pop scene. In this equation, the lion symbolises the Maltese language and the snow signifies the unusual pop genre through which the language is personified.
The Travellers also identified the intricacies that go along with creating a new album. They pointed out that the music creation process is always different – sometimes they come up with the lyrics first, and other times they start off with the instrumental composition. This alternation keeps their work fresh and helps ensure that their music doesn’t stagnate.
They explain that the creative process can be quite a hard endeavour since the inspiration period is transient. Sometimes, they might spend three weeks struggling to come up with lyrics for their songs. Then again, at times they have composed three musical drafts in one day. After coming up with the drafts, they start fine tuning their material and their best tracks go into pre-production.
They also admit that on multiple occasions, they went back to the drawing boards with their songs because they saw room for improvement. On other occasions, they would spend an entire practice session of about three hours ironing out the kinks of one of their songs, thoroughly working on the song as if it were the closing argument to a murder case.