Presentation of a collection of reel tapes by the Department of Maltese to University Library with a description of the collection’s provenance and history
During a presentation ceremony held on 21 October 2015 at the University of Malta Library, the Department of Maltese passed on to the Library a collection of 128 reel tapes originally recorded by Prof. Ġużè Aquilina and by folklorist Ġużè Cassar Pullicino.
The reel tapes cover the years 1951 to 1977 and most were recorded by the then Head of the Department of Maltese Prof. Ġużè Aquilina. It is thanks to the foresight of this gentleman that we today are able by means of these recordings to actually hear the voices of many a well-known writer and listen as they share with us their thoughts on their writings and sometimes even read excerpts from their work. Among the various well-known poets and writers recorded by Prof Aquilina are: Dun Karm, Karmenu Vassallo, Rużar Briffa, Anton Buttigieg, George Zammit, Ġorg Pisani, Ninu Cremona and Pietru Pawl Saydon.
The reels relating to folklore were recorded by Ġużè Cassar Pullicino and include interviews with well-known traditional għana singers such as Ġużeppi Grech “Ix-Xlukkajr”, Karmenu Cardona who speaks about għana guitar playing, and Ġużeppi Xuereb “Ix-Xhudi” who discusses with the interviewer the quick-witted repartee so peculiar to għana. There are also interviews with Paul Degabriele “Il-Bies” and Anglu Zammit “Il-Mahaj” who dwells on the traditional cane whistle flute known as il-flejguta.
The collection of reels was in time handed over to Prof. Oliver Friggieri in his capacity as Head of the Department of Maltese where they were kept in his office for safe-keeping. At first, the tapes were converted to cassettes but, following a suggestion by Prof. Manwel Mifsud, it was decided instead to embark on a digitisation project and convert the reel recordings digitally to compact disc. This project commenced in the summer of 2004 and was undertaken by Mr Joseph Borg who also catalogued the recordings to further facilitate the work of future researchers. The digital conversion of the reels was made possible with the help of an audio CD writer kindly loaned by Campus FM.
When these recordings were made Prof. Ġużè Aquilina, as evidenced from the background noise on these recordings, did not have the luxury we have today of conducting interviews in sound-proof recording studios. It can, however, be argued that the background noise encapsulates a given moment in the development of Malta’s sound recording history, thereby adding further richness to the tapes. Moreover, some of the interviews were recorded out in the open and, on occasion, in front of an audience.
Through the initiative of Prof. Manwel Mifsud, the programme Ilħna mill-Imgħoddi based on Prof. Ġużè Aquilina’s recorded interviews, (that had by then all been converted to CD-Rom format), was between March to May 2005 broadcast on Campus FM.
During the formal presentation of the collection Mr Joseph Borg explained by means of a powerpoint presentation the digital conversion exercise he undertook. In his presentation speech the Head of the Department of Maltese Dr Bernard Micallef spoke of the importance of preserving for future generations this extensive collection of reel tapes not only because they form an important part of our cultural and national identity but also because of the dimension of time and space they bear witness to. In his acceptance speech the Director of Library Services Mr Kevin J. Ellul thanked the Department of Maltese, which was strongly represented at the presentation, for donating the collection of reels to the Library and expressed his intention to eventually upload them on the University’s institutional repository (IR) and thereby increase their visibility.