Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The folk legend "Il-Budaj" by Gilbert Calleja

That folk legend ‘Il-Budaj’
Poet, sculptor, painter, Maltese author and “ghannej champion”, Frans Baldacchino was a man involved in the many aspects of Maltese folklore. ‘Il-Budaj’ died last Wednesday aged 63. His name is synonymous with Maltese folk singing and will be remembered for his great contribution to folklore and the local musical scene.
That is at least how the Maltese will remember ‘il-Budaj’. He puts it differently, “jien nghodd ruhi talli jiena, bhal tajra ckejkna” (I am who I am, like a small kite). A man of deep philosophical insight who nonetheless always sought to remain faithful to his roots and kept it simple at all times.

He left school at age 14 and declares he learnt much more “mill-ktieb tan-natura” (the book of nature) but nonetheless, he also turned to reading, writing and verse for inspiration. He published two poetry books to express his “hsiebi ta’ ghannej” (thoughts of a singer). When he could not express himself in ‘ghana’ he wrote poetry or turned to visual arts.

“…biex inrawwem kuxjenza fil-qlub Maltin, halli jibqghu jhobbu l-ghana, biex ma jispiccax bhal ma diga spiccaw uzanzi ohrajn li thallew minn missirijietna.” (… to cultivate a conscience in the hearts of the Maltese, so as to keep on loving Ghana, and avoid its extinction as in what happened to many other customs left by our forefathers.) He was a man who respected time-honoured traditions but bold enough to try develop upon them.

His humbleness helped him reach out to the people. His fame as a folk singer relies not only on his witty improvisations and ‘makjetti’ but also his ‘stejjer’ and well groomed verses.

He spoke or rather sang or wrote about the people he lived with, his experiences of life, the piazzas, the families, the country side. When he failed to understand, he turned to God. “Issa drajna Mulej drajna, F’hogrok inwaddbu l-htijiet, Nghid is-sew inhossni dghajjef, Biex insib it-twegibiet.” (Lord now we’re used to, throwing guilt in your lap, To tell the truth I feel weak, to find the answers.)

“He enjoyed going to Gozo to relax and enjoy the slow paced village life… he also loved good Maltese food,” Charles Coleiro, an old time friend says. The latter remembers their many walks in the countryside and how nature used to inspire the singer.

Baldacchino was, in no small measure, ‘responsible’ for the increasing appreciation towards local folk music which we have been experiencing during this last decade or so.

He has collaborated with various new ‘folk bands’ composed of young musicians and singers coming from different musical backgrounds. These collaborations and the resulting fusion of folk with other types of music has, together with the recording of CDs both Malta and abroad, contributed to keeping the local folklore alive.
Baldacchino has worked with ‘Etnika’ since as early as their debuting years with memorable performances like the Etnikafe 2001 concert at the Old Opera site in Valletta.

“Budaj has been an integral source of inspiration for Etnika and society at large an artist in his own right, a poet and well renowned as a folk-singer of ballad singing (tal-Fatt),” Andrew Alamango, spokesperson for Etnika said, adding that, “his lyrics touched people as he constantly strived to evoke beauty and art in ‘ghana’. He charmed people with his presence, good looks and charisma. His loss is a national loss to be mourned for years to come. He loved the good things in life, his wife Pawla, food and his dog Kikka.”
“There was no one quite like him,” Zeppi Meli says. He was lucky enough to share the stage with Baldacchino on numerous occasions both locally and abroad. He remembers him as “a respectable man… always with a smile and down to earth.”

Meli met ‘Il-Budaj’ during the period when both had immigrated to Australia. In the autobiographical note on the back-cover of his 1995 poetry book ‘Imriezaq ta’Mohhi’ Baldacchino wrote that during his years abroad he managed to keep the tie with his homeland through the works of Maltese authors saying that “minghajrom ma nafx x’kien jigri minni” (I don’t know what would have become of me without them.) In the concluding paragraph to this biography he salutes those Maltese authors “li kellhom ir-rieda u l-herqa biex jghallmu l-poplu. Jiena wiehed mill-poplu” (who had the will and drive to teach the people. I am one of the people.)

Now ‘il-Budaj’ is away again but this time he will not be coming back. The Maltese, his people, will grief his loss only to be comforted by the national heritage he represents.

Frans Baldacchino, born 16 May, 1943, died 21 June, 2006.

Gilbert Calleja reporting

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