Co-published by Soundscapes together with Merlin Library, Ħrejjef Maltin | Maltese Folktales is the brainchild of composer Ruben Zahra. Having published, ‘A Guide to Maltese Folk Music’ some years ago, Zahra felt the need to delve further into Maltese folk traditions, this time focusing on the aural storytelling tradition. Through the skill of publisher Chris Gruppetta this bilingual project, exposes a new-found confidence where Maltese culture, tradition and heritage co-habit along an English translation.
Chris Gruppetta, publisher/editor from Merlin Library spoke to REDWHITEmt about this latest venture.
Tell us about the philosophy behind this project?
The concept was to produce an interdisciplinary art-piece that would introduce the most traditional of Maltese tales to a contemporary audience, in a 21st century format. The folktales, adapted into both their original Maltese and translated English, blended with a mix of some of Malta’s most exciting illustrators – each of whom was entrusted with giving visual life to one of the ten folktales in the book. Furthermore, the presence of composer Ruben Zahra enriched the project with yet another dimension, that of a storytelling sequence on a cover-mounted audio CD, accompanied by an original soundtrack composed by Zahra.
Why did Merlin invest in such a project? Any particular aims and audience?
This is the first time Merlin joined a project as co-publisher with another local entity. Apart from a long-standing personal link with Ruben Zahra, this project was a perfect fit for Merlin because it was innovative, had scope for productive flair and dealt with the child-friendly world of storytelling. The aim was to present traditional tales to a new audience, not necessarily familiar with folktales. We worked with some of the best illustrators on the scene at the moment, and entrusted the book production to in-house designer Pierre Portelli, who came up with an identity that married the classical appeal of folktales with cutting-edge design.
What about the collaborating artists?
Ruben Zahra wrote a soundtrack of original contemporary music to accompany the storytelling sequence. A number of folktales, in both Maltese and English, are performed to music on the cover-mounted audio CD. Zahra’s credentials in the contemporary music scene enabled him to present a score that enriched the tales and returned them to their origins: aural storytelling.
The book is a veritable showcase of Maltese illustration. We worked with ten amazing illustrators on this project: Marisa Attard, Greta Borg Carbott, Fabrizio Calì, Nicole Diacono, Lisa Falzon, Derek Fenech, Aldo Gatt, Pierre Portelli, Mark Scicluna and Trevor Żahra. Each of them was briefed to visually relate one of the tales in a different style: styles range from watercolour to collage, to paper-cutting to mixed media to digital art.
Finally, we asked Pierre Portelli, art director at Merlin, to describes the design process. And since REDWHITEmt is very strong about the relevance of this project for the local design scene, we checked on that too.
Basically it was a multilayer process – a bit like a photoshop document. It started off with the layout of the book, tackling the bi-lingual issue by trying out different layouts, fonts and point sizes. We wanted to steer away from ‘an illustration on top, text on the bottom situation’ so that the illustrations would blend in more with the story, therefore creating an innovative layout. There was the obvious coordination between us at Merlin and the illustrators, some of whom live abroad. The layout of each story was prepared and assigned to each illustrator. I prepared hi-res layouts of each spread and passed them on to the illustrators, for them to use as a guide, giving them the liberty to instruct if they felt they wanted to amend the layout to fit their illustration. They forwarded rough sketches for discussion and once everyone was happy, they prepared the final artwork. All artworks were sent to us to be placed in the final master document before going to press.
I would hope that a product like this sets standards – both as a product on our bookshelves and as a reference to young upcoming illustrators who now have available a collective portfolio of ten contemporary Maltese illustrators. This product/project should also encourage all local illustrators to view this project as a positive commitment by Merlin to expose local talents both locally and abroad.
Ħrejjef Maltin | Maltese Folktales was an ambitious project that was made possible only through the funding and support of the Malta Arts Fund, Malta Tourism Authority and HSBC. It is available in two alternative cover jackets; violet (English) and yellow (Maltese). The Folktales are narrated in the respective language.