Għana (pron. aa-na) is the generic term for Maltese folksong.
It is usually performed as a long series of songs accompanied by a repetitive guitar tune. The għana is normally at least fifteen minutes long. The traditional basic għana presumably consisted of long poems which were sung by anyone who chose to recite his creative rhymed verse on a particular theme to a monotonous tune. It was an activity that could take place at any time, anywhere. Nor did a special audience need to be invited, just friends idling outdoors, in a tavern or a tea shop.
Historically speaking, several styles of għana flourished, but today there are three main categories:
The Għana tal-fatt usually only involves one għannej. Nowadays, the singer is often the composer of the lyrics, whereas in earlier times, certainly in the first half of the twentieth century, it was common for għannejja to sing texts that had been composed by others and published in għana booklets. The subject of fattijiet can be tragic or comical, and can be based on fiction or actual events.
Spirtu Pront (quick wit, literally “ready spirit”)
Spirtu pront is essentially an improvised song-duel between two għannejja, each trying to best the other in argument. Generally, two song-duels are held simultaneously, the first singer matched against the third, the second against the fourth. Such an arrangement gives each singer more time to compose a response. Usually, the subject of the duel emerges early on in the encounter itself, with the singers provoking their adversary.
While the other two styles (Spirtu Pront and Fatt) are driven by verbal play and narrative, għana fil-għoli shows off the musical qualities of the voice as the song develops in melodic contours over the regular pulse of the guitar. The listeners are carried by the prolonged melisma of the words, which invites them to stay with the sense and colour of the sound rather than attempting to follow the meaning of the words.
Prejjem is when, the “prim” (lead guitarist) begins improvising along a motive chosen from a ‘restricted’ repertory of Għana motives. This section is known as the prejjem. These motives are popular, not only among the dilettante, but are well known outside of the għana community by the general Maltese public. The lead guitarist begins with an introductory section accompanied by the strumming of triadic, diatonic chords provided by the other guitarists. As soon as the former completes his improvisation he joins the other guitarists in the accompaniment based on the tonic and dominant of the established key. Tonality changes from one session to another in a whole performance.