Review

A Lily

Saru L-Qamar

Phantom Limb • 2024

James Vella is Maltese. This is important to know if you want to understand his album »Saru L-Qamar« on his label Phantom Limb. Over the eight tracks, he lets the voices of the Maltese diaspora have their say under the name A Lily. According to the press release, since the 1960s it’s been quite common for emigrants to use tape recorders to keep in touch with relatives left behind in Malta. They’d share their feelings, anecdotes and experiences of their new home. 

James Vella has now gone through the archives of Magna Żmien, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving Maltese culture, and added digital voices to the recordings. Although you won’t understand a word unless you speak Maltese, the result is moving. On the opening track, there’s a kind of eerie familiarity between the auto-tuned voices and the synthetic pulsation of a guitar. Number two also dives into drama, exploring the alienation of voices in laments, combined with pompous synth runs and emotive bass lines, in the same way as cultivated by Innere Tueren from Leipzig in 2019. On track three, A Lily raises her voice to unimaginable heights, literally evoking associations with funerals. At the same time, sharp synths clatter, reminiscent of the sterility of Aïsha Devi. Many references and yet a sound all its own: »Saru L-Qamar« echoes strangely from the past.