J’accuse: Triple X-rated (XXX)

This article appeared on the Malta Independent on Sunday on the 20th July 2008.


Xtruppaw
“Kemm ahna tan-nejk f’dan il-pajjiz
Kulhadd dejjaq, vergni u qaddis
Festi ta’ ipokrizija
L-ewwel jien u l-partit
L-aqwa li b’zaqqna mimlija
Imma jekk trid tibkilna naqra.. ngibuk
Fuq Tista’ Tkun Int!”
– Xtruppaw (Malta)

Last Saturday’s Xtruppaw gig at Poxx bar was a timely prelude of things to come throughout the week. Xtruppaw had promised to deliver a gig to be remembered, with some new songs and lots of entertainment – and deliver they did. In a bar bursting at its seams with the self-styled misfits of society, Xtruppaw (preceded by an equally entertaining iSkandal) provided two hours of non-stop catchy tunes infused with a heavy dose of wit, sarcasm and a social-critique worthy of the best columnists on the island.

The eight euro price tag on the ticket was a bargain for what was on offer. Only a couple of days before, thousands had crammed the Waterfront to watch another local band perform and it is a pity that Xtruppaw have not managed to get a stage from which to treat a larger audience. Of course the eclectic band, Malta’s rugged reply to Italy’s Elio e le Storie Tese, do operate under a significant drawback – their lyrics are, to put it mildly, peppered with vulgar expletives as they take snapshot after snapshot of real perspectives of Maltese society (no frills – Malta Naked and Uncovered) – and their works cannot really be aired on radio no matter how catchy the tunes may be. Diska Cool ghar-Radio is proof enough that the band is very aware of this reality.

Given the right warning on the tickets (Parental Advisory and all) and the right time-slot, I do not see why Xtruppaw cannot obtain a larger piece of the entertainment cake – along with the other different talents and tastes that enrich the local cultural agenda. Only last Wednesday I was in Floriana’s Ospizio (La Vittoria bastion) watching Gozitan talent Chasing Pandora – part of the Malta Arts Festival programme. A good gig in a very surreal setting, a stone’s throw away from the Police Depot and the ADT. As drivers barbecued the night away on roundabouts and police patrolled the streets we enjoyed the mellow sounds of the Gozitan duo.

Probably it poetic justice that Xtruppaw do not form part of the mainstream cultural scene with its heavy dose of sponsorships and private outsourcing. They are already “unfortunate” enough to play in the era of pirated cd’s and mp3s rather than selling cassettes on the monti that do the rounds from Escort to Triumph cassette decks. The mp3 stole a bit of the romantic idea of the “underground” feel that the quickly assembled cassette seemed to have.

Everybody knows about the infamous “Tape tal-Bass u Hara” that did the rounds in the eighties and can now be found on the internet. Everybody knows but of course nobody will talk about it. Xtruppaw are more than a couple of steps ahead from the tape in question. True, they do not hesitate to write about problems related to the bowels (Dlam Cappa…) or about the raw realities  of reaching the pubertal stage in life (Il-Puberta’) but there is something more to Xtruppaw than gratuitous vulgarity. Songs like Malta or Generazzjoni ta’ Meqrudin are an incredibly accurate photo of society.

Xtruppaw are to Malta as the child was to the Naked Emperor as he paraded through the streets. Do not expect an assessment of the real values of Malta to come from the courts (where people still believe that a topless woman is offensive to the sight of many) but listen to the (basic) lyrics of songs such as Innu Marc (Viva l-Kbir San Cipress). Then you may just begin to understand where the Msida bloke was coming from when he gave priority to letting off of a bunch of fireworks over the need to maintain a clear access to the services at Mater Dei. Before I forget, will the bright spark who is responsible for the “No Topless Sunbathing” signs along the Sliema front please note that Google Translate is not always the best solution and that no French person could understand the gibberish that results?

Xarabank
So it’s over. The paralysing strike I mean. The Maltese transport system is back to providing the abnormal service we are lumped with, with the added bonus that some form of liberalisation is now definitely on the table. It’s been an eye-opening four days for all and sundry. Eye-opening for many a reason. Let’s begin with the reason for the strike itself.

It all began with where it should end. The Hearse operators cried foul when the government announced that it would be issuing new licenses for new operators (two if I am not mistaken). That was the extent of liberalisation in this sector. “We had an agreement”. There we go again. Someone, somewhere had kept the hearse operators at rest by promising them that their situation of protected bliss would go on forever. “That is why we invested – because we were safe from competition”. There is flicker of reason in what the hearse owners are saying. After all the responsibility for the parody that we witnessed with regard to their sector lies as firmly with the promisor as much as with the promisee.

To be fair, if one would go by what former Minister Mugliett stated, the agreement not to issue new licences was never signed since the Hearse Operators and the ADT did not reach an agreement. You cannot blame the operators for believing that this would only be a minor hiccup. A Maltatoday report on Wednesday showed that hearse liberalisation has been on the cards ever since a commitment to end the monopoly and subsidies in 1961. That’s nineteen sixty one: not a typo error. Slow-forward (like fast-forward but Only in Malta) to 2001, the Commission for Fair Trading did its little part and declared that there was no reason for keeping the exemption from competition law with regard to hearses. In other words, the highest competition authority in the country declared in black on white that there was no reason to retain a protected market in place and virtually gave the green light (if any was needed) for liberalisation.

But that was seven years ago. We still had to join the EU. We still had an (un)illuminated Labour opposition that would jump at the opportunity to highlight the harsh realities of a competitive market – wrongly equiparating the demise of the inefficient to an injustice. The PN would be reluctant to uncover the unpleasant side of a competitive economy where “tistenna il-bajtra taqa’ f’halqek” is an expression that is fast rendered redundant. In short the politics of appeasement trumped the necessary changes and we were once again condemned to more mediocrity. Tough decisions would have to wait.

Enter Austin Gatt. Or as they have it on the Facebook group, Austin Guts. The no-nonsense reputation seemed to be confirmed with the approach. As the Hearse question became a Trojan horse for a pre-emptive strike by other sectors the hot potato grew in size and problems. The newborn Federation can only be seen as that, a Trojan horse that used the Hearse pawn as a basis for a general anti-liberalisation protest.

The bus, taxi and minibus owners got a whiff of what was coming. They also knew that they were not exactly top of the public sympathy vote. It was only a matter of time that their sectors would also come under the scrutiny for the necessary liberalisation. Rather than deal with their issues directly – or to state it more clearly, rather than defend the indefensible – they formed the Federation, thus engulfing the hearse sector and conveniently making the hearse problem their own. Before we knew it, rather than having the small sector striking (and threatening to block the morgue) we suddenly had the full brute force of the whole transport sector on the streets.

And there we were – “kemm ahna sbieh min jaf jarana”. Paralysis was accompanied by violence, physical threats and in certain instances damage to property. We are now in a position to assess the full extent of the damage caused by what in the minds of many people was an illegal strike. It’s 2008 and we have just witnessed a flashback to the eighties’ thuggery that we tried so hard to believe belonged to the remote past.

This was not an attempt to obtain favourable conditions. After all whatever favourable conditions could be obtained should have been negotiated long ago in a normal environment. The transporters have had ample time to get their act together to face any competition but the complacency engendered by protectionism works in a diametrically opposite way. They have worked the system down and allowed it to degenerate into an absolute farce where the word service is but a joke. Make no mistake, they were protesting to have more of the same. More smoke, more uncouth service and more illogical transport systems where the concept of the client is nonexistent.

Did we learn anything from pumping money into the dry-docks? Have we learnt the lesson that subsidies and financial assistance must be guided and purposeful and that the government coffers are not their to be milked by hotheads who believe that it is their divine right to be on the receiving end without giving anything in return? I am not sure yet. The triumphant return to abnormal service has cost us 230,000 euros. That’s you and me paying a quarter of a million of the crispy banknotes to the hearse owners in order to help them “prepare for the liberalisation of the market”. Say what?

So is that how it is going to be? The hearse owners do a runner, bank the cheque and leave the Federation in disarray. It turns out that Austin Guts is more adept at wielding the carrot than the stick. The rest of the protesters now know that with a bit of ruckus, a bit of chaos and a bit of panic they too can expect a lot of the money. I sure hope that the judicial protests by the 18 entities holding the transport operators personally responsible for the damages and losses during the strike work out. The MHRA, FATTA, MIA, Air Malta and FELTOM, among others, have reserved the right to claim compensation for losses. As should we all. I mean all those people who were “given” forced leave because of the disruption, all the commuters, and the general public at large.

Liberalisation was never going to be an easy step. With hotheads like these and with the rumour machine (vide petrol scare) it gets that tad bit more difficult. The prizes at the end of the road – such as the smoke and clutter free roads during the strike are just the cherry on the cake – the added incentive over and above the service and transformation that could boost Malta’s image. Guts it takes alright, let’s hope that we will not pay more money from our pockets to see this happen. Otherwise, just like the “liberation” of Ingrid Betancourt, the latest moves for liberalisation will only serve to show the relative lack of cojones among the establishment when it comes to dealing with change.

Xalata
Still holiday time Chez J’accuse. One more week to go as I type. This weekend I hope to get a taster of my childhood favourite feast – San Gorg Megalomartri – and I’ll get there by hitching a ride on another monopoly that is fast approaching its sell by date – only that this particular monopoly seems well braced to face competition. Speaking of the competition, time to give credit where credit is due: full marks to Matthew Mirabelli and his front page photo of the bus drivers taking a nap on the grass. A classic worthy of Monet – plumber’s crack and all.

“Ghandha l-lyrics tajbin
Biex toqghod tkanta maghha
M’ghandhiex kliem hazin
Kullimkien tista` ddoqqha”
Xtruppaw – Diska Cool ghar-Radio

Jacques blogs daily (still on holiday though) at https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Comment is free.

5 responses to “J’accuse: Triple X-rated (XXX)

  1. Jacques,
    you’re mentioned in Labour in labour (with reference to Siggi Bonell. You may wish to take note.
    Thomas Falzon
    (I took over from Jennifer the thankless task of liaising with other blogs)

  2. I’ve looked through the site and not found the reference (or mention). In case someone might be thinking that I am also Sigmund Bonello (an alias), rest assured that I am not. I always sign my input.. no matter how bad it may be🙂

  3. Thomas Falzon

    Have another look, Jacques. You are referred to in a comment by Anna Maria Callus who seems to think that Siggi Bonello is replacing you as flavour of the moment. Don’t worry, mon cher, moments, like eons, are relative. Follow the link below.

    http://labourinlabour.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/representing-diversity-in-a-complex-and-dynamic-world-the-moderate-and-progressive-vision-of-european-democracy/#comments

    Tom

  4. @Thomas: Cheers, found it. I see “flavour of the moment” with a particular crowd. You can’t win them all I guess. I always said I would settle for the select few… that J’accuse is only for particular tastes and cetera and cetera. All the bla in other words. We’ve seen blogs come and go and we’ll see many more yet. Still find the general administrative side of the tazebao rather cheesy (latest funny phrase is “we apologize for the disappointment”) but it’s still a good rag on the net… just like any other I guess.

    P.S. I don’t know who AMC is but she does not seem to have managed to fit in with the BXL crowd. What? Not enough invites to be with the in crowd? Sounds very much like the sour gripe of the illuminati labourite kind. There – a label to savour. Tell her not to worry, the Luxembourg elite is made of another mettle altogether.

    Chill. Now I’ve got some more Latin to revise… I can’t stand to be corrected (guffaw, this English is awful innit?)

  5. Thomas Falzon

    How dare the great unwashed pronounce themselves on the taste and style of the elites, n’est-ce pas?

    À propos des saveurs particulières de les amis de M. Jacques Zammit et de son successeur au throne…fascinating subject and AMC authorises me to announce that she will be coming back to this theme.

    Is it just love of parody, irony, sarcasm and wit that attracts the attention of a certain crowd or is there more to it than that? When I told AMC that the whole field might be a trifle too highbrow and esoteric for our core audience, she threatened to insert a hardbound copy of Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste in the tightest of my orifices.

    It is not so much the internet functional substitute of the stand-up comedian (such as you or Siggi or herself) that concentrates her anthropological gaze but your audiences.

    As to our cultivated cheesiness, dejjem ahjar mil kachkéis! But then we won’t dispute your qualifications as conoisseur of fine cheeses.

    Savour that label, Jacques, and cheers to you!

    Tom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s