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Song of a Bird (S.O.A.B.) is an ongoing research project, which has to date, comprised of live performances, an audio-visual installation and an online archive of cultural practice. It is the fruit of a collaboration between the artist and his father, and a micro-community of Maltese bird-trappers.
Each spring and autumn, during the birds’ migratory seasons, the namra takes hold of around 4000 Maltese trappers who long to sit in nature at dawn waiting for the songbirds. ‘Namra’ is a Maltese word that is best described as meaning “a lifelong passion”; “a folly that appears all but incomprehensible to the casual observer”.
Namra is believed to be inherited.
The choir is composed of men who, like the artists father, have studied their parts for twenty to thirty years. The aim is to collect sounds, preserve knowledge and give others access to this micro-community of Maltese bird trappers.
Michael Grima and Louis Camilleri, performed the songs of seven migratory singing birds; those of the Linnet, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Serin, Greenfinch, and Hawfinch.
In June 2018, a ruling by the European Court made it illegal to trap these birds.
The Maltese bird-trapping community are now on the other side of EU law.
“From spending his early years with the birds, the trapper learns to call – constantly improving, learning with time. As you age, you figure out how to hone your whistle, ending up almost speaking the birds’ language. You don’t know what they’re saying, but you’re calling with them.” Conversation with Michael Grima, 2017
Seen as an activity with no capital value, the knowledge this group possesses has never been documented or protected but instead, controversially represented to the wider public.
The artist’s father, as a member of the Maltese bird-trapping community, offered a bridge between tradition and art, urging Jimmy Grima to conserve their knowledge, language, technology, and virtuosity in an archive. They share their skill in trapping and hunting the quail, the turtle dove and the wild rabbit, but also the cultivation of crops, the pruning of fruit trees and various fishing techniques acquired at a young age in 1950s rural Malta.
There are relatively few Maltese who possess and share this knowledge. Such traditional practices are both emotional and personal, and of a specific temperament, relating to a way of life and to man’s relationship with nature.
In 2018, the European Court of Justice declared that by adopting a derogation regime allowing the live-capturing of seven species of wild finches (għasafar ta’ l-għana), Malta has failed to fulfil its obligations under the European Wild Birds Directive.