Brodu gave four shows at St James Cavalier’s Spazju Kreattiv between 12th and 14th November 2021. I attended the first of these shows.
It was with this self-effacing remark that Mark (iż-Żiżża) Abela, Brodu’s frontman, welcomed his eager audience on the evening of Friday 12th November.
I walked in a good twenty minutes before showtime. The intimate space at Spazju Kreattiv which housed Taralalla just a few days ago was radically different. Gone was the fog, and the imposing scaffolding was also nowhere to be seen. An assortment of instruments and PA systems were strewn across the floor in its place.
The attending crowd was pleasant enough. It looked like it was largely composed of hipster MCASTy people…perhaps a tad too reserved and well behaved for my liking during what was after all, a rock concert. Having said that, the mandatory mask-wearing in addition to the general hallowed-grounds aura at Spazju Kreattiv is quite sobering.
Suffarin: The Supporting Act
A young Leonard Cohen came to mind during Suffarin’s four to five song set. This made a lot of sense; much of Brodu’s output also frequently conjures Cohen to my mind’s eye. Its like Żiżża and the Poet of Brokenness are inspired by and find solace in pretty much similar themes; namely loss, thirst (in its various forms) and religion. For this reason, it was great to see that Brodu had Suffarin open their show. Suffarin, simply introduced by Żiżża as Adolf (and Pawlu), perfectly set the mood for the main event that followed. Formosa’s act served as the perfect appetiser; his music and Brodu’s just go so well together, in the same way that Passenger’s & Nutini’s do. Suffarin comes from the same world and offers up more of the same sublime bounty of brash poetry and naked truths.
Both visually and sonically, Formosa’s act is quite stripped down, the quintessential bard and his guitar. His arrangements are raw, barely electric. I was quite impressed with his first number which brought Cohen’s Story of Isaac to mind. Formosa’s strumming serves as the perfect backdrop to the story being told, further embellished by Pawlu’s additional flourishes. I really enjoyed Suffarin’s set and am sure I would have even more, had I been seated on the opposite side, and able to look at the performers’ faces rather than at the back of their heads.
Suffarin performed five numbers before diving into the last one which I understood to be written (or co-written) by Brodu’s Żiżża. Abela himself performed this with Suffarin, albeit crouched on the floor as if he were trying to hide himself from the audience’s view (an impossible feat at Spazju Kreattiv) or at least, in a gallant attempt to not hog the limelight. The lyrics were easier to understand this time round, maybe because they were being sung by both men.
‘Għax għal hawn m’aħniex…Għalfejn? Għal xiex? Għal min?’
Ibqa’ għaddej sieħeb, teħlix ħini w’ħinek…
tħabbel żobbok xejn… għax għal hawn m’aħniex… u wara hawn m’hemm xejn…’
And just like that, the theatre was awash in profoundly cynical nihilism, making this track the perfect bridge between Suffarin’s set and Brodu’s.
Before continuing with my review of Brodu’s show, I think it would be only right for me to state that this review isn’t in any way objective and doesn’t attempt to be. I’m a Brodu fan.
I’ve been awed by the breadth and scope of their work since they released Ħabullabullojb back in 2014. I heard it first a few months after it came out. I remember picking it up from D’Amato and popping it in my car stereo, not knowing at all what to expect. I remember expecting them to sound like Brikkuni, no idea why.
Listening to the album from beginning to end in one go gave me the singular experience that can only be had when listening to a really great album for the first time. Such as Abbey Road…or All things Must Pass. Its no exaggeration. Big albums yes, and in both cases (but especially the latter’s), brilliant especially for the fact that they’re a result of many months build-up of unrealised songs. Which is what Habullabullojb, Brodu’s debut, always felt like to me. The distillation of years’ worth of pent-up, inspired gems. The result is a multi-genre epic that showcases what an eclectic band this really is. To date, it remains my favourite…although I equally enjoy listening to Blu (2021) while preferring to reserve 2017’s Tfejt vinyl for those cold whiskey and fireplace evenings.
Ok…on with the show.
Brodu in Concert: Technically
So I was, naturally, still sitting in my same spot when Suffarin stepped off and Brodu came on. I could clearly see Żiżża and drummer Chris Mallia’s profile view. Standing opposite me, facing my direction was id-Drinu. Backing vocalist Fiona stood beside him throughout much of the show. The two I was least able to watch were bass guitarist il-Fre and keyboardist Samuel as they were standing almost directly beneath my balcony.
The acoustics were top-notch, each sound was crystal clear. So much so that at certain times, the renditions were so close to the mastered tracks it was uncanny. This is also testament to the band’s many hours of rehearsal and perfectionism, even if on their website, they summarily describe themselves as an ‘undisciplined rock band’.
There’s no doubt that Brodu enjoy themselves on stage as much as they do in the studio. The banter was incessant. The way they constantly teased and joked with each other (as well as with rival band Djun’s ‘Justin Galea’), also evidenced undeniable chemistry, a unity that is only found between friends who really enjoy being in each other’s company. Not even the only female member of the group was spared the teasing as Żiżża made when he remarked about her ukulele-playing and singing combo. Fiona can by now be regarded a fully-fledged ‘Brodu’ (what does one call a singular member of the band? ‘Mgħarfa?’ ‘Kuċċarun?’), and a welcome addition she is. Her harmonies not only blend impeccably with the boys’ vocals, but are actually what give the band their distinct sound. The harmonies, that is, and Samuel’s instantly recognisable 70s-inspired quivering keyboard riffs which make my three year old shout, ‘Isma’, Brodu!’ the moment Inċedi Le starts playing in my car hi-fi.
Inċedi Le, from their latest LP Blu (2021) is the natural concert opener. The tune (and particularly the opening riff) is pure Brodu, a humble up-tempo retro-ish number with an inspired arrangement. This is something I particularly like about most Brodu songs; most of their studio tracks, intricate as they may be, can still be recreated effortlessly live as each instrument (and in turn, each musician’s talent) is easily detected and recognised in the mix. This is naturally also equally the result of Temple Studio’s David Vella’s brilliant ears and vision. They definitely found the right producer in him. Inċedi Le is all about perseverance and not giving up in the face of unrequited love.
‘Nipprova ngħatti d-diżappunt tant evidenti,
wara li għidtli le u komplejt tiddiskuti l-ġrajjiet kurrenti.’
The song starts out that way, anyway. The girl Żiżża is singing about dismisses his affections while going on to swaddle him in heartfelt advice, ‘Iċċedi le! Tixkana iva ‘mma ċċedi le!’ perhaps oblivious to the fact that its her unavailability that’s causing the author so much angst in the first place. Its a sweet song; never overstays its welcome and I especially enjoy the witty, intentional beat-miss during the final nah-nah-nah, a little bit of studio magic which they admirably also tried to recreate live with so-so results.
Another Blu track followed, Julia. Żiżża was quite an impressive sight during this track; playing keyboard with one hand, microphone in the other, his eyes closed, whole body seemingly possessed by the music. Undoubtedly, a very personal track to him. Speaking for myself though, the lyric has yet to grow on me, even after (many) repeated listens. I do, however have a lot of respect towards the arrangement.
Once Brodu had warmed the audience up nice enough, the ever self-effacing front-man made his official opening statement. ‘Issa se ndoqqu diski mill-Black Album, White Album u Abbey Road…iii! Tkun vera pretentious!’
This tounge-in-cheek, devil-may-care attitude the band goes by is a major part of the band’s allure, and also what makes them appear as the less-than-disciplined band they proclaim they are. However, and I don’t want to harp on too much about this point, would an undisciplined band be able to perform Balzmu live in that way? Also from the album Blu, Balzmu is a less-than-straightforward, mostly spoken-word poem set to a jazz-inspired musical backdrop, again beautifully showcasing Żiżża’s strength when it comes to penning insecurity and carnal thirst.
“Jaf forsi nidher tajjeb, nidher sielem, nidher bniedem mingħajr gdiedem, nidher qisni xi iljun; qisni Mario il-brikkun. Mma jien biss selħa fil-ħajt tas-sejjieħ, u fi ħdanek nixtieq nistrieħ.”
Mallia’s distinctive intro quickly wasted no time in taking us to the next track, Kif se Nagħmlu, Żiż? off the Intimita’ EP (2018), which is one of their most melancholic songs. The lyrics may be quite ambiguous, but the melody and instruments explicitly convey what the words perhaps struggle to. This performance was one of the first highlights of the evening.
If Kif se Nagħmlu Żiż?’s lyricism is ambiguous, the same can be said for the majority of the Bambinella EP (2021), of which Neoprene, the next track, is the opener. On this track, Żiżża assumes the point of view of the synthetic rubber used to make wet suits…or maybe I’ve got it backwards and this is in fact, a love song addressed to said rubber. God only knows. It is a cute song, although I do find the lyrics a bit too heavy handed for me to imagine the song to be about anything else but what it appears to about be on the surface; neoprene.
“Neoprene; ma’ ġismek indur
Ma’ kull kisra u daħla
Iġġebbidt, tiegħek sura ħadt.
Qatt ma gdibtlek. Just ridtek.”
Similarly, the EP title-track Bambinella also seems to be a love song to an inanimate object; the Maltese June Pear. But is it really? Whatever the answer, I simply adored the sparse and yet impeccable arrangement on the night. Mainly driven by Chris playing a percussive loop on what, from where I was sitting, appeared to be a bell. Then there were Samuel’s synth strings and Żiżża’s masterful chord work. The end result was something that belongs somewhere between Extreme’s More than Words and Wings’ Bluebird. Either way, a totally new ‘Brodu’ sound to my ears.
Then came the third track off the EP; Żball Kbir. On this track, Żiżża ponders on all the missteps he’s commited, the time he’s wasted and the worries he misplaced. He shouted his lines, inviting his bandmates to echo back his words as if in a litany. In this song he takes on the role of a thinker while the backing voices personify his conscience, just as Paul and John coaxed further reflection from Ringo on With a Little Help from My Friends. I much preferred this version to the recorded one, which I feel is a tad too clinical and which has a habit of tiring me out before Żiżża even gets to the words.
The studio version of Żball Kbir is a new-wave inspired, quite long, and perhaps over-indulgent track which brings 8-bit gaming to mind. If Bambinella is Żiżża being Band On The Run-era McCartney, here he is definitely in McCartney II territory. Which is far from a bad thing; the fact that Brodu can effortlessly and convincingly pull off so many genres just goes to show how proficient they are at adapting to practically any style they attempt. ‘Rock band mhux dixxiplinata’…my foot.
‘Id-diska li jmiss hija hit single tal-Brodu’…
The much lauded and already-much discussed Għandi L-Għatx, from Brodu’s second album Tfejt followed before the band jumped into what they introduced as a ‘high-energy, dance track.’ As it turned out, this was to be a complete refurbishment/cover of Kung-Fu Karate, an oldie in the truest sense of the word previously made famous by Fredu Abela il-Bamboċċu in għana style.
Żiżża suggested the track would be featured in the upcoming album (‘ija, hekk suppost’) and I can’t wait to hear it in its mastered glory. It was such good fun live. They turned such a well-known, straightforward għana on its’ head, not only thoroughly making it their own, but finally making it sound like the sports-song it perhaps was always meant to be. Once again, Brodu proved why they are so damn good; they can make a fifty-something year old għana track come alive like nobody else.
Kanzunetta biex Timla (lit. Translation; just another filler track) followed next, a number that I might not have cared for much when I heard it first, but which I thought was given a new lease of life live and became another track I thoroughly enjoyed on the night.
And then came the EP’s singularly epic single; Chips.
Even after listening to it a number of times, I still can’t pinpoint what the song is about or who it is referring to. The video heavily references the football anime Captain Tsubasa, better known as Holly e Benji which I myself was never too familiar with and as a result, don’t feel equipped enough to be able to deconstruct any intended reference between the two products. It doesn’t matter, though. This song ROCKS. Chips is Brodu at their most anthemic and definitely at their most epic.
This is their glorious stadium song, with its uplifting ELO-inspired vocals and foot-stomping beat. It is ballsy, witty and simply eargasmic (to steal a phrase from the late, great Jon Lukas Woodenman), with its heartfelt ‘Kemm int tal-ostja!’ coda effortlessly turning it into a boisterous crowd-rouser. It is definitely the song that received the loudest applause on the night, prompting Chris to cheekily comment, ‘Naħseb din biss daqqejna tajjeb!’ to which Żiżża retorted meekly ‘U le, ma morniex ħażin, naħseb fl-oħrajn.’
The band then dove into the (first) final song, Fl-Univers Maġembek, a sort of cosmic love song carried by Lara’s tropical ukelele strumming. It is a sweet, humble number which serves as a satisfying closer for the EP and, with its embellishments of Spanish and Hungarian (I may be wrong on this one) would also have been an adequate enough closer for the evening, cementing Brodu’s legacy not only as a great local band, but rather, universal one. (‘Eeey, how pretentious!’ I imagine would be Żiżża’s natural response to this observation). Alas, Brodu had saved three of their best songs for last, and after some (internal) bickering about whether encores should be a thing anymore (Fre doesn’t see the point!), they delved into the classics Erġajt Waqajt f’Koma, and Kemm Jiena Cool before closing with the natural choice, their evergreen Iċ-Ċimiterju, one of the most beautiful acoustic ballads any Maltese artist has ever produced, period.
This is a band at its peak. While I’m writing this piece, these men (and woman) are going through their golden age. Who knows how long the peak will last? I hope, for many, many years. They’ve got all the right ingredients, the right measures of talent, wit, humility and drive that make their act so uniquely exceptional. Brodu can be trusted to rock hard, to write lines that tear away at your soul, and frankly, to deliver much, much more than your money’s worth with every new album, single or EP they produce.
I had long since given up on finding a local musical artist that really got me. And I say ‘got me’ instead of ‘I got’ purposely. Because that’s how we fickle music consumers are and that’s how fans are many times born. We either listen to music and poetry and say, ‘hey, that sounds a lot like how I feel!…That’s exactly what I wanted to say,’ or else, we just go ‘meh.’ I doubt any consumer ever feels the need to adapts to any artist’s style or innate spirituality. The connection is either there or it isn’t.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that wonderful afternoon in late May 2015, just me and Ħabullabullojb in the Floriana car park. I remember it as a defining moment in my personal life; finally finding an artist, a band, I feel connected to. A band worthy of my time, dime and respect. That band’s name is Brodu.
Get to know Brodu; follow their story, read their lyrics, buy their merch and listen to their music here: https://www.brodu.band/?p=24