Maltese Traditional Instruments

The ċuqlajta

imageThe ċuqlajta is an instrument which on the Maltese Islands has verystrong associations with Holy Week. Iċ-ċuqlajta encompasses a large numberof different shapes and sizes of clappers and ratchets which produce theirsound in different ways. Most are made totally of wood but a few are made ofwood and metal or even out of Arundo donax reeds. One particular type ofclapper has existed in Malta since Roman times and can still be seen in folkbands particularly in Gozo.



qarnAnother early, natural instrument is the horn, il-qarn or il-qrajna.Horns have long had protective properties on the Maltese Islands and for thisreason were often placed over farmhouse doors to protect the inhabitants fromthe ‘evil eye’ of strangers arriving at the house. Cattle horns were also usedas sound instruments when blown through a reed or reed and pipe(hornpipe). Horns were particularly associated with Carnival, suggesting aprevious connection with spring ritual.

The bedbut

imageSimple whistles are commonly made out of corn or wheat stems and the Arundodonax reeds (Maltese qasab). These are known as il-bedbut, pl il-bdiebet.They were often made and used by children and then unceremoniously discarded.The bedbut, a down-cut single reed is made out of the Arundo donax plant and isalso used as part of other more complex instruments.




The żummara

zafzafaAnother very simple folk instrument is the mirliton or kazoo known inMalta as iż-żummara. This is made out of a section of Arundo donax reedinto which a hole is drilled and on one end of which grease-proof paper is tiedwith string. One then hums a melody into the hole thus producing a rough raspysound.


The flejguta

FlejgutaMalta’s folk flute is known as il-flejguta. This is made out of a length ofArundo donax reed and is constructed on the principle of the penny whistleand recorder. It has a varying numbers of fingerholes.



The tanbur

tamburThe Maltese tambourine is known as it-tanbur in Malta andit-tamburlin in Gozo. It usually accompanies the bagpipe and other morerecent instruments such as the accordion. The tanbur is made up of a roundwooden brightly-coloured frame with a membrane tightly stretched on one side ofit. It is known to have been of varying sizes, the largest reaching a diameterof about 60cm. It frequently has metal discs and pellet bells attached.



zaqqThe Maltese bagpipe, known as iż-żaqq, is particularly important because itis not exactly like any other bagpipe. However, there are certain similarities,most strikingly with the Greek tsambouna. The Maltese żaqq is made out ofthe skin of an animal – generally of prematurely-born calf, but also ofgoat or dog. The complete skin is used including all four legs and tail. Thechanter (is-saqqafa) is made up of two pipes, one with five fingerholes (left)and another with one (right). The chanter terminates with one large cattle horn..