Pawlu Degabriele il-Bies

Image: Guża Mifsud collection

Pawlu Degabriele, il-Bies

Musician Oliver Degabriele recently informed us that he had acquired recordings of his great grandfather who, he’d found out, was none other than the renowned għannej Pawlu Degabriele il-Bies (The Hawk). 

As he had always wondered where his musical inclination had come from he was only too happy to write some words and share his story with us.

Pawlu l-Bies was a renowned għannej (folksinger) from Żejtun who was born on the 11th April 1908 in Żejtun. He worked in various jobs, including the laborious task of coal-heaving in the Grand Harbour and later on as a tinsmith. Unfortunately, he went blind in his early twenties. He passed away in 1980, aged 72. He remains a favourite among folk enthusiasts for his yearning and passionate voice and his artistry in delivering his poetic verses.

It’s hard to talk about someone you’ve never met, and I have never had the luck to meet my great grandfather who passed away the same year that I was born. Pawlu l-Bies is a folk hero, especially in Żejtun (where he has a bust dedicated to his memory) and sang Il-Bormliża with a unique voice which forces you to sit down and listen. He is especially known for “Id-Destin”, a song that speaks of how he lost his vision (at the age of 21) and how he never saw the faces of his children, except his elder one year old son (my grandfather)

Being a musician myself, I always had an inkling towards music and playing by ear from a very early age. I always questioned were this attraction came from since none of my immediate family play any instrument. Now I realise I have my great grandfather to thank for passing down some of that magic.

Oliver Degabriele

“F’ħajti jien kemm kont imqareb,
issa kelli noqgħod kwiet.
Kull fejn jiena ndawwar wiċċi, 
ma narax ħlief dlamijiet.

Ħamest itfal ma’ rajtx ‘il wiċċhomm,
Anke tal-kbir kont insejt.
Kemm hu ikrah bniedem għama,
Min hu bħali jaf xi jgħid.”

Images: Guża Mifsud collection 
Audio: Oliver Degabriele collection