Song of a Bird (S.O.A.B.) is an ongoing research project, which has to date, comprised live performances, an audio-visual installation and a continuing contribution to an online repository 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 best described as “a lifelong passion”; “a folly that appears all but incomprehensible to the casual observer”.

Namra is believed to be inherited.

I began by documenting my father’s ability to mimic bird songs. He belongs to a community of bird trappers in Malta and Gozo. I seek to create an archive of their community and identified occasions where I could, in the disguise of an artist and for the sake of art, motivate them to come together.







Translated transcript of an extract from a recorded conversation between the artist and his father. 

FEB 2018, Pieta – MALTA

transcribed and translated by Julia Camilleri.

Michael: Wait, let me think, because

there’s a lot of beauty in trapping.

Well, how are you going to define this

beauty? You’ve got your life-

Jimmy: We have a whole month to

talk about this, you know.

M: No, no. You’ve got a lifetime spent

taking care of birds…What I find

beautiful: you’re raising birds that

you never see in Malt. You don’t see

them breeding, they’re not birds of

ours that we see everyday…

J: So what birds are ours then?

M: What?

J: Which ones are our birds?

M: Our birds – what birds do we

have? We don’t have anything

special. The Spanish Sparrow is the

most common one…We don’t have

birds. Then there are the birds of the

countryside, that’s what I call them,

like the Warbler. We don’t have many

birds…the Robin passes through,

it’s not Maltese, it doesn’t even nest

in Malta…we don’t have many birds,

the only ones we have are those that

you see all the time; like the Spanish

Sparrow. And these [trapped birds]

are fun because you learn about

them, rear them, look after them…

and when the time comes you wait for

their right time to catch some more

birds, so that you always have birds to

rear. You always have some to rear, to

be able to trap. If you don’t have any

birds you can’t rear birds and bring

more birds, can you?

J: What do you find beautiful in


M: That you go into the countryside,

relax, waiting for that bird to come,

listening to your own bird calling…

J: How long do you wait?

M: Oh, days. Days. Days. And when

you catch that bird you’re happy

with it, you see its beauty, knowing

that you’ll be rearing it for a lifetime,

playing with it, raising it. And if you

have enough to trap you go again the

following year.

J: The birds live for quite long, don’t


M: Yes, they live very long. How long

you keep taking care of it, that’s how

long a bird lives. The more you take

care of it, the longer it lives. You

should leave nothing for it to want,

I don’t know, vitamins, seeds, bird

seed…it’s a routine isn’t it, a routine.

You take care of what you have; when

you don’t have any, you buy more –

because like every living thing some

time it’ll die; some birds go missing,

yet you always have enough to trap


And you choose and listen among the

birds: one would be good, the other

not so good…

J: Good, why good?

M: Good because one would be…

when it comes to calling, for example,

between one bird and another there’d

be a difference. One sings a lot and

another one calls a lot. So for trapping

you need one that calls more. Not

that the bird that sings wouldn’t be

good…but when you have a bird that

‘hits’ we say-

J: Hits? What does that mean?

M: Hits; when it senses a bird of its

kind passing by, it calls to it, it ‘hits on’

it, ‘dididididi’, so that the bird comes

down, and it’d be capable of bringing

the bird down. Now you wouldn’t

have just one of these – four, five…

J: The more you have, the better.

M: Always. If you have eight of them,

ten, you choose the best five ‘calling’

birds, the ones capable of ‘hitting on’

the bird – you might have a bird that

doesn’t ‘hit on’ the others, it doesn’t

pay attention.

J: That one’s not good.

M: Not quite. It’s beautiful, you still

enjoy having it. And it might sing well.

But you always mark the best one…

even where in the trap you place it.

It makes a difference because if you

place it on the wall, it brings birds to

the wall. If it’s a good bird that brings

others you place it near the nets, so

that the birds come close to the nets.

A bird that sings is placed further

away. Got it? Even the positioning of

the trap makes a difference.

J: You’ll have to show me, then.

M: And if you have five or six, you

keep in mind that for example

Number 3 is placed here-

J: Numbers? They’re numbered?!

M: Of course they’re numbered, all

of them have numbers. The numbers

are there so you distinguish birds

from each other – I recognise each

bird, you wouldn’t – but in the early

morning dark, you see the number,

not the bird. Do you understand?

And you get the position according to

the wind’s direction. Today you place

it there, tomorrow you place it here.

Because the birds come according

to where the wind is blowing. If

you know the wind and the bird are

coming from there, you place it there,

and when the bird calls the other bird

it flies straight into the trap. Trapping

entails a whole strategy, starting from

where you place the bird, how the

bird calls, what wind is blowing…

there are a lot of things. It depends

on what the bird is…you can’t really

describe this. But the beauty of

trapping is that you go there, and you

enjoy trapping, and how capable you

are of catching that bird. Because

you’re not going to catch everything.

But the little that you see, you try to

catch that tiny little bit.