The street-organ was called 'terramaxka' in Maltese, a word corrupted from kitarra magica, meaning magic guitar except this was no guitar but a mobile organ that was a popular feature in town squares in Malta from the end of the 19th century up to the mid-20th century, entertaining children and adults alike for a small donation. Street organs were always present at the Mnarja festivities in Buskett and frequently entertained the public in local festas when the noisy bands were out of the way.
In English, this instrument is given a variety of names including street organ, crank organ, barrel organ, fair organ and so forth. Street organs were imported to Malta from European countries such as France and Switzerland during the late nineteenth century.
Street organs were brightly painted and decorated with figures or puppets in elegantly painted clothes which often 'danced' in time to the music.
A huge variety of these organs could be found in Malta. All these organs played music by inserting perforated cards or long strips of card where each hole corresponded to a note, while the man in charge turned a large wheel or crank on the side or back. All types of music were played including tangos, operas, polkas and waltzes.
The most common terramaxka was a very light-weight organ usually hung round the neck of the busker and resting on a small pole. Others were larger vehicles, usually decorated with flags and small wooden statues, drawn by a donkey or the owner himself, and attracted many young children. Similar to later jukeboxes, coin-operated organs called café organs were more commonly found in cafés and pubs popular with sailors. Finally, terramaxkas were also found in homes of wealthy people. These organs were made of fine woods and were often richly gilded.
The terramaxkas were very common in the Maltese islands however unfortunately, these marvellous instruments have long disappeared, some sold to Americans while others were destroyed. The last large terramaxka was destroyed by a garage fire in 2012 but has happily been replaced by a smaller model sourced in Paris.