The rain is firmly drumming on the tin roof of The Playroom Studio in Harlow Town, Essex, when Daniel and Matthew Abela, also known as Abela Brother. answer my call. The studio that the 27-year-old British-Lithuanian-Maltese musical duo are sitting in is the fruit of their own labour.
“A few years ago, when we were in Malta, we decided we were going to build our own studio. We poured the concrete, built the walls and tiled the floors ourselves,” Daniel says, quickly adding, with a mischievous glint in his eye, “but don’t worry, we did get it signed off by someone professional.”
The physical labour that went into building this studio bears testament to the twin brothers’ dedication to their musical careers. Daniel and Matthew wrote their first song together when they were seven, they did their first gig when they were 14, and they began teaching singing and guitar respectively at the age of 18.
Originally, Matthew just played the guitar and Daniel sang, but when they were around 14, Matthew started singing, too. “Daniel got tired of not hearing the harmonies that would realise the full vision we had for our songs,” Matthew explains, “so he got me to start harmonising with him. Now, it’s like second nature.”
After impressing fellow Essex singer Olly Murs with their rendition of “Beggin’” by Madcon, Daniel and Matthew are currently starring on The Voice UK 2022, where they have enchanted viewers with uplifting harmonies, powerful vocals and a shedload of charisma. Their band name, Abela Brother, includes their mother’s maiden name, Abela, as a homage to their Maltese roots. For the brothers, music is as much of a family heirloom as it is a cathartic release of emotion.
The twins’ grandfather, Carmelo Abela, originally from Żejtun, was hugely influential in their relationship with music. “Our grandad played the clarinet, and he used to play in the Beland Band in Żejtun,” Daniel comments. “When he came to England, he played jazz clarinet at Ronnie Scott’s. We recently also performed upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, so that was a really special moment. It felt like coming full circle”
Part of the Windrush generation, Carmelo Abela came to the UK in 1957 at the age of 18 and found work as a baker and a carpenter in London. The transition from Malta to London was not an easy one. “Our grandad had a pretty difficult time when he first came to England,” Matthew says. “He was often stopped by the police, and on occasion, he was even attacked for being foreign. As a result, he was very nervous about his children having accents and receiving similar treatment, so he didn’t speak Maltese with our mum and her siblings at home.”
Despite this, Maltese culture still played a very big role in the upbringing of the twins’ mother, Denise Abela, and subsequently their own. “We knew our mum was different from other mums in the UK,” Daniel says. “She was very passionate. As a family, we have the ability to laugh, cry, shout and laugh again, all in one conversation.”
From attending a Catholic primary school and receiving a postal delivery of Maltese Holy Communion sashes, to eating dishes like ross il-forn and timpana at family meals, the pair’s connection to Malta remained strong throughout their childhood — even if not everybody in the UK knew where it was. “I remember we used to tell people, ‘Italy’s the boot, Sicily is the football and Malta’s the piece of AstroTurf that comes off when you kick the ball,’” Daniel quips.
Even today, the Maltese influence on Abela Brother is clear to see. The studio walls are adorned with artwork by Stephanie Borg and Te Fit-tazza and a plate of homemade Qaghaq tal-ġunġlien lies within view. Their Maltese upbringing has also shaped their songwriting. “We grew up surrounded by a lot of passion and openness, and our writing also comes from a very real place,” Matthew comments.
Ultimately, it was the pair’s Maltese grandfather, Carmelo Abela, who pushed them to pursue a musical career. “Our Maltese grandfather told us that we needed to take music seriously and commit to it, if we were going to do it. He said we had something special and that we should give it a real chance,” Daniel adds.
Abela Brother’s original singles, “Alone”, “Can’t Complain” and “Jump Down” are available to listen to on Spotify and YouTube. Their raw lyrics deal with a range of topics from their brotherly love to the self-doubt that can creep in when performing. “It’s when we’re struggling or trying to come to terms with something, that we’re at our most creative,” Matthew remarks. “That’s when we’re writing most voraciously.”
In the future, Abela Brother would love to perform in Malta and collaborate with Maltese artists. “We went to a Brikkuni gig in St Julian’s with our cousins a while ago, and it was amazing to see the level of talent in Malta,” Matthew comments. “We follow a lot of Maltese artists, like Alexandra Alden and Michael Azzopardi,” Daniel adds. “We’ve always said we’d love to play in Malta, whether it’s at Farsons Beer Festival, Storeroom or anywhere else on the islands.”
Daniel and Matthew are planning on coming to Malta in the near future to spend time working on their music together in their family’s flat in Marsascala. Alongside their recording studio and teaching business, the duo want to invest time and energy in pursuing the artistry of music.
By coming back to their roots, swimming in the waters of StThomas’s Bay, where their grandfather taught their mother to swim, and eating ftira while looking out to sea, they’re sure to find the inspiration they’re looking for.