Rhythm of Youth – Gianluca Bezzina
Eric Montfort talks to an elated, yet down-to-earth Gianluca Bezzina on his recent song festival triumph, his career and his future plans.
So much has been said about Gianluca Bezzina over the past few days, thanks to his surprise victory at the Malta Song for Europe Festival. He has become a new local hero for many, though for others, the song he performed was also targeted for alleged plagiarism. He has indeed, been overwhelmed by this exposure, which a week ago, he would have never ever thought would happen to him. “I hardly thought that I would make it to the finals, and had to book emergency leave for Saturday night,“ added Gianluca when I caught up with him during a rehearsal for tonight’s Xarabank on TVM. “Once I made it, I wanted to make sure that me, and the band will give our best, but I was not expecting anything great. This came beyond belief,” he added.
Gianluca is indeed, determined to give his best when he performs at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, next May. Once more, he will retain his unassuming, unpretentious ways. His attitude onstage has always been like this. He’s surely no stranger to song contests, and the music scene, having also formed part of the Malta Children’s Choir and taken part in various festivals, notably Youth Fellowship Festivals. He is also part of local band Funk Initiative. He is also a medical doctor, and despite his young age, he has endearing qualities which have won him many friends, not least from many elderly people from St. Vincent de Paule Hospital where he is also deployed, among other health and elderly centres.
It has been quite difficult for Gianluca to manage so many appointments at such a short time, but in just a quarter of an hour, I did manage to get a lot of information about Malta’s representative to the forthcoming Eurovision song contest. I was also lucky to have known his family from his mother’s side. They originate from my whereabouts at Marsa and Hamrun. His late grandfather, Gaetano Buttigieg, was like Gianluca himself, full of energy, humble, intelligent, benevolent but assertive and also artistic. Gejtu Kanta, as he was popularly and affectionately known, was quite popular in the mid-1950s and 1960s singing at Pjazza Regina, Valletta and also other venues around the Grand Harbour area. He was also a devout Catholic, and his simple, unpretentious ways would influence the rest of his large family, not least his grandson. Gejtu Kanta also wrote some 20 notebooks about singing, music and the arts and he also featured prominently in the Catholic Action programme on Redifussion Siegha tal-Morda, a programme targeted for people with special needs, and nowadays rebranded as Solidarjeta`, which still goes on air on 106.6 FM. His grandfather, who passed away in 2004 was the focus of my first question.
EM: How much did your grandfather influence your musical career?
GL: I loved my grandfather very much. I still have his notebooks, and some of his quips which then were quite popular. They helped me a lot to develop my style. Moreover, I was lucky to have been able to have some frank discussions with him when I was a very young guy. He always encouraged me to continue singing. And I still miss him, as he was such a wonderful, awesome person. I must also state that we come from a musical family. Me and my six siblings are all into music and we will all be in Malmo next May, God willing.
EM: You have also participated in various other musical activities, song festivals and so on. How much have past experiences helped?
GL: I must say that I enjoyed every festival or musical activity that I was involved in. The various Youth Fellowship activities and the KDZ (Kummissjoni Djocesana Zghazagh) have been very influential in my singing, as well as my personal upbringing. These are great, positive and forward-looking organisations that have done so much good for our youth, and they usually work without much fuss or fanfare. There were also instances where even the simple participation in a jury helped me share new experiences. A case in point was last year’s KDZ’s Song Festival for World Youth Day. Gabriel Vella was one of the participants. He did not win but he eventually ended in my backing band for the Malta Song for Europe.
EM: Are there any artistes/bands that have influenced your career?
GL: I like very much Michael Buble’s style. However, I am also very inclined towards folk, especially nu-folk, such as Mumford and Sons and Noah and The Whale. I have also very avidly followed Sean McDonald, who is a leading contemporary Christian music singer. There is so much music that I listen to…you mentioned Fairport Convention, They sound great, and there is so much to fathom in their songs too!
EM: Will Tomorrow get any radical changes upon its final presentation at Malmo?
GL: It should not be the case. There may be some changes but the overall original style and feel will remain as it is.
EM: There has been so much talk about Tomorrow sounding like Hey Soul Sister, the classic Train song. It is not the case at all. The ukulele riff which caused so much fuss was also used time and again in Hawaii and also by the great actor and entertainer George Formby 80 or 90 years ago! Any thoughts on this?
GL: Boris Cezek and Dean Muscat, who composed and wrote this song are not paying any attention at all to such allegations. A lot of fuss was made because we used a ukulele.
EM: Will you present the same, unpretentious dress style at Malmo. It certainly is far removed from some bombastic styles we have seen at this festival and even the Malta Song for Europe. It also says a lot about your own personality?
GL: I do not know whether I will be wearing the same waistcoat but yes, the attire will remain simple.
EM: What other music plans have you got for the near future?
GL: Boris and Dean are now working with me on three new songs. They will be in the same vein as Tomorrow. I am also still working with Funk Initiative. We will soon have a new song called Architects.
EM: How different do you feel from performing as a Eurovision artiste to performing with Funk Initiative?
GL: With Funk Initiative, my voice serves as an instrument. I feel more relaxed on my own, and the voice takes a different dimension too. These are two different projects that have given me satisfaction because they are different.
EM: How do you get along with Boris and Dean? What is your artistic relationship like?
GL: I’ll tell you in two words: Tal-Genn! This was the first time they managed to get into the finals of the Malta Song for Europe and they won!
EM: As a medical doctor, how do you see music therapy as a healing tool?
GL: This is a relatively new concept for Malta. It does help alleviate anxiety and I believe it can be a successful tool if used properly. Pet therapy has made successful inroads here and I believe music therapy can do the same too, if taken seriously.
EM: You also hinted that you wish to specialise in pediatrics. However, would this mean that you will completely do away with your music career?
GL: I hope to keep music as a side project. I enjoy music. I do not want to take it too seriously. However, I will consider any opportunities that may arise in my music career. Music is magic, and it keeps me going. It’s an educative tool if used properly. The Eurovision Song Contest may help but I want to keep on building good relationships with my songwriters and with Funk Initiative, and of course my audience. I wholeheartedly thank everyone, especially my family for their support.