Exclusive: Kurt Calleja speaks to ESCflashmalta

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The Malta Eurovision Song Contest which took place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in the capital city of Valletta proved to be a resounding success when it comes to quality and the results at the end of the evening saw two artists reach their first ever top three placing on their second participation. Earlier this year, we spoke to the first runner-up in the competition, Richard Edwards but this time round, we are going to be speaking to none other than the second runner-up in the competition, Kurt Calleja who continually continues to grow from strength to strength becoming a popular artist in the space of a very short period. His success with the song ‘Over and Over’ has prompted him to look towards greener pastures and this is something which he takes in with stride as should be. Within these questions, we will be looking at Kurt’s rise to fame, his experience within the local national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest as well as his current and future projects.

Over the years, the local music industry has been based on a number of factors but the biggest event is surely the national selection for the annual Eurovision Song Contest which is televised nationwide through Television Malta and organized on a large scale. This year, the Public Broadcasting Services decided to put on a stunning show, one which will show the people experts within the field and the standard of the quality of the entries rose considerably when compared to the past couple of years. What do you think made for such a change in mentality for singers and songwriters this year and do you believe that the trend can remain high?

First of all, I do believe that this change in mentality was long overdue. I believe that for a number of years the Maltese Festival Pre-selection catered only for the Maltese singers as a showcase. For years the Maltese singers who participated in this festival, hoping to represent Malta in the Eurovision didn’t open their ears to what music was selling in the charts abroad but merely asking a composer and an author to write a song which they could use to try and get themselves onto this showcase. In all fairness, it is quite easy to organize an event which gets together a good number of singers to compete for a trophy – anyone can do that – obviously the difference in this case is the fact that the trophy is your ticket to being the Maltese ambassador in the Eurovision Song Contest – but you really need to have a passion for the business and know how it works to make a successful festival such the one we had this year.

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The music industry nowadays is a lot more than getting yourself to be invited in these Lejla Maltija (Maltese Nights) and to sing in weddings. The music industry nowadays is about getting an audience, a fan base that is literally there behind the artist, supporting the artist etc etc. Having said that, I was over joyed when I heard that Anton Attard would be the one in charge. He is a proper professional in this line of work himself, having organized so many other similar events with big artists. One last point if I may, I do believe that the fact that the entry fee was at a high price, many singers became very choosy and didn’t submit a bunch of songs but went with the one they believed in the most – hence, the higher quality!

This year marked your second participation in the Malta Eurovision Song Contest with your debut coming back in 2010 alongside Priscilla Psaila with the song ‘Waterfall’, a ballad composed by Marco Debono and penned at the hands of Rita Pace. The actual participation meant quite a lot to you because you could see the enthusiasm through your facial expressions as you took on the stage for an array of rehearsals throughout the week. How did such an experience help you in becoming the artist that you are today and would you do anything differently a year on because in a duet things are definitely done differently than when done in a solo way?

Yes, in fact this year, my team and I were so organized I myself was impressed. I am not normally that organized but somehow, for this song, I put my act together. The reason I was so organized is because of my experience with Priscilla. She has so much experience in this line of work that last years’ experience for me a whole new learning curve. I also learned that it is not all fun and games, you have to make sacrifices. I forgot what a social life is nowadays with all my running around from stage to stage and studio to studio. With working with Priscilla, I tasted what being married is like – haha – because sometimes you have to give in to the ideas of your partner, hoping that some other times your partner will give in to your ideas. Whereas this year, it felt like I was married to 10 people to say the least, because even though I was singing solo, I had a bigger team including the band (Chris, David, Rebecca, Walter and Kevin), Johan Jamtberg, Shasha, Kyle Calleja, Antonella Vassallo, Jonathan Borg, Andrew Zammit amongst many comments from friends and family.

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Leading up to this question of course is last years’ participation but one should note that this years’ entry is the one to have really given you prime importance when it comes to success. Entering as a solo performer for the very first time and meeting you at the Public Broadcasting Services headquarters during the audition stages, you looked relaxed before taking on the panel of judges with your song ‘Over and Over’ written by Johan J’Amtberg and yourself which not only made it to the latter stages of the competition but eventually finished in third place just behind Glen Vella and Richard Edwards managing to finish fourth in the tele-vote and joint second in the jury vote. What does the song actually mean to you and how did it feel to be amongst the best?

Well the song means a lot to me because it was written about a personal experience of mine. Johan and I started this off as a joke when I was in a music festival in Venice. When it was announced that this year, we could have foreign composers, I told Johan that we should co-write the song and try it out in the Malta Eurovision stage. He was all in. And the all the rest just came on its own. Being amongst the best is not a right, but a trophy. You have to work very hard to get there and work twice as hard to stay there. I personally believe, I got lucky this year because I met Johan who had a catchy tune in his head. My competitors have a lot more experience than myself and I honestly do believe I still have a lot more to learn, even from those who didn’t rank in the festival.

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Prior to your participation in the annual Malta Eurovision Song Contest, you were actually abroad competing within a festival in Venice where you had been invited to perform on a select number of evenings. During your time there, you performed a number of compositions including tracks from the one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Hit Musicals namely “The Phantom of the Opera” where we have been told you impressed the people present at the event as well as the Jury panel. Such an experience was surely a success for you as an artist and was a very good lead up to the actual event in itself. What could you tell us about the events that took place there and how you met up with none other than Johan J’Amtberg who would go on to co-write ‘Over and Over’ with you?

Well, it seems I owe a lot of people my thanks. This Venice venture, was all thanks to Joe Julian Farrugia and Sammy Galea who had the contact. They were very kind as to ask me to be the representative of Malta. Orfeo in Italia, is a humble but effective music festival, which caters not only for singers but also for dancers. The amount of talent found in this festival was actually breath taking. I was gob smacked as I saw young teenagers in the younger categories, dancing like there is no tomorrow. There I sang for the mayor of Venice, the ambassador for Bulgaria in Italy, Serbia’s national television producer Ana Danilovic, and so many more.

Johan was the manager of the Swedish team, and I must admit I fancied one of the girls from the Swedish team, hence how my conversation with Johan started. I later found out that Johan is a good friend of the talented Maltese author, Gerard James Borg. Johan is a fantastic, down to earth, always ready to jam kind of guy and when I heard how he produced Over and Over, I was blown away. Love at first sight (or hearing, well you know what I mean). It seems, many Maltese people had that same reaction, and even when Blue themselves came up to us in the green room saying that they loved the song – that was just the cherry on top of the awesome experience.

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Festivals in Malta are part of our heritage and culture with history in itself depicting so many artists and songs which remain very much important up until this day. Kurt Calleja as an artist is yet to make it to the final stages of any showcase which basis itself within the Maltese language such as the Ghanja tal-Poplu and the Konkors Kanzunetta Indipendenza What is the significance of such showcases in the local music industry and do you believe that the national language should be promoted with regards to musical endeavours or not?

I am very undecided about the above question. I find that the Maltese language is beautiful if used properly, but too cheesy and limited most of the times. It is a fantastic language for story telling songs like L-Ahhar Bidwi f’Wied il-Ghasel for example or really deep with the idioms like Fejn Thobb il-Qalb. But I am very choosy, so until I do get a really really good Maltese song, I am afraid I won’t be seen on such stages. But I am all in for these festivals because the Maltese language and music is fantastic. Infact, I have a project in the future which I cannot unveil, where I will be using a lot of these Maltese which have competed in these festivals and later just died. I hope I do get the support of the Maltese composers and authors.

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Since the actual result in the annual Malta Eurovision Song Contest, things have been quite busy for you one can imagine with the official launch of the single a couple of months ago as well as the headlining slots at a number of events such as this years’ edition of the Farsons Great Beer Festival which takes place at the Ta’ Qali National Park. It is somewhat vital that recognition keeps gaining pace as a local artist does his best to remain in the public eye. What importance do such events have on one’s career and do you believe that greener and greater pastures await you in the next couple of months?

As a singer, my biggest joy is to be on stage entertaining a crowd. So all I am doing really is enjoying myself but with the added bonus of making people happy and until they will have me, I will be more than happy to be on such stages. I suppose my biggest achievements this year would be: my result in the Eurovision; me being invited to sing for the birthday celebrations of the Malaysian Princess’ best friend (where the princess was actually present) and obviously last but not least, being one of the supporting acts for Zucchero Live in Concert where I got to meet Zucchero himself and work alongside Sandrina DeGabriele. Sandrina and I sang an acoustic version of Running Scared played by Chris Calleja my very own guitarist who also seems to be getting a lot of coverage from other artists like Kelly Schembri and Jurgen Eljrup etc. I also had the opportunity to work alongside Steve Cole, Tiziana Calleja and her band Sidewalk who are an amazing bunch!

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The Maltese selection for the Eurovision Song Contest continues to dominate viewing figures and interest amongst the local media with all three local broadcasters giving it publicity. The word on the street when the contest is near is about a number of various things are it positive or negative but in the long run, everyone ends up watching the event. This years’ competition has been noted to be one of the most impressive with the most successful in recent years with regards to entries coming in 2004, 2005, and 2008. The results abroad have been interesting with the first of two years mentioned achieving qualification and the final two years failing to qualify. What do you think of the quality behind the local competition meaning, does it require a surge of ideas?

As much as I want to answer this question, I am afraid I am but a mere singer with a flare to entertain my audience. I don’t have a clue on how things work and how one wins. What I do believe however, is you have to really believe and want something badly in order for it to happen. A good example is this years’ ambassador Glen. He entered 4 times altogether I believe, he kept on fighting till he won didn’t he? Shows how much he wanted this. Then when you are there, I believe you still have to really want to win it and not just say, now I am here, it is all in faith’s hands. But I suppose there are a lot of things hidden and winning is more than just having a good song. I might be wrong, but I believe you truly have to have a full package: song, looks, show, lights, proper PR, fashion, courage, the ambassador has to be out spoken, a good budget, co-ordination with the organizers etc etc.

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Would you like to say anything to your readers and fans at www.escflashmalta.com?

Well if after all this, the readers are still here and not bored of what I was writing, I’d thank them for their constant support. I would also like to ask you to help me get where I want to be. In a few months from now, I will be launching my album. I will launch 4 of the songs on www.youtube.com and I will need as many views as possible. Because I was promised by a recording label, that if I reach 1,000,000 views on each of the songs I will get a record deal. That can only happen if you help me out. Stay tuned 😀 loads of love, Kurt Calleja.

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