Joe Julian Farrugia is a local Maltese lyricist who writes for many local competitions including the Malta Eurovision Song Contest. This year, he was one of the most predominant figures to compete at the International Festival of Maltese Song which was returning following an eleven year absence. escflashmalta.com had the opportunity to speak to Joe Julian Farrugia about his role within this competition and with regards to the local music scene in general. During the course of the weekend, he presented three songs; Hawn Mill-Ġdid and Inti Mill-Ġdid which he co-wrote with Paul Abela and Stejjer which was co-written with Andrew Zahra. The vocalists for these three songs were Olivia Lewis who was the eventual winner, Roger Tirazona and Miriam Christine, respectively.
How do you feel that the International Festival of Maltese song is back after eleven (11) years in exile?
The news that this festival is back was well received by all local music lovers. First of all, we spent 11 years without a national song contest in our language. But not only that; most of the “classics” in Maltese music came out of this festival, and therefore one hopes that the “vacuum” in this regard will now be no more.
What is that special ingredient which saw you compete with a total of three songs?
A festival is always a festival. This is not a football game in which everyone may see if the ball passes the goal line or not. A festival depends on the subjective opinion of the judges. This year, three of mine were preferred.
Which type of audience do you think the International Festival of Maltese song most attracted?
In the past it used to attract a wide spectrum; no matter the age or anything else. And that used to include youths too. Today’s youths do not remember the festival much, so this may be something new for them. Only time will tell. Some may blame the language question with youths. It is absolutely not true that youths do not like songs in the Maltese language. Only be present when something like “Xemx” is played in mass gatherings… and watch the youths singing.
In this festival, there were a total of fourteen (14) local acts and twelve (12) foreign acts, what was your opinion about how it all panned out?
This is only a new beginning. In the past, foreign singers used to give their own interpretation of the Maltese songs, in their language, and at times even publish our songs in their country. This will happen again next year. This year, everything had to be organised from scratch and the foreigners will only sing something out of their own repertoire, although they will compete among themselves also.
Are competitions like these, important for the local society?
I believe festivals are the most ideal in the music industry. But in small country with no music industry at all, a festival might be the only way how to publish music. It is very expensive to publish a cd which no one buys because it may be easily downloaded for free on the net. In that case festivals are the only platforms available.
Which language do you prefer to express yourself with when writing lyrics, Maltese or English?
I write in both languages and I also know that English may be listened to much more, considering a Maltese language audience is only restricted to our country. But I prefer to write Maltese, first because it is as romantic and musical as the Italian language, and secondly because the conjugations and declensions in its Arabic roots makes it much more fun to work with.
When you write a song, do you have a particular singer in mind?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It depends where it starts off. If a singer asks for a song, you know who you are writing for. If I am writing a song with no singer in kind, I try to be as neutral as can be so that it may be sung by anyone.
In your opinion, should we enter Eurovision with a Maltese song and what are you views about that competition?
No… Not because there is something wrong with the language… but because there is something wrong with Eurovision. Eurovision is not judged by experts, but by televiewers hoping to win some nice gift connected to their phone call. Therefore, singing in a language the masses understand is an advantage.
How long does it take you to write a whole song?
One cannot say… I may write the lyrics in an amount of hours, but no one knows how much the thought has been boiling in… I do not know about the music composition. It is lyrics that I write.
When you enter a festival, do you enter to compete or to win, and when one of your songs does not make it through, how do you feel?
A song is like a baby. If I do not believe in it, I would not pay the fees (100 to 150 euros each song) to submit it… Yes a song which does not make it is a disappointment in itself… So at that stage, there is no compromising… I am happy if a song enters and I am not if a song is eliminated. Then in the finals, one prefers to win… though only one wins… but having showed your work in public is most rewarding, winner or not.
Do you always agree with the composer and the singer when it comes to finalize a song?
Like in any team, matters are discussed and different ideas may come across. If the team is only looking at having the best results, discussion is always healthy.
Had you not been a lyricist, what would you be doing?
Who knows? I only know how to write. I even do television and radio, not because I love television or radio, but because they involve writing. That’s what I love to do. I always dreamt of learning how to play the piano or drums, but I never had the chance…
What has been the best achievement in your career so far?
I do not look at the unit with trophies to answer such a question. The best achievement is when I meet people who mention some song of mine and say how much they love it… Trophies are dead matter… people are alive… like music and lyrics.