An homage to the swinging pioneers of Malta, the Tribute to the Swinging Pioneers of Malta double album released through Heritage Records ten years ago was, and remains, an important ‘document’, particularly because it offers a commendable representation of the music scene that existed in post-war Malta. It is thanks to Dominic Galea, who set up the record label in 2003, and whose dedication was the driving force behind this CD album, that such an extensive collection – 41 tracks in all – was made widely available for public consumption. Since then, the label has put out 10 more albums; each of them presenting not just an entertaining collection of well-crafted songs, but also an interesting approach on Galea’s part, in several instances highlighting classic Maltese literary works that the talented composer has set to music. Clearly, the Tribute album was an important gateway to a significant stream of inspired works, so it is therefore only fitting that this album, once again with the support of HSBC, is being reissued to mark the label’s tenth anniversary. MICHAEL BUGEJA met with DOMINIC GALEA to learn more about this exceptional album.
What was it that inspired you to set up Heritage Records?
I’d say the main inspiration was the fact that around 1998 I had decided to once again focus on jazz music and distance myself from the song festival circuit I had dabbled in for a few years. I also worked on fewer musicals over the next couple of years, by which time I felt I needed an outlet for the music I was working on then, which wasn’t so mainstream. I got the idea of archiving my works and that sparked off the idea of setting up the label. 11 albums on, I’m glad I did.
How important to you was it to produce something as challenging as the Tribute album?
This album is very dear to me, primarily because it features around 70 musicians from the local jazz scene, and representing different generations too. Sadly, some of them, such as Charles Sciberras il-Huta, Val Valente and Frank Camilleri il-Bibi, are no longer with us and are deeply missed. I believe that these musicians, whom I sincerely regard as the pioneers of jazz music in Malta, have not been adequately recognized for their contribution to music on the island. Through this album, I wanted to create an awareness of their work, not only to be enjoyed by those who knew them, but also by the generations to follow. To complement the music, the CD booklet features a detailed essay by Joe Julian Farrugia based on the information passed on to us by Bibi over a coffee at Cordina.
The original issue was linked to a philantropic cause…
Yes, in 2004, the album was intended to raise money for the HSBC Cares For Children Fund. This time, the money raised from sales of the 10th anniversary reissue will go to the Malta Community Chest Fund.
The list of participating artists reads like a Who’s Who of Malta’s jazz scene. I’m sure you have some great stories to tell about the making of the CD with so many colourful characters around…
Believe me there are plenty, perhaps too many to go into here but I remember going first to Joe Curmi il-Puse’ with my idea for the album. We were at the Monti market next to our fellow musician Mario Cocker Aquilina, who had a stall there. Joe was very keen on the idea but admitted he hadn’t played the saxophone for a while and needed to brush up. Apparently when practising he was experiencing chest pains and thought it best to back out as he was afraid it was something serious, but he did say I could use some of his old recordings instead. As I really wanted him on board I accepted his offer, and it is thanks to him that the second CD of vintage recordings, also featuring the likes of Oscar Lucas, Jimmy Dowling, Spiru Zammit and Lee Spiteri amongst others, came to be part of the album. The best part is that after the second disc was ready, Joe still got to play on the album with his sons George and Martin because it turned out his chest pains were only muscle pains and nothing serious at all.
The photo of all the musicians inside the booklet is rather special too…
Without a doubt…incidentally, when we went to have that picture taken at St. Philip Gardens in Floriana, two of the musicians there hadn’t spoken to each other for a very long time. Unfortunately one of them slipped and hurt his head and the other promptly helped take him to the polyclinic to have it seen to, following which they ironed out their differences, so it all turned out well in the end.
What about the first disc, which features only original works by local composers?
For the first disc, I had asked the musicians to play one of their own compositions, and in fact, all but one of the 17 tracks are originals, among them works by deceased composers such as Paul Arnaud, Duminku Fiteni and Lee Spiteri. It took us six months to finish this album.
What attracted you to the idea of reissuing the Tribute album?
To be honest, further to the original release, the album had already been reissued once before, with both runs selling out completely. I felt that, apart from marking the label’s tenth anniversary, reissuing the album for a third, and probably last time, would once again help to highlight not only the musical works of the featured artists but also bring to the attention of a new generation the music that our 20th century ancestors were creating. All in all, it is also an important part of our history and another important link in our cultural heritage and collective memory.
Last but not least, what else are you up to?
Well, in the coming days I’ll be performing at the Malta Jazz Festival as a trio with Mario Aquilina on bass and Noel Grech on drums. We’ll be playing a mixture of originals and covers. Later on in the year we should be going to perform in Paris too. As for studio work, further to 2013’s Karba, I’ve finished another jazz album which involves 13 musicians, 3 vocalists and works by 13 contemporary poets. That should come out in November, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Tribute to the Swinging Pioneers of Malta is available from D’Amato Record Shop (Valletta)
This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (13 July,2014).