"If the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain." Familiar words to most people without a doubt, and ones many of us have actually had to put into action too at some point or other . These same words capture the very essence of the concept behind the Żigużajg on an outing project, wherein a collective of local and international musicians will reach out to young people and help them to discover new and different forms of music in a celebration of cultural diversity. The programme will see classrooms around the Maltese islands transformed into concert halls for music from around the world during the Żigużajg festival week, with musicians and artists hailing music from all around the world performing especially for children and young people. Michael Bugeja speaks to event co-ordinator Justin Galea, around whose Musicians on an outing pilot project this programme is based.
When and what inspired the original concept of bringing music to children at schools in the first place and what are its aims?
It all started from a discussion I had with recording engineer David Vella two years ago, during a recording session with Plato's Dream Machine about a project that could be mutually beneficial for young people as well as for bands and artists. During his term as a member of the Arts Council, David had recommended that bands should hold publicly-funded regular concerts in schools as an ongoing initiative to inspire young students and showcase local talent whilst in the process, create work for bands to be able to sustain themselves.
Did you wish there was such a project when you were growing up?
Definitely. My adolescent exposure to music was a mixture of Chopin's piano nocturnes as I struggled with private piano lessons, and the heavy metal albums my cousin used to lend me. Unfortunately back then there were no opportunities for people my age to listen to live folk music, electronic music and other alternative styles, so we were less aware of the various music genres that existed. This is why I had decided, with the support of Kreattiv and St. Paul's Missionary College, to start the Musicians On An Outing pilot project. We showcased five different styles of music to third and fourth form students with the aim of later propagating the project in other schools.
From the project’s performance so far what, in your opinion are the primary elements that facilitate the connection and spark the interest of the young audience?
I think a big part of it is the interactive aspect. The jam sessions with the nosnow/noalps crew were particularly engaging as well as the impromptu għana fuq il-kelma, which revolved around topics suggested by the students themselves, which in this case included snails, Angelik and the school rector. The students were able to attend five fully-fledged concerts of rock, għana, electronic, classical and jazz music that they wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise, all staged in an environment where they felt safe and relaxed. As a result, the students' reactions were very encouraging. Naturally, all the sessions were planned in such a way that students could gain as much as possible from them, and the selected artists and speakers were carefully chosen to project their music style in the best way possible.
What attracted you to the idea of transposing the school concept into a Żigużajg -related event, given the setting will be altogether different, and which will possibly even lead to different results and reactions?
The Żigużajg event is different and a challenge in itself. It consists of three related events, namely On An Outing sessions, parades and a concert at Pjazza Teatru Rjal. Having such a high standard, the Żigużajg festival gives this project a solid platform and offers a bigger showcase opportunity for me to propagate the On an Outing concept and promote it among more schools. To make things even more interesting we are collaborating with WOMAD and bringing in four international artists hailing from all corners of the globe who in turn, will be working with artists from Malta on all events of the Żigużajg On An Outing project. I have no doubt that the young participants in this project will find it very interesting and will be benefitting from it.
As you mentioned, there's an interesting array of artists involved; some local, others foreign. How did WOMAD come to be involved?
The collaboration of Żigużajg and WOMAD has been ongoing and strong for a couple of years and therefore it was only natural to include WOMAD in this project to give it a twist of cultural diversity celebration through world music. I'm very proud of working alongside such musicians as Ghanaian drummer Abass Dodoo, Jamaican dancer and choreographer Ripton Lindsay, singer Mim Suleiman (Zanzibar/Republic of Tanzania) and Mauricio Velasierra, a kena player of UK/Colombian origin, as well as the Maltese artists, namely pianist Joe Debono, bassist Oliver Degabriele, guitarist Jes Psaila, drummers Nil Ramos and Michael Galea and dancer/choreographer Sarah Lanzon. All artists were carefully selected in terms of their experience in improvisation and adaptability to the Żigużajg context.
What will the whole programme involve?
The whole programme consists of a number of daily workshops, to be held at various schools between Tuesday 17 and Friday 20 November that will be led by all artists. Through these workshops, the artists will introduce their music, their background and traditions to a secondary school audience together with interactive interventions. People will then be invited to participate in parades around the streets of Valletta with the Grand Finale happening around noon on Sunday, November 22, accompanied by huge floats by the renowned French company Plasticiens Volants. Further to this, the Music from around the world concert will take place that same day at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, featuring a core band formed by the local musicians featuring the WOMAD artists.
Why should parents encourage their children to attend this event?
Children and young people will get to experience a variety of music styles performed by foreign and local artists, music that at times might sound unconventional to their ears but that genuinely reflects other cultures and traditions. This whole project will be carried out in a healthy spirit of cultural diversity, within the commonwealth region and beyond and will therefore transmit the values of diversity, inclusion and creativity in one tailor-made package for the respective Żigużajg audience.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (08 Novvember 2015)
Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff