A LIFE LIVED IN MUSIC: SAMMY GALEA TURNS 80
If ever an example of a life lived in music was needed, Sammy Galea would quite likely be among the first names to come to most people’s minds. A pillar of the Maltese music scene for decades, this talented musician, songwriter and composer turned 80 yesterday. His remarkable career is reflected as much in his countless achievements as well as in the passion for music he has always displayed and which, together with his wife Doreen, he has passed on to his three sons; the result of which is a unique musical family that has contributed an incredible body of original work to Malta's collective musical inventory.
Born in Floriana in 1934, Galea’s musical awakening came about in his early teens. He started playing the piano with Mro Joseph Formosa, then studied all the way up to Grade 8 under Mro Albert Manche. He later pursued his musical studies at Rome's Conservatorio Sta. Cecilia and at the Central School of Jazz Music in London. An associate of the London College of Music, Galea also attended a course at the Berklee College of Music in the USA.
His original compositions are many, and span a number of styles and genres. Of particular note, in the late 1960s he composed incidental music for Francis Ebejer’s award-winning film An eye to reckon with and released the single Black Jack Bowl, of which he sold thousands of copies thanks to his residency at what was then the Sheraton Hotel. In the 1970s, apart from being a regular fixture on the national TV and radio stations, he also wrote the music for Singing this song (which Renato sang at the 1975 Eurovision Song contest and which went on to chart in 9 countries). Two years later he placed second at the 1977 Castlebar competition in Ireland with his instrumental composition Sapphire Theme. That same decade, his song Dimmi che mi vuoi bene (co-written and sung by his wife Doreen) won the 1972 Giarre Song Festival.
There were further triumphs in the 1980s, among them placing first at the 1982 Festival Internazzjonali tal-Kanzunetta Maltija with Jekk Trid (written by his wife Doreen and performed by Mary Spiteri), placing second with instrumental piece The Clown On The Keyboard at the 1981 GibSong Festival in Gibraltar (where he was also awarded the Best Rest of the World Trophy) and landing a TV Oscar Award in 1985 for Best Composer.
The 1990s continued to bring him more success, namely clinching the top prize at the 1994 Malta Song Festival with his composition Forsi, on top of which he also won the PBS song festival for four consecutive years. Galea’s long and distinguished career as a songwriter established him at both local and international levels, and his diverse body of work has shown him to be equally adept at writing for children as for adults. During the 1990s in fact, he co-wrote the Maltese musicals Il-Ħanut Tal-Ġugarelli with lyricist Charles Mifsud and Andrelisa with lyricist Ġorġ Saliba. His composition Taħt il-Qawsalla has been published and recorded in Zurich by UNICEF, while Turin’s Edition Steam recorded his I galli della nonna and Minnie Pejxa, the latter also being picked to represent Malta at the 1993 Zecchino D’Oro Song Festival.
With so many achievements under his belt, it is hardly surprising that Galea received a Life Time Achievement Award at the 2003 Malta Music Awards and Gieħ il-Furjana from the Floriana Local Council. Despite his venerable age, Galea remains active, performing regularly at the Phoenicia Hotel where he has been the resident pianist for the past four decades.
This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (17 November 2014)