WARREN GALEA: THE MUSIC THAT MOVES HIM
He is just 24 years old, a music teacher for the past three years and last year's winner of the Malta Jazz Contest. A guitar player above everything else, his name is Warren Galea and he is one of a new breed of musicians hailing from genres as vast and different as classical, indie, metal, rock, folk and pop to embrace and explore jazz, and rather than feeling they have to abandon their roots, find ways to integrate the different styles. Equally inspired by "Mozart, Parker, The Beatles, Zappa, Hendrix, Monk and the beautiful smell of a Maltese Summer", Galea spoke to Michael Bugeja ahead of his upcoming performance at the 2015 Malta Jazz Festival, an album in the works and moving to New York to pursue his musical studies.
What turned you onto music and to pick up the guitar with such dedication, at such a young age?
My mother played piano, so from early on I was experimenting with that instrument, which I still love to play every day. Oddly enough, as a child I was mostly interested in drawing grotesque cartoons, obsessed with wanting to make films. That ended as soon as I picked up the guitar at 11. Within three years I realized music had to be the main focus of my life, and after that I tried to dedicate every moment to immersing myself in music through listening, studying, composing, playing with others and growing artistically in every possible way. I still get mad when other things get in the way, but life is life.
Were you immediately drawn to classical and jazz music or did you explore other genres along the way?
As I child I was exposed to classical and film music, both of which I loved, and also pop music, which I mostly hated. In my early teens I was drawn to hip hop, which I still consider a major influence, and a lot of rock. Nowadays I enjoy all kinds of music. To me there is only one distinction: music which I love and music which doesn't move me. I became acquainted with jazz in my teenage years and I immediately fell in love with it; particularly the swing rhythm and especially the its improvisational essence. Jazz puts me completely in the moment, I just have to listen and move with it. It's not as simple as it sounds because it means my hearing must be sharp and I must react sensibly and meaningfully to what is going on. But it stays fresh and stimulating because each playing experience is unique. To me music is a language much more meaningful than that of spoken words.
Clearly, studying has played a vital part in getting you this far….
Music is the only thing that keeps me sane; it's my reason for living. I'm obsessed with improving myself and it's what I think about all the time. Attending the Berklee Clinics in Perugia was a great experience; not only did I get to see some of the greatest jazz artists at the Umbria Jazz Festival, but it was also the first step in my musical journey outside Malta. Studying with the Berklee faculty and playing with foreign jazz musicians of a high level and dedication further convinced me this was what I wanted to do with my life. When I got back here, I practiced guitar over 8 hours every day till the end of summer. The rest of the time I would play piano or listen to music.
You’re involved in several local bands and projects, not all of them strictly jazz-orientated...
My main project is F Trio with Alan Portelli on bass and Manuel Pulis on drums. We're recording our first album at Temple Studios this July with the help of the Malta Arts Fund. We play originals as well as standards, but we also experiment with different styles and sounds, with improvisation as the major component, so I suppose you could call us 'jazz'.
I also play in a duo with guitarist Jes Psaila, and earlier this year I was involved in a project called Green Electric playing guitar and keyboards alongsid Keith Fenech on bass and Kyle Drakard, who usually plays guitar, on drums. Our gig at Django featured trumpeter Sean Borg and we played an eclectic 'rock-meets-funk-meets-jazz-meets-hip hop, reggae and electronic' set of originals, jazz standards and a medley combining Led Zeppelin, Karl Jenkins and Romberg & Hammerstein.
I was also briefly involved, on keyboards, in a band with electronic artist Melchior Sultana and right now I often play with other local jazz musicians such as Joe 'Bibi' Camilleri Jr, Carlo Muscat and Joe Debono....oh, and I have some other side projects which are still in their early stages.
The Malta Jazz festival must be particularly close to your heart too...
The festival is one of the things I love most about Malta as it has gifted me with the experience of watching some of the best jazz musicians in the world. I'm also happy that this event as well as the Fringe series of gigs surrounding it, in which I am also involved, play an important part in motivating and attracting the interest of young Maltese musicians, both from the Jazz scene and outside of it. Moreover, the Festival is a beautiful opportunity for musicians and jazz lovers to unite and experience the joy of music together.
You'll be performing as part of the Fringe Youth Jazz Ensemble this year, which I'm guessing you must be quite looking forward to...
Yes, I'm happy to be playing with some of my favourite Maltese musicians and some Italian ones too, which I'm sure will be very exciting and a good opportunity to make new contacts too. Opening for some of the biggest names in jazz is a huge honour and a positive experience for all of us.
In a few months you’ll be leaving for New York to continue with your musical studies….
Going to New York to study jazz has been my main goal for quite a while now and I am tremendously happy that my dream is becoming a reality. I've come a long way and though it won't be easy, I believe that if you follow what you love in life, the way will open. I auditioned for a BFA in Jazz Guitar at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan in the Spring, and I was accepted with a partial scholarship. Right now I'm busy with preparations but I'm thrilled and looking forward to it immensely.
Photo by David Schembri
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (12 July 2015)