ROCKIN' THE ROCK!
Michael Bugeja’s iconic radio show, ROCKNA, is celebrating its sixth anniversary with a triple-bill event. Ramona Depares finds out more.
How was the idea for Rockna born?
The idea for the show is actually connected to the weekly music pages I had been writing for The Sunday Times of Malta for a number of years, although somewhat indirectly. Around May 2010, Charles Saliba, the station manager at Radio 101 and a regular reader of my music pages, had approached me when he was preparing the new radio schedule. He suggested I should consider producing a show that would be an extension of my written work about the local music scene. I didn’t need too much convincing, of course, and started working on it immediately.
What was the aim of the show?
At the time, much of the presence of Maltese music on the local airwaves was pretty much a matter of some local releases making it onto the radio playlists. That isn’t a bad thing of course, but I realised that a good chunk of what constituted the music scene on this island of ours was being given either very little or no airtime or exposure. So I created Rockna, a pun on the words ‘our rock’, referring to Malta and ‘rock music’, of course.
Not that I was ever going to limit myself to just rock music. n the six years that have passed, I’ve featured quite a lot of genres – from pop, rock, punk, ska, hiphop and metal to folk, reggae, classical, jazz, electronic and world music.
What was the biggest challenge in making it happen?
Having Charles Saliba’s (and therefore, Radio 101’s) support behind me, it was really just a matter of putting together a schedule of bands and artists to feature and interview on the show. With enough experience of interviews and knowing most of the local bands and artists, this wasn’t too difficult. I’d say the only challenge was (and remains) to find fresh angles to when it comes to preparing questions to put to the guests…oh, and keeping up with all the activity that goes on in the local scene.
What particular highlights do you remember from all these years?
Well, there have been quite a few extraordinary shows; each time Cable35, Massacre House Party or Nicky Bomba have been on, for example. Last Christmas’s special edition with Fuzzhoneys was good fun, and having Mistura release their debut album on the show itself was quite special too. Having said that, most shows are a balance of music talk and a few laughs too… I like to keep things casual and relaxed, not too stiff. On a sadder note, the annual anniversary and end-of-year shows featuring DJs Noel Mifsud and Lito and music scribe Noel D’Anastas have been on my mind a lot more recently as I, and I’m sure many others try to come to terms with Lito’s recent, tragic demise.
How have you seen the show change through the years?
The initial format was based on a playlist and an interview with a featured band or artist, but over time, as more and more events and releases were happening, there has been perhaps more talk than music. I try to balance this out with the occasional ‘music-only’ editions. Along the way, I also started to ask bands if they wanted to perform a couple of unplugged numbers during the show; some do, some don’t. But, when they do, it obviously gives the show an extra special touch. From an audience point of view, I like to receive feedback and I’m especially thrilled when someone tells me they were introduced to a local act through the show.
And what about the local music scene, how has that changed since Rockna started?
In real terms, the local scene has been changing ever since ‘modern’ music first infiltrated our shores. It is thanks to the local beat groups of the 1960s, and the rock bands that emerged in the 1970s, that the 1980s Maltese music scene experienced an explosion. There have been dry spells too but, from the end of the 1990 onwards, the music scene here has been growing and, more importantly developing and exploring, at a fast rate.
The number of bands is constantly on the increase, meaning that the interest in making music is very strong. They may not all be top quality acts, but each is contributing to keep the scene alive.
How do you feel about the coverage of Maltese music on local radio stations – do you feel that there is still a long way to go?
I’d say there is a good amount of exposure being given to local releases on the local media but there’s always room for improvement. The problem, of course, is that not all genres are given the same opportunity, with underground music often relying on specific programmes to give them some attention. I would love to see a quota put in place, obliging radio and TV stations to include a predefined percentage of local music in their playlists, but this is easier said than done for various reasons. One must also not forget that, apart from media exposure, there are some more pressing issues that need addressing in order to fully support the local bands and artists.
What can we expect from your sixth anniversary event?
Further to last year’s anniversary concert, Radio 101 expressed a wish to stage a similar event this year. This time we opted for a three-band line-up which, I feel, reflects the show’s vision to cover and support different genres. We have invited promising newcomers Decline The Fall, Falcon’s Flying Circus, whose profile is firmly in the ascendant, and Airport Impressions, without a doubt one of the top rock acts on the island. All three are known to give electrifying performances, so it should all make for an enjoyable concert that appeals to a wide audience.
What are your future plans for the programme?
The plan is for the programme to go on, of course. The current format has proved successful so I’ll probably stick to that, although I do have a few ideas that may or may not find their way into the show eventually. I don’t like to look too much into the future, to be honest; dealing with the here and now keeps me busy enough. Rockna’s 6th Anniversary Concert will be held on July 8 at Dar Ċentrali, Pieta. Tickets are available against a donation and doors open at 7.30pm. For more information, look up the event page on Facebook or call on 2596 5406/2596 5462.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (26 June 2016)