‘Decentralising’ the Malta Jazz Festival

Artistic Director Sandro Zerafa will be shaking things up with the Malta Jazz Festival this time around, as apart from its traditional venue at Ta’ Liesse, Valletta Waterfront, the beloved celebration of local and international jazz will expand to other venues, he tells TEODOR RELJIC 

Teodor Reljic
11 May 2016, 9:10am
How has serving as the artistic director of the Malta Jazz Festival affected your career as a musician, if at all?

Not really. They are two separate things. But being on both sides one learns more about the mechanisms in the music business and one also develops a better vision of the music market. This won’t affect your output as a musician, unless you want it to, but it gives you an idea what to expect from the music industry.

How would you say that the festival has changed or evolved during the years since you took over as its artistic director, and what has led to and dictated any changes? 

I made it a point to maintain a healthy balance between the popular and savant elements of jazz. Compared to its European counterparts, the festival has probably the most diverse and artistically coherent line-ups without succumbing to the watered-down ‘jazzy’. I developed the Jazz on the Fringe in a bid to stimulate the local scene through masterclasses, competitions, exchanges and collaborations with foreign musicians. I am also decentralizing the festival so that it does not remain confined to Ta’ Liesse. The festival is growing, both in terms of audience attendance and also in terms of format.

On that note, what can punters expect from this year’s edition? 

We are moving Thursday night from Ta’ Liesse to Valletta in an effort to create a jazz vibe in Valletta centre. I always felt uncomfortable with the fact that nobody would notice there is a jazz festival going on when entering Valletta during the festival days. We are using two venues – City Gate, in front of the stairway and opposite the law courts. The concerts will be free of charge and will feature some vibrant sounds from the Cuban rising star Harold Lopez-Nussa, the Sicilian South Sound Experience and the Oliver Degabriele quartet. We will also be having mid-day concerts throughout the whole week in Valletta, showcasing mostly young talent in Malta. The Ta’ Liesse concerts will feature some heavyweights such as Marcus Roberts. The big crowd pullers this year are fusion/groove/soul outfit Snarky Puppy, who just won their second Grammy and are immensely popular with the younger audience. Mike Stern will be returning to the Maltese islands with an exciting band featuring Rolling Stones bass player Darryl Jones. Omer Avital will definitely appeal to lovers of world music, with his joyful Oriental sounds.


How would you say the jazz festival influences the local musical scene? 

I am a professional musician today thanks to the Jazz Festival. One of my greatest satisfactions is observing how the festival inspires and influences the younger generation. I don’t expect it to have the same impact it had 25 years ago. At that time, it was the event of summer. Nowadays the whole year is saturated with events and our senses are saturated too. However, the audience is younger now and there is a very dynamic scene emerging. Master classes are very well attended, and there is an increasing interest in improvised music in general. I am sure the jazz festival contributed to all this. 

And on that note, what do you make of the Maltese musical scene in general? What would you change about it?

There is great talent. There is also a significant amount of brain drain, which is inevitable. Many young musicians go and study abroad. Is there enough incentive for repatriation? I think real venues are lacking in general. And I also think we need to further develop the export of Maltese talent and create more schemes for collaborations/exchanges with international scenes. Insularity is not necessarily a good thing for a musician.

What’s next for you?

I am preparing the recording of my fourth album as a leader which will be released in January 2017 on the French Jazz & People label. I will be entering the studio with my new quartet featuring Yonathan Avishai, Yoni Zelnik and Lukmil Perez. This recording will be made with the generous support of the Malta Arts Fund. In the coming months I also have an exciting concert schedule in Italy, France and Malta amongst which a concert in Strada Stretta on May 13 with Oliver Degabriele and the French drummer Fred Pasqua. We will be paying homage to the great composers of Brazilian popular music.

Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...