Acoustic guitar supremoes behind Tommy Emmanuel gig on why Malta is a great place for performers

Ahead of their hosting of legendary Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel as part of the next gig in their repertoire, Tao Productions founder and organizer Frankie Calleja speaks to Teodor Reljic about how the small but determined company managed to carve a niche for itself as the organizer of some of the island’s top quality acoustic guitar concerts

Tommy Emmauel
Tommy Emmauel

What led to the setting up of TAO, and how did you go about its first steps?

I guess my love for music and showbusiness was the main drive for starting this project. Our first steps were quite chaotic as most new ventures are, we had to learn fast and set up a respectable brand, finance our projects and build trust with our contacts... All of which are crucial when contacting a professional musician or management. 

Did you find the local musical scene amenable to the kind of events you were proposing (both from the point of view of the audience and local performers)?

We had a very nice turn out in all our concerts and workshops so far and we are very pleased with the way our projects are being received. We would have never survived if it wasn’t for the support of the local music community and the excitement shown by the audience during standing ovations of every single show. Still, we’d love to see more people from different genres take the plunge and get to one of these shows.

Tao Productions founder Frankie Calleja
Tao Productions founder Frankie Calleja

What led you to settle on acoustic concerts as your niche? 

Acoustic music is something I’m very passionate about, I play acoustic guitar myself and all these projects are a kind of a reflection of what I’m into. Perhaps, bringing all these acoustic virtuosos to the island might all be for my own selfish reasons after all! But joking apart, we are interested in various other projects that do not necessarily involve acoustic music and we don’t consider acoustic as our only niche.

How did you manage to attract international names like Andy McKee, Don Ross and now Tommy Emmanuel to your events? What drew them to Malta?

It’s a matter of building trust with the artist and their management. Professionals usually have a whole management team handling their tours, legal, logistics and so on, which make sure that all requirements are dealt with properly and that the artist is safe. If you can assure them that you can manage and promote an engagement professionally, they’d be happy to visit a beautiful sunny island to do what they love. 

Canadian guitarist Don Ross during a concert organized by Tao Productions last November
Canadian guitarist Don Ross during a concert organized by Tao Productions last November

Why do you think the Tommy Emmanuel concert at Pjazza Teatru Rjal will be special?

Anyone who is familiar with Tommy’s music or has attended a show of his abroad knows that this will be one of this year’s highlights in our capital. We also have the Hot Club Of Valletta opening for Tommy with a Gypsy Jazz set – which will surely be an absolute blast! 

What do you make of the local musical scene? What would you change about it? 

I believe our scene is a vibrant one, and it’s great to see so many initiatives by both the private and public sectors. Regardless what you’re into, nowadays there’s so much going on that you can barely keep up, and this is great. I wouldn’t know what to change… I tend to focus on what we are doing and make sure we are getting things right so that our contribution is relevant and a positive one.

What’s next for you? 

We have various projects lined up, some modest and some very ambitious. We will just take it step by step and see where things take us.

Maltese singer-songwriter Claire Tonna performing at a Tao Productions event
Maltese singer-songwriter Claire Tonna performing at a Tao Productions event

About Tommy Emmanuel

Two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Emmanuel is one of Australia’s most respected musicians. The legendary guitarist has a professional career that spans five decades and continues to intersect with some of the finest musicians throughout the world. A household name in his native Australia, Tommy has garnered hundreds of thousands of loyal fans worldwide. Tommy’s unique style – he calls it simply “finger style” – is akin to playing guitar the way a pianist plays piano, using all ten fingers. Rather than using a whole band for melody, rhythm, bass, and drum parts, Tommy plays all that – and more – on one guitar. Guitar legend Chet Atkins was one of the first to inspire Emmanuel to try this “fingerpicker” style as a child. Decades later, Atkins himself became one of Emmanuel’s biggest fans. Tommy Emmanuel is an honorary Kentucky Colonel, a CGP (Certified Guitar Player – a title given by Chet Atkins to only 5 guitarists in the world), an Order of Australia Medalist (AM) and the holder of both an honorary Master’s Degree (MA) and more recently an honorary Doctor of Arts (DR) from Charles Sturt University in Australia in recognition of his commitment to rural Australia and his contribution to music education.

Tommy Emmanuel will be performing at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Valletta on August 10 at 19:30. Bookings:  or 7920 5402