Friends pay tribute to Maltese counter-culture figure Alex Calì, dead at 70

The original free-thinker, Sliema-born Alex Calì was a fixture among environmental activists in the 1990s

‘Man of the world’ Alex Calì
‘Man of the world’ Alex Calì

Friends have paid tribute to Alex Calì, an inspirational figure of the Maltese counter-culture and a long-standing environmental activist, who died at the age of 70.

He was residing at an old people’s home in Gozo after moving to the sister island, where he ran a bar.

The grandson of the acclaimed artist Giuseppe Calì, he was born in Sliema in 1950 where he lived for a number of years before travelling around Europe and eventually returning to Malta to finally settle down in Qala, Gozo where he co-managed the popular Zeppi’s Bar.

Calì was the original Maltese free thinker, a mover in alternative circles whose life was bookmarked by his early travels to London and Sweden in the 1960s.

He hailed from an established bourgeois Sliema family, yet lived a frugal lifestyle, earning a living in catering establishments and bars. On a personal level, he was respected for his artistic sensibility, authenticity and zen spirituality.

In the early 1990s he returned to Malta after spending time in Switzerland where he worked as an organic farmer. Here he was a regular fixture in both environmental protests and at alternative gatherings and parties. He was also a close friend and collaborator of environmental activists Maggie Borg, who passed away in 2004, and MaltaToday journalist Julian Manduca, who passed away in 2005.

The broadcaster and academic Toni Sant paid tribute to Calì: “I’ve known this cool dude all my life, literally, as he was one of the local boys who came to my parents’ bar in Sliema regularly in his young days. He always struck me as a free spirit... and this definitely wasn’t an act. Alex and I worked together at the Plants nightclub in Baħar ic-Ċagħaq back in the early 1990s when it was resurrected for one last long hurrah that lasted several months.

“Among other things we shared, he and I had a code for when it was time for me to leave. At his request, I’d play Fleetwood Mac’s Man Of The World. ‘That’s me!’ he’d say. What an intimate confession. Whenever I was done for the night, whether it was 2am or 4am, I’d just play that song for him and he’d know I was gone. Goodbye Man of the World... you will be missed! Roam free.”