Breathing magic into the City
Ramona Depares reviews the music and arts evening that launched the Creative Island group in Valletta last week.
Nothing makes a capital city come alive as fast as a street event or party. Events on a large scale, like the yearly Notte Bianca, are the ones that are talked about but even smaller-scale street concerts like last July’s La Fete de la Musique make considerable inroads in putting paid to the image of Valletta being a dead city.
The launch of the Creative Island group was another case in point. Creative Island is an organisation that was recently set up in order to support those who form part of the performing and the creative arts, with last Friday’s being the first official event.
The idea was to transform part of St John’s Street into an open-air fun fair. In keeping with the chosen theme of magic and wizardry the area around Ta’ l-Ingliż tea-shop was set up with stalls selling ‘love potions’, ‘magic’ cupcakes, fantasy jewellery and the like. A fortune-teller plied his services in the teashop’s basement and a live music programme kicked off at around 9.30 p.m.
I arrived at about 9 p.m., resolving to try out some of the wares before the music started. The street was already packed with Maltese – mostly the theatre and music crowd – and with an unexpected number of tourists.
I fished around a bit: most of the foreigners present simply happened to be passing through and were attracted by what looked like ‘good fun and music’ (as one Italian put it). I’m quite confident that this event, in all its quirkiness and also because it was held al fresco in a beautiful, World Heritage city, will turn out to be a highlight of these people’s holiday. All the more reason why we need more of them.
Guests had been urged to show up dressed as per the theme and some had actually followed the instructions, which helped contribute to the air of magic.
I meandered around the stalls in search of ‘love’ in the shape of shooters and cakes. With the stalls all situated around the entrance of Ta’ l-Ingliż, it might be worth considering spreading them up further up along St John’s Street should there be a future event. This would avoid the congestion and the resulting body heat concentrated in one area.
But the wares on offer made up for the heat: I found the different ‘potions’ being sold, each sporting a label on the lines of ‘love’, ‘fortune’, ‘health’ and the like to be a clever and fun way of maintaining the magical ambience.
I decided to try my luck with the fortune-teller. The invitation specified that this was being done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, lest anyone should put too much stock in the consequences of their curiosity. A rickety garigor led me to the basement of the tea-shop and to the small room were the gypsy was seated.
And an impressive gypsy he made too, dressed up in black from head-to-toe, with a massive hood that left his face in total shadows. The heat must have been pretty near intolerable, but the formidable seer appeared to be loftily – above any bodily discomforts as he invited me to cut the tarot deck several times.
My fortune followed, involving handsome strangers, obstacles that I would overcome and people being affected by ‘words of mine’ – the latter accompanied by a mischievous chuckle that led me to believe this seer was no stranger to me. Happy fortune indeed and even happier, I got a cupcake at the end of it.
As luck would have it, I finished having my fortune told just as the music started. Ian Schranz from Bark Bark Disco (and Katryna Storace from Stolen Creep were the first on the bill. A small podium was set up at the very bottom of the hill; with the audience scattered on the incline this meant a pretty clear view even from the very top, where the hill meets Merchants Street. A clever choice and one that should be emulated at this year’s edition of La Fete de la Musique should it be held again – last year saw the stage at this event being set up on the highest point of Merchants Street, which didn’t really work for viewing purposes.
Stafrace and Schranz were their usual lively self; their tongue-in-cheek version of the Ghostbusters Theme, which I’m told had already been a hit at their Taverna Sugu gig, had everyone in stitches. The repertoire also included the track whose video placed Bark Bark Disco on the map, Song For the Lovers. The half-hour show went down particularly well with the foreigners and I’m sure that the duo left the stage with a number of new followers.
A 15-minute mime show by Marie Claire Camilleri followed: Camilleri proceeded to mime a highly-hilarious version of the history of our islands. The art of mime remains relatively uncommon in Malta and Camilleri’s offering was smooth and spot on. Maybe less volume on the accompanying voice-over for next time?
The live show came to an end with the eagerly anticipated Ċikku l-Poplu, who is probably the funniest and most cutting alter ego to have been birthed by a local musician. Ċikku performed some of his most well-loved tracks, like Quċċija and X’Għarukaża. The tourists might not have understood much about the satirical portrayal of Maltese society, but the locals lapped it up. For his more poignant tracks, Ċikku was joined by Maria Pia Meli, whose clarity of voice makes her particularly well-suited.
Although the live music came to an end relatively early, no-one showed any signs of wanting to move and the party continued for some time.
Events like these are a true breath of fresh air and it would be a shame if they were to remain one-offs. The response to last Friday shows that people are hungry for this sort of thing and nothing breathes life into a city as fast as giving the people what they want.