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Strip-searching Gerard

Stephen Davids (left), Honorebel and Kelly Schembri. Photo: Clint Scerri Harkins

Stephen Davids (left), Honorebel and Kelly Schembri. Photo: Clint Scerri Harkins

Having penned five of Malta’s entries for the Eurovision Song Contest, there’s no denying he has established himself as one of the most successful writers on the island, but Europe’s singular festival of disputable pop is just one of many musical outlets that Gerard James Borg has, over the years, become part and parcel of.

A fashion designer, interior designer, PR executive and abstract artist, Borg says he is “basically into anything that’s creative”, which explains the news of his latest work-in-progress, of which he will (at least for now) only reveal that it will be a novel. Right now, he’s here to talk about music and the notorious pop number Stripsearch, that’s been hogging the Maltese airwaves.

Evidently, Borg is a man of many talents, yet despite it being his most successful outlet, music wasn’t quite his first calling. How then, did he come to be involved?

“I think it was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he laughs. “I was watching the Eurovision Song Contest with some friends. It was the one where Mary Spiteri was representing Malta (1992, in Sweden) and I turned to my friends and told them quite decidedly that one day I was going to write a song that would represent Malta at the Eurovision.”

Although he was always into writing, this was new ground for Borg, but he took it upon himself to live up to his words.

“I contacted three composers, of whom only Philip Vella showed some faith in me.”

The first fruit of their collaboration was a song called Breathless, which Claudette Pace sung and placed fifth with at the 1999 Malta Song Contest.

Although quite good for a first attempt, Borg and Vella would fare much better the following year, when Pace won the local contest with their song Desire and represented Malta at the Eurovision.

“I was obviously very excited about it,” Borg says. “But even then, I wanted to avoid being stereotyped as a Eurovision writer by all means possible, mainly because I don’t subscribe to what most people think a Eurovision song should sound like.”

With an eye on other areas but maintaining a strong and successful presence on the festival circuit, Borg is keen to point out his ability to spot a popular song quite easily.

“I guess it’s because I listen to music from a fan’s perspective – I’m on the same wavelength as Joe Public, so I tend to pick out what makes a song popular.”

Surely this is a bonus when it comes to writing songs?

“Well, I must say I’m also a bit fussy but honest about what I hear, so it isn’t always plain sailing when Philip and myself are writing.”

Although forthcoming with his opinions, Borg says he also comes up with suggestions because he is “quite particular about those tiny details that often differentiate a song from the rest”.

This is most likely one of the qualities that have led to so many opportunities coming his way.

“I’ve also never been one to write straightforward love songs,” he insists. “I’ve always looked for a different angle when working on a lyric; tackling romance in a modern way and playing on the edge without going over the line.”

In recent years, Borg has also been working a lot with foreign writers; the experience opening his eyes to new ways of songwriting that have yet to penetrate the local circuit, possibly because here writers tend to be more territorial.

“From my experiences, the mentality abroad is more open, involving several writers working and building a song together,” he confirms. “The sessions allow everyone to contribute to a song.

“Although I don’t play an instrument, I still get involved in melody lines because there’s room for everyone to put forward their ideas.”

And being a creative dynamo, Borg gets lots of these too.

“When I write a song, I’ve already got ideas about the visuals to go with it – the stage presentation, the video...”

He is keen to point out, however, that he’s also open to people challenging his ideas.

“I have no problem with it, as long as this is done constructively and backed by good arguments.”

On the foreign front, Borg has clocked up some interesting contacts and collaborators in recent years, the larger part of which are actually outside of the Eurovision circuit. More recently, for example, he’s been working with Swedes Sven Lundholm and Erik Rydmark, with whom he also wrote Kelly Schembri’s Love Me Like Your Money.

Their latest collaboration, also involving Jamaican rapper Honorebel is Stripsearch, a rather infectious rap-meets-dance number also featuring Stephen Davids and Schembri.

The track has practically taken over the local radio playlists and has ‘monster hit’ written all over it. The song has yet to be released abroad, but here it’s really taken off.

“I’ve had a lot of songs pitched abroad for other artists and in various genres too, but I think Strip­search is my first involving rap.”

It’s not every day one gets to write for an artist who has worked with the likes of international stars like Pitbull, Sean Kingston and Flo Rida.

“It all happened quite by chance,” Borg explains. “I was having a coffee with local producer Stephen Davids, and he asked me if I was interested in working on a song for Honorebel.”

Not one to turn down a challenge, Borg signed up for it.

“I sent some ideas to Sven and Erik and it literally took off.”

With Davids taking care of production, Schembri providing the vocals and Honorebel’s rap giving it that extra oomph, the song – for which a music video is currently being produced – is being touted for bigger things.

“The feedback we’ve been getting so far has been great – the lyric video has clocked up over 30,000 views in just five weeks.

“The idea is to get it released in the US. I know it’s not easy to catch a break in this business, but it’s a very powerful track, so who knows?”

To view the lyric video for Stripsearch, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVaV1pPPXrk.

www.gerardjamesborg.com

[email protected]

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