The debate has been going on for quite a while now, pretty much ever since the initial line-up for this year’s Isle of MTV concert was announced. Once again, like last year, no Maltese artistes have (so far) been invited to take part in the mega-concert that sees practically 80% of Malta thronging to the Granaries come July.
A Facebook page protesting the lack of support for local talent sprung up almost immediately – mainly thanks to Maestro Sigmund Mifsud’s initiative – and today the page counts over 4K members. The first time Isle of MTV came to Malta some four years ago, Ira Losco had been invited to take part. If I remember correctly, her performance was not included in the eventual television broadcast but even so, I’m sure the singer herself counts it as one of the most memorable performances of her career. Apart from the potential for international networking that such an event offers, few Maltese artistes get to enjoy the experience of performing in front of thousands of people.
Not everyone agrees with the purpose behind this group. I was surprised to see radio host Joe Tanti among the vehement dissenters. If Maltese artists want to make it, he wrote, then they should follow the likes of Carrie Haber, who worked hard to make it in London, rather than expecting what he terms “charity”. Singer Ludwig Galea also poured cold water on the argument, writing “if you believe you’ve got it, leave the country and audition”. Which is all very well and good, but which totally misses the point of the group.
I will not go into the merits of whether financially and contractually it is possible for our government to secure spots for Maltese artistes during this event. I can only say that if it happened twice before, why not again? However, the assumption made by the group’s critics that should a Maltese act be invited to take part in Isle of MTV it is only to be considered an “act of charity” bothered me big-time. As did the assumption that members of this group are just looking for “freebies” and “an easy ride”. Such statements smack of facile judgement and of extraordinary naiveté.
Internationally, the biggest musicians have only made it to the top of the charts because, along with their hard work, they also got that one lucky break – and taking part in such an event could signify the one lucky break for a Maltese artiste. A lucky break does not constitute charity; on the contrary, it is what makes the difference between a talented musician’s first chart hit and another talented musician who spends a lifetime busking in the streets.
rationalizing the decision not to include Maltese artistes by saying that the latter need to make it on their own steam just doesn’t cut it. If manager Brian Epstein hadn’t pulled strings to get The Beatles a deal with EMI after the band was rejected by I can’t remember how many record companies (totally owning their butts in the process, but that’s a different story) would they have become the legend they are today?
If producer Martin Hammett hadn’t been around to shape Joy Division with his trademark “sparse and eerie” sound, would they have become the cult band they are today?
If Whitney Houston didn’t happen to possess those distinctive looks that made her a famous model before becoming a record-breaking singer, would she have found the open doors that enabled her to launch her singing career? And does this mean that we are to respect them less, given that what can be termed “outside factors” contributed significantly to their success?
Critics of the group pooh-poohed the idea that Maltese musicians should expect to “run before they walk” and to perform alongside what they call “larger than life” MTV names. But the irony is that these so-called “larger than life” names would not have made it to MTV without their own lucky break that probably had more to do with good looks and with being at the right place at the right time, than with talent. At least The Beatles, Joy Division and Whitney Houston possessed real talent to carry them through; how many of today’s MTV acts can claim the same?
The reality is that Maltese musicians are as hard-working as any musicians you will find in England or the States or wherever – probably more, for the simple reason that they are already starting out at a disadvantage. And if one Maltese act gets the lucky break it needs, then it sure as hell is because it deserves it and anyone begrudging it as “charity” can’t have the local arts scene close to heart.
An edited version of this post appeared on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).