Joe Adambery

Joe Adambery has 53 articles published.

Valerga Brothers release ‘Soundtrack of My Teens an album for Calpe House

in Features

Three years ago I found myself announcing an album from the Valerga Brothers when they were inducted to the Hall Of Fame Class of 2019. Covid delayed that album and forced into isolation, the brothers put to good use the extra time available and started to add songs to it with a view to making it a double album. Recordings went on until they had thirty three songs for the final project – that’s nearly a triple album’s worth of memorable classic songs!  

The Valergas reached out across our musical community and secured stellar collaborations from musicians of all genres and the expanded project is now presented as a beautiful CD/USB package finally on sale at Khubchand’s, who have sponsored the album so that the entire proceeds from the album sales will go entirely to Calpe House. The launch of the album took place recently at the City Hall hosted by Mayor Christian Santos, with Sir Joe Bossano and Minister John Cortes also present. Pre sales of the album had already clocked up over thirteen hundred pounds which were presented to Calpe House representative Albert Poggio during the launch. 

“The ‘Soundtrack of My Teens’ by The Valerga Bothers is our ‘opus magnum’ ” says Henry Valerga.  It’s a snapshot of our early years in music, pictures and biography, packaged with the soundtrack of the 60’s and 70’s music which shaped our teens. This bumper musical offering includes great covers of big hits from many legendary artists and we have also brought in local artists to the album in the hope that Calpe House, a charity really close to all our hearts, will benefit greatly from the entire proceeds of this thirty three track album.”

In his opening address Mayor Christian Santos welcomed the many collaborators present and praised the great collection of ‘songs from another time.’ He encouraged those present to spread the word and help to bolster the sales of the album so that Calpe House would benefit greatly from this noble project. Henry Valerga spoke of the brothers’ involvement in music from a tender age and the social history of their growing up in Red sands Road. He alluded to the content of the album as a ‘time capsule of years passing’ and being marked by great songs which made up the soundtrack of their lives and our lives too. “These footprints of nostalgia have been raised to another level with the collaborations giving the music a new lease of life with a special local significance always respecting the original versions.” Henry gave detailed thanks and mentioned by name many who were involved in the project from the start and then invited a close friend to say a few words.

Barrister Levy Attias, a published poet and great friend of the Valerga Brothers entreated those gathered for the launch to ‘consider for a moment a life without music’. Where the ‘soundtrack’ of these songs recorded here have served us as a backdrop for romances or even break ups, as most of us remember specific times in our lives when music of bygone days jogs our memories and tugs at our heart strings. He paraphrased the great Abba hit ‘Thank you for the music’ and raised the chorus of agreement to a warm applause.

At that point Sir Joe Bossano was invited to the microphone and he spoke warmly about Calpe House and how it belongs to all of us and how it’s now considered a home from home to many recovering patients before returning home after UK treatments. The presentation of a cheque to  Albert Poggio of Calpe House followed on and Albert highlighted by way of a statistic that as many as a quarter of our population has benefitted from shelter at Calpe House during times of treatments. A sobering thought that underpins the many charitable endeavours that our community undertakes to raise money for the charity.

The guests were then invited to purchase their copies of ‘Soundtrack of my Teens’ and the gathering then mingled to the backdrop of some songs from the new album in a video presentation by Eddie Adambery. My own thoughts after hearing the album are that as Christmas is just around the corner, there is no better way to give music this Christmas and help a really worthy cause, but more than that, this great collection of songs of our youth will take pride of place in many musical collections across Gibraltar. 

What do you get for £20? A great album which is guaranteed to raise many smiles and evoke musical memories as we remember those bygone days when many great songs from great artists marked our youth. Big value with plenty of photographs and well researched historical comments on the tracks, why they were chosen, who collaborates on them from our local artists and compelling pointers as to why the music of the 60’s and 70’s was so successful  and has remained etched in the memory of so many from that generation. There are many interesting stories behind many of the featured songs which were new to me and these little gems of information are always entertaining to read and to know. It’s a big listening experience and very well produced indeed.

The photography and design throughout are excellent and bring to life the story in pictures of this established sibling duo that have been with us for 57 years and counting. In a two CD pack you would normally get 24 tracks but in this one the USB increases the capacity so you get a CD with 19 songs and the USB has 33 songs (which I’m told is the format most convenient to use in your car stereo). When you add all the aforementioned pictures and information to this great musical package you will agree that it’s an excellent gift to give music this Christmas. Especially for the Calpe House  

The album which has been financed by Kamlesh Krishna Khubchand, consists of a beautiful front cover painting of brothers Henry and Denis by artist Leslie Gaduzo. Stephen Perera has done the graphic design and produced the twelve page libretto which includes many photos from the era in montage using vintage cameras and layout. The local artists collaborating are Chris Montegriffo on harmonica, guitarist Paul Patrick Cano, Trevor Guilliano of ‘After Hours’ (recording assistance), singers Corrine Cooper and Seila Pavon, tenor Nathan Payas and soprano Claire Hawkins, veteran Rocker Giles Ramirez and veteran Rock guitarist Harry Chichon. 

A more recent contribution was made by Eddie Adambery who is a long time friend of the brothers and now lives locally after he retired from a UK career in song writing producing and recording. The Gibraltar National Youth Choir conducted by Christian Santos also took part in the project, with spoken words by Krisna Gulraj and Michael Cortes, which were recorded with Brian Torres and Nicky Gonzalez assisting. That represents a wide cross section of local talent who have rallied round to embellish the project with their selfless contributions. There are more contributors not mentioned here for brevity.

“The songs we have chosen are legendary classics, evergreens from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, Procol Harum, The Righteous Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Donovan, The Everly Brothers and  many more. Our versions of their songs are backed by rich instrumentation and versatile vocal arrangements which we and the other contributing local artists have poured their hearts into. I think that we have achieved a recording milestone in the way that our covers of these classics have turned out. It’s the biggest project that we have ever attempted and we are immensely proud of everyone with the results that we have achieved.”

I have selected a few songs  to mention as a trailer and ‘The Boxer’ immediately stands out as does ‘You’ve lost that loving feeling’ both great productions. ‘Grocer Jack’ features the GNY Choir on it and has all the tenderness of the original.  Henry’s vocal in Donovan’s ‘Catch the wind’ gives you goose pimples and ‘Universal Soldier’ is a truly epic production. Denis Valerga sings ‘Blackberry Way’ and he has orchestrated a ‘Penny Lane’ type of trumpet solo at the end which is a masterpiece. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ is given a sensitive treatment which evokes all the magic of the early Rolling Stones at their acoustic best and Don Maclean’s ‘Vincent’ is also a truly standout track which captures the beauty and fragility of the original. 

I can vouch that you will be in for a feast of classics which will make you feel proud of the local talent on display in these collaborations. They really do stand out as special musical treats and I can see many copies of this album from the Valerga Brothers selling really well in support of Calpe House. 

On sale at Khubchands, The ‘Soundtrack of my teens’ will gladden many hearts with the nostalgia and the musical journey of two brothers who have captured our hearts and still endure with their music. 

Christmases Remembered

in Features

They say that enduring memories are those that we see through our rose tinted spectacles. The older one gets the more we like to hang on to memories, although I guess that holds true for everybody, as Christmas is a special time when we are treated by and likewise we like to treat those whom we love. My best remembered Christmases were those of my childhood and what made them special were the times spent visiting relatives and the times that they came round visiting us. Like most Gibraltarian households, the twelve days of Christmas were mostly spent huddled around the Christmas table eating or trying not to eat. There were a few other traditions to uphold as we shall see later. 

In those days of yore no one thought of expanding waistlines and if you were trying not to eat it was because you had literally stuffed yourself silly and your digestive system was on semi permanent overload. Our mentor was Santa and he had a very generous waistline, no doubt acquired by overindulging in mince pies and ‘polvorones’ (almond and cinnamon cakes). I remember not wanting to give up believing in Santa although, truth be said, in those days of the mid fifties here on the Rock, the presents were brought by ‘Los Reyes’ (the Three kings) on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany. 

You were indeed privileged if you got presents on Christmas day and on ‘el dia de Los Reyes’ (the day of the Three Kings). There was that beloved uncle who shall be nameless in my story, who would tease us children that Santa didn’t exist. “Of course he does- who gave me my scooter last Christmas” etc … It was all done in jest and probably fuelled by the Christmas ‘spirit’ that pours from bottles.

The traditions, some of which are still held by a few to this day and some now long disappeared, were that we used to go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, (‘Misa de Gallo) notwithstanding the ordeal of trying to remain well behaved while feeling over stuffed and over eager for the delivery of some Christmas presents – at least to tide us over until the Three Kings ‘arrived’ in January. The other tradition now all but lost, was that relatives brought around ‘panderos y zambombas’ (percussive Christmas noisemakers) that would accompany rousing traditional carols (sung?) in Spanish. The musicality of these tunes was always questionable but the spirit behind them was to make merry and celebrate and we usually succeeded on both counts. Soon the adult contingent of family members would be sporting flushed faces, laughing too much and getting louder as the night wore on. There were some nostalgic tears as well as those who had passed on were remembered and toasted.

Another tradition here was that on Christmas Eve you had to eat salmon salad (a la ‘John West’ I remember well) and no ‘Noche Buena’ table was complete unless the ‘Ajuelas’  (rolls of puff pastry in syrup decorated with colourful hundreds and thousands) made an appearance  followed by the cinnamon and raisin cakes (tortillas de pasas – also in syrup -yummy). The antidote for those excessive family poisonings in the name of celebrations was the trusty white tin of Andrews liver salt (Sal de frutas) and many a journey to the ‘throne’ was compromised by eager bowels now best not remembered!

On the tender side of those memories are still the beautiful Spanish ‘Villancicos,’ carols with their lyrics centred on the wonder of a God-child born in a stable. Even to this day new carols are added to the popular repertoire and a recent addition to the St Paul’s Choir is a tune called (Piensa la Mula). The concept of this lyric is that the donkey/mule that was carrying Mary while theywere looking for accommodation was a sentient being which felt privileged to be a part of the impending birth of the God-Child and it wanted to ‘hurry’ to the stable to get its precious cargo comfortable. ‘La Mula’ is blessed with a beautiful melody that truly captures the spirit of Christmas like the great ‘Silent Night,’ both of them steeped in religious tradition. That is not to say that the popular English and American Christmas carols do not capture the same spirit of love. You would have to be made of very hard stuff not to get a lump in your throat seeing school children singing carols at their Christmas assembly.

Happily that tradition is very much alive here and soon we shall be seeing them on our TV screens dressed up as shepherds and angels, reminding us that especially at Christmas we all want to be young and still believe in Christmas and Santa. This Christmas take a moment to remember how fortunate we are here in this community that still upholds some traditions which make the season what it is, a religious festival that, although it has been taken over by commercialism, still brings us together as families. Let us make it our toast this year- to families here and everywhere. Happy Christmas everyone!

The Traditional Christmas Cribs

in Features

The Christian tradition of creating a nativity scene (also called a crib or manger) representing the birth of Jesus has been alive for many years and exists in many cultures as an art form.

This artistic licence gives free rein to imagination and so nowadays there is a thriving industry around the religious figurines and crib decorations in many Christmas markets. I have been to crib shops in Madrid that sell three quarter life-size statues of the Holy family and farm animals like cows, sheep and donkeys to decorate church nativity scenes. The open air Christmas market in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor which I also visit every year has a great range of cribs and decorations in all sizes and price ranges to suit all budgets. At the upper end of the price range one can come across truly beautiful figurines and all the paraphernalia needed to make a spectacular crib surrounded by crushed paper mountains and peopled villages. 

In Gibraltar today churches display both a nativity scene and a Christmas tree that keeps both traditions alive and some homes follow that tradition too, although the large scale cribs of seventy years ago when I was a child are a dying art. There is still a local crib competition held annually and in my parish of St Paul’s at Varyl Begg estate, the semi-large scale nativity scene is put up by Ernest Mesilio who also puts up the huge Christmas tree and a bigger format manger in front of the main altar. A few years back we heard how the church was not too happy about the long held artistic representation in manger settings where a bull and a donkey closed ranks to breathe warm air onto the shivering baby Jesus. A clear case of where the age-old artistic embellishments have become even more colourful than the real story of Christ’s birth. The jury is still out on that one and no nativity scene worth its salt would pass on having a bull and donkey inches away from the infant’s head.

My late mother was a dab hand at putting up cribs at our home, which the neighbours and their children would come to see. She had been brought up here by nuns at Gavino’s orphanage and the tradition and methods had been drilled into her. In November she would ask my father to start bringing home brown paper (I also remember charcoal grey paper) so that she would crush them in her hands and fashion them into mountains which would later be capped with sprinklings of flour for realistic snow capped peaks. In the sawdust covered valley floor below the mountains (the plateau sat on a sideboard 1.5 metres long) a little mirror would become the water over which a cork bridge would span across. Little figurines collected and added to over the years would populate the valley.

A few shepherds and their flocks would converge on the manger and their daily progress would be timed (as children we were allowed to handle the figurines) so that by Christmas Eve the manger area was crowded. It would have an overhead angel and a star of Bethlehem and importantly, the crib was the main focus for our singing old Spanish villancicos (traditional religious Christmas carols). There are a number of ‘abstract’ cribs made by such firms as LLadro, Swarovski and others and although their artistic elegance is not disputed, the popular choice of Nativity tableaux remains the humble manger setting with the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph and two farm animals. An overhead star of Bethlehem usually crowns these tableaux and they will always be displayed indoors in the main lounge on a sideboard. Gone are the days that carols are sung in front of cribs. 

Today’s more commercialised Christmas celebrations are centred on colourful wrapped presents displayed under Christmas trees and lots of food, enough to feed a regiment, also displayed and heartily consumed in our family settings. The religious sentiment of the season has been modified into a sort of food festival where you get a present for turning up and you also give presents for the privilege of being invited. Christmas on the Rock is still happily very family-centred and we wouldn’t have it any other way now. That is not to say that the Christmases of old still tick all the boxes for the grandparents of today’s younger generations. Have a great holiday and I hope that father Christmas is generous with you all and we will see you on the other side of the New Year.

Christian Hook Playing for Real

in Features

As an artist when you have achieved the considerable commercial success and wide acclaim that allows you to stay under the public radar while ever busy working on new projects and pushing artistic boundaries ,it must seem surreal, challenging and perhaps frightening to look down from your ivory tower and stay focussed on the work in hand. Christian Hook handles fame easily because he is too busy ignoring it, fiercely guarding his privacy whilst he ploughs ahead looking for the impossible. 

“If it can be done I am not interested. What challenges me and excites me is to find ways of doing things that are impossible. I think that in the last year I have done less work than what I used to do because I have been focussing on threads and opportunities where I can better reflect who I am. I’ve only been taking on projects when I can immerse myself completely without having to think galleries, money, clients and any of that. Really it’s to make my art more pure. I haven’t moved away from painting but I have been drawn to music because of its cross culture with fashion and jewellery like in video clips. In painting that doesn’t happen so I took inspiration from Japanese kimono culture and used gold leaf and gold chains to give that collection a more musical feel”.

Christian Hook is not looking for the next big thing because he feels that approach is flawed and enslaves artists, compromising their inspiration and weighing them down.

“It’s like looking for happiness. It’s a fleeting moment. You can try but the attempt will make you miserable. It’s the result of something else, it’s not up to you and it’s not the point anyway. You just do your best and the better you get at doing something, the better the feedback you get from the results. That excitement then makes you want to do more and that is the maximum prize. Really I’m very private compared to other artists and I’ve done a lot in the last two years but nothing of it is published yet because these things take a long time to come to fruition.”

“The real artists in history were always super sensitive and private people. I researched this because I was super sensitive as a child. Only one in ten people are super sensitive and that is how nature works. We live inside creative art. Everything around us has been conceived and created by another person before us and we all live in their creative minds. That is art all around us and nature provides those people who conceive and create new things so that we can evolve. Those people find everything in life very difficult and painful. They cannot be unfaithful to themselves because their first love is their art. They don’t understand each other and even when they are with other people they are always alone in their heads.”

“Real artists are very shy of fame because they can lose themselves in it. I’ve seen it a million times-those artists lose track of themselves. You have to be completely selfish. If you consider others in your work then it becomes collaboration. You cannot water yourself down. You have to surrender totally to your inspiration. You can’t consider the public’s approval because then the work is not real.”

Hook has just been invited to be included in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. He was still reeling from the shock of the news that a prestigious British museum has honoured him. It seems that English and Scottish art lovers have embraced him in a big way as his paintings hang in many of their institutions, galleries and homes across the UK. It gets better nearer home too – the people behind the successful TV series Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) have engaged him as the artist for their next project and also commissioned him to write the music for it. All negotiations have been now been completed and Christian has been to Madrid to see them. He is very excited about this and that drives his current music.

 I’ve known Hook for a very long time and have never been able to separate Christian from his music. He is a musical and poetic force and although he has found considerable success in painting he still pines for success in music creation and uses his thorough work formula and contacts to push the envelope in that direction. His eyes light up as I give him feedback on some of the new music which he shares with me during our interview. My eyes also light up as my ears immerse in the haunting music which will grace the silver screen. I feel privileged.

“I still like to be involved with scientists and I love the science of the mind as there are other dimensions that we don’t yet understand. I have new concepts for digital art which have never been done before. I love new exploring new ideas and although my volume of work seems to be less, for me the results are more spiritual in a sense. I like to play around this area because the marriage of art and science excites me. It is what I am passionate about. I’m working with a scientist at the moment and we are exploring water as in the sea.”

“Although it’s said that water hasn’t got a memory the ice ages tell us that every time life reappears after an ice age there has been evolution.  Water can live in many stages and it’s an essential part of our make-up. I can see myself working in projects about the sea as an element and our emotions’ impact on the sea. We are the sea and we have to work together to understand how we can continue to evolve together.” 

“Sound also fascinates me. Everything around us is sound and every sound has a vibration and a frequency. I am not trying to force music and art together. I question what is music for, what do we do with it and how does it continue to make sense now. I know that music informs our emotions and that we can manipulate music in many ways. It’s not about a new instrument or genre. It’s about layering it and then stripping it back to find what still resonates with us that we want to keep.” This is the process that Christian uses in his painting. He will try and capture movement by a process of stripping back layers and adding dimension and colour to create movement. He creates a language with the canvas that will inform him when the subject has been fully explored to his inspiration’s criteria.

His eyes light up again and this time he tells me about a dog that he recently painted as a commission. Hook does not take commissions any more. He doesn’t need to. He will however fully immerse himself in one if the idea excites him. In a gallery encounter with a married couple, the conversation came up about the metaphysical and the science and auras, which fascinates Christian of course and this couple have an old dog which they love to bits and they asked after a while if Christian would attempt to paint a portrait their dog’s aura. Impossible right? Impossible is nothing as Nike say in their logo. 

This impossibility is exactly what sprung Hook into action. He contacted an expert (synergist) he knew and had previously worked with. He sent her videos of the dog to work with and she also suggested another source. So there were three people involved in the discussion. He then researched the colours in the aura spectrum and finally came up with a painting of the dog in two dimensions at once! I saw the painting on his Ipad and it floored me – so captivating and multidimensional that I could almost acquaint myself with it – being a dog lover myself. It’s a large format painting he tells me.

“It has to be something impossible like that because I don’t know how to do it. That excites me because I have to find a way to incorporate everything I know about the dog. Its age, name, video and the pictures that I took of it and also what my sources said about the aura. When I started to paint, it was no longer the portrait of a dog. To me it was much more. To me the challenge was to add everything that I had uncovered and got excited about into the painting. It was difficult and challenging but that is what always produces the best results. I don’t think about it while I’m doing, it I just have to do it. Thinking comes only after I finish a work. It’s then that I might add a line or something else. The thinking comes later if not you spoil the work. The playfulness in the work is important.” 

Christian Hook has no pompous ideas about who he is or what he has achieved. Instead he worries that his name becomes a brand. It brings with it an expectation from over seventy galleries in London who are eagerly waiting for his next offering. That translates into pressure and the fame which he retreats from. He says that he has to stop thinking about everything and play with his art for real. He must play without thinking about anyone and he must stay away from other artists although he loves to see other artists’ work.  He says that he has to be away from everything and working. Always working, as purely as possible and without deferring to the pressures and demands that being ‘HoooK’ (his artistic signature) brings.

“Let people think what they want. It doesn’t really matter. This is not theatre. I‘m always working really hard on different stuff but it doesn’t appear that way. Even if my projects didn’t get anywhere, the people that I work with know the value of the conceptual thinking that I bring to the table so even if the projects don’t materialise and they move on to something else, nothing has gone to waste.” I submit to him that he has ‘fertilized’ them, so to speak. “Exactly! That is what I do all the time anyway. My concepts can exist by themselves, they don’t need validation from others but it’s always great to be recognized of course.” 

At this point I wanted to steer the conversation towards a final thought that might reveal another clue as to what drives this restless genius that is Christian Hook to push boundaries that seek to marry art and science. Does this quest for the impossible ever make him make him unhappy?  

“Happiness is a fleeting emotion. It is the result of something else and cannot be chased because it cannot be found in things.  Although pain is not pleasant, when it comes it’s full of realizations, wisdom, changes etc. Just like one cannot chase happiness, one cannot be concerned with the end result of a creation. It is the process itself that one needs to fall in love with in order to progress.  In that process there is a measure of suffering and ultimately suffering is what makes us great and what we learn from it is what makes us stronger. When I involve myself with scientists I forget who I am. I just want to create and I need to get on with it. That might even sound childish but I need to play for real in order to be real.”

An Evening with The Ambassador

in Features

Our Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Moreno flew into town from London recently, combining a family holiday and a solo gig at the ‘Kasbar’, now the spiritual home of poetry evenings, vegan food and an equally intimate setting for both. We have seen him perform there with his ‘Quivering Poets’ on a few previous occasions but this time the challenge for him was to weave the magic on his own-which he did admirably-and to warm acclaim from the roomful of die-hard fans who were bolstered by a mixed bag of younger new fans and some older folk too.  His first set started via dedicating the evening and the first song ‘Lena Kalinka’, to an absent friend David Reyes and some of his family who were there. It was as if Gabriel had never left, the venue fits the poet and his songs like a glove.

Unlike previous gigs there, where the band tends to distract you from the lyrics, I found myself listening and better enjoying his words and music.  For his second offering he premiered a new song about the Ukraine called ‘Pass me the Bottle.’ There is a new album in the pipeline for which he already has eight new songs. This is to be one of them and it has a chorus which sings to ‘Kiev’ so it presses a lot of buttons which endears you to it from the get go.  “For me as a performer I focused on delivering the words and creating dynamics only with my guitar, it was challenging but equally satisfying. For me the night was more poetic because I was on my own with just my words and one instrument alone.”

My curiosity peaked, I interrupted him to ask whether he does many solo gigs …”I’ve done quite a few lately in small venues because it’ easier to get work, and solo work allows audiences to be drawn into the lyrics (the Poetry) and that is doubly satisfying for me as a writer and a performer” A second new song was next introduced, this one had been commissioned, so whether it might get into the new album or not is still up in the air, but its title ‘Marylou and My Cell,’ is a strong indicator that the song is a well observed tongue in cheek put down at our addiction and total dependence on mobile phones.

One observation which I made and put to him was that on this solo concert there were more people joining  in with singing-but they knew the words … “Yes and sometimes even better than me, that tells me that I’m getting through and it’s gratifying to see young people and much older people singing the words, not just the choruses. That was an eye opener for me too. Perhaps it has all to do with being local.” I concur with part of that and add that after three albums and his annual visits to our poetry starved rocky shores his music and words have found a home, perhaps fulfilling their mission and etching themselves in the mind of the younger fans especially. I could not believe the singing from an enthusiastic table of six behind me–and they were in tune as well. An evening with our Cultural Ambassador was turning out to be quite special.

Later in the evening when he invited requests there was a shout for ‘Joselin’ an old song about a colourful Spanish minstrel who Gabriel met and befriended in neighbouring La Linea…”I hadn’t sung that one in a while and forgot a line, but they were there to remind me that some songs reach a part of our psyche and embed themselves there, ready to be recalled at any time. For them this was one such. Maybe because I was too relaxed on this occasion that I forgot the line. Who knows, usually when you are fronting a band the adrenaline keeps you on your toes and at the same time you can fall back on them. When you are performing solo there is no plan B there is only you.”

And so the cream of the catalogue of Gabriel’s songs unfolded in front of us and we were all struck by the honesty and conviction that his interpretations conjured up into a heady atmosphere, where in the quieter passages you could have heard a pin drop – always the sign of a good performer – who at the stamp of his foot and a Flamenco-tinged guitar frill would whip up the small but discerning audience into a loud chorus.  This was our ‘Taverna Troubadour’ at his best and the noisy acclaim with which the ambassador was rewarded after each song is our Mediterranean and ‘LLanito’ calling card. We are loud and demonstrative. We may not Greeks but if we were, a pile of broken plates would be evidence that we had heartily enjoyed ourselves that hot night in mid August. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and can’t wait for more of the same from the poet. Make it soon Maestro.  

Exporting our Culture Through a Poet

in Features

Gabriel Moreno our Cultural Ambassador is very active in the London Poetry scene and he also organizes events to showcase our brand of ‘Llanito culture abroad. Joe Adambery caught up with him as he preparesd to fly to the Rock for a rare solo concert here.

We have never had an ambassador in London taking the pulse of our culture scene while living away from the Rock. You have now been in chair for some months and made that work and even used the bridge as an advantage… please tell us if it gave you any headaches and how did you develop that link.

There are always headaches and stomach aches when it comes to exploring and sharing Gibraltarian culture as we are still in the process of discovering and explaining the diversity of styles and influences which shape our art. Then, as you well point out, there is the added difficulty of living abroad. However, they say a challenge can be flipped, just like a Spanish omelette, to reveal the ready-to-be-cooked possibility of success. 

My intent was to use this physical distance to both explore the intricacies of Gibraltarian art forms as seen from an outside perspective and also, most importantly, to represent our identity in the UK through autochthonous forms of creation. I wanted to show our dear English comrades who we are, part of our culture, through examples of our painting, poetry, music, dance, plays, novels, essays, etc. I also used my contacts in the poetry and music world to showcase what we ‘llanitos’ do and try to plant a seed in the mind of the British audiences so that they might consider our identity as something particular to Gibraltar rather than a mere extension of the remnants of an empire.

The results have been compelling. I have been amazed at how many stereotypes can be questioned through art. I also realized England and its people don’t really know us. They see us through the lens of politics and history but have no idea about how we feel, eat, live or dream. Art can help us explain ourselves to the world and being in the world has helped me add my miniscule grain of sand in this respect.

I have also liaised with other Gibraltarian artists who live in the UK, especially novelist MG Sanchez. Together we explore themes concerning the intrinsic shape of Gibraltarian identity through writing and I am excited to showcase Gibraltar through art in an event we are celebrating at The Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington London on the 5th September. 

Q: Looking back on nearly a year of cultural events how would you explain your stewardship and contributions to a future incumbent.

Bringing a talented array of UK musicians to experience Gibraltarian culture and collaborating with them in a show at the Inces Hall in April 2022 has been one of the highlights of this year of stewardship. Throughout the year I have enjoyed a tight collaboration with Gibraltar Cultural Services and this has been fundamental. The bond has proven to me that a close working relationship between artists and cultural institutions is vital when it comes to investigating and celebrating culture. I hope I can inspire future incumbents to keep on exploring our identity through art and to showcase what Gibraltarian culture is really about. Not only on the Rock but also in the UK, Spain and beyond. 

Have you enjoyed the stewardship and has it enriched your links with your expatriate community any more than what you thought when you were chosen.

I have enjoyed this stewardship immensely and I have found it has made me grow as an artist and made me realise that all my poetic and musical output is closely linked to my identity as a Gibraltarian. I have also got closer to expat artists and have discovered a new way of collaborating with my hometown which I have not even envisaged. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to investigate my ties with my own roots and what they mean to other writers, singers, painters, dancers and artists. 

Q: You live in a major cultural hub capital and work in culture professionally …has that in any way helped you with your initiatives or does the direction come from GCS over here and you implement them over there.

I have been lucky to work with Gibraltar Cultural Services in devising a one-off Cultural Soiree. My experience running events in London has been useful to both conceive and produce this event but Davina Barbara and the whole GCS team have been pivotal in providing the infrastructure for the event to work. I want to thank Seamus Byrne, Tasmin Griffith, Edward Dove and the whole team for that.

Q: Is it too soon to evaluate your artistic contribution yourself or would you rather read about what someone thought about your contribution after your year as ambassador has ended.

I would rather that others speak benevolently or condemn my actions and words as Cultural Ambassador or as a human being in general. One must take praise and criticism with an equal pinch of salt or smoked paprika if you prefer. To my mind you should question your effort more than your results and be at peace with the idea that when it comes to culture and art, we are all novices and apprentices. Culture and art are intrinsically complex things and they bring about more questions than answers. The beauty is in the voyage of discovery and I am definitely proud to have sailed in those winds. I hope that we all sail together in a similar direction to continue the search.

Q: You have been an educator (and in a way still are one)… has your work with local children inspired you and enabled you to make a judgement call about how we rank and how we are developing as a cultured community.

Working with children in Gibraltar was inspiring. I led some workshops both as a poet and as a musician and the results were uplifting. The experience confirmed what I already suspected: Gibraltar is a perfect place for artistic expression. If we lead our children to the vast pool of diverse influences and cultural roots available on the Rock, we could create incredibly unique artists.

We have the Mediterranean, the English Language, Africa, Spain and our specific identity which can be the engine for true, unique and genuine art. Children teach us what the future will look like and it seems to me it looks fine in terms of art. My only worry is that we lose our bond to the Mediterranean world and the Spanish language which seems to be a treasure trove when it comes to possibilities and techniques for artistic expression. I hope the youth investigate art beyond performative Britishness and find their own ways of singing, writing, painting, skating, dancing and performing – the ‘Llanito way. 

The Greatest Show

in Features

A few weeks back I recharged my emotional and musical batteries at the excellent show put on by the GAMPA kids at the John Mac Hall, our youth is always a joy to watch and listen to. They sung and they danced their hearts out to songs from the musical ‘The Greatest Showman’ but the extra treat was that the first half of the show was led by Christian Santos and Andrea Simpson doing what they do best, belting out great tunes from other great musicals of their choice.  

Sometimes they sang solo and other times in duets with each other or with GAMPA star pupils Ella Vinet and Sean Jeffries. A substantial chorus line from the school sang behind them when it fitted the songs and a reduced chorus line was there for the more intimate ballads. Even a better treat for me and a significant step up, was that the musical accompaniment throughout the first half, was performed ‘live’ by an ensemble of GAMPA musicians who excelled in their roles and always complemented the singers under the baton of their musical director pianist Mr. Monjes. He led an ensemble which featured two strings, a flute and a sax, drums and bass. They were really good and provided the ‘light and shade’ that great songs need to breathe and weave their magic spell on us. 

What an absolute joy to be able to witness and enjoy such a rich programme of stage music which barely a few years ago would have been unthinkable, not to say unachievable. I was so proud to have been there to soak up the magic that was conjured up in a music spectacle that raises the bar even higher for GAMPA academy. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was indeed ‘the greatest show’ ever put on by the academy and a fitting finale to this year’s summer term where they have finally been released from the woes of the Covid restrictions after two years.  

The sell out audience, upstairs swelled sometimes by the non-performing juniors and infants, were loud and generous in their applause and there is no greater reward for a performing artist than their home public’s acclaim. Christian Santos, never usually lost for words was right to have felt rightly proud of what our children and youth are constantly achieving in music and performing. However we must not overlook the fact that he is an artist himself and he delivered great vocals in spades last Friday, flanked by the talented and charming Andrea Simpson. 

In part two the seniors were in their element singing and performing with great conviction. The programme also saw the upcoming acting and performing ‘little ones’ go through their paces and shine in the spotlight, later giving way to the seniors in their resplendent ‘Show’ costumes which added flair to the busy dance routines and with the clever triangular formation choreography that we have now come to expect from this group, they always kept up the momentum and helped to highlight the soloists’ efforts at stage front.  

Let’s not take this significant achievement lightly or God forbid, for granted. We can become blasé about too much of a good thing, but in one of his always warm and admiring comments about Andrea Simpson, Christian said it ‘was easy to take her for granted because she made it look easy’. That’s where the nub is, these GAMPA kids are such seasoned performers that we have come to expect very high standards. It’s not easy to impress an audience- you have to be good and deliver on all fronts. 

These are very high standard young performers and long may the GAMPA academy rule the boards of our theatres. Our music culture is dripping wet with young talent and it enriches our community. Well done all for putting your hearts and soul into this great evening of entertainment. I salute you.

Dreams of Nashville

in Features

Layla Rose returns determined as ever

Shes back Folks!

Catalan Bay’s sweetest export, aspiring Country Music singer songwriter Layla Bugeja (now 20), has just finished her first academic year in America’s music capital. She is still living her dream and modifying her music aspirations having finally discovered where she fits in. She wants to be a career songwriter and is studying ‘Music Business and Song Writing’, two separate courses, at the Middle Tennessee State University in Nashville.

 In our feature last August for ‘Insight Magazine’ we were saying goodbye to her and wishing her well and now (end of May as I write) she sits across from me in sunny Casemates smiling and confident that the coffee/chat we are embarking upon will track her progress and tell our readers and her fans here that she belongs over there. I have complete confidence that she will stay the new courses, holding on to her dreams and writing ever more mature songs which she hopes other artists will pick up and sing. Last year she was a big fish in our little pond, now she is our little fish in a huge pond with sharks and it doesn’t unsettle her one bit.

“The first few months were quite hard. It was a culture shock and I was quite homesick. Had it not been for Simon Dumas (King Calaway) and Izzie his girlfriend who greeted me and helped me to settle in with my purchases and move I would have been quite lost and probably spent a fortune on transport. After my roommates at Uni moved in it got better and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Now after having come through and found my strengths, I feel that I could take on any challenge. Suddenly things that would have really scared me don’t feel so daunting anymore.”

Layla changed her course as soon as she realized that her heart was not in ‘Mass Media Studies’. A wise move as she recalls: “I asked myself what would be the point in spending four years studying for something that I was not passionate about? I was sitting in lectures thinking about my Uni friends who were studying music, so I changed my course to ‘Music Business’ and my foundation course to ‘Song Writing’ and my outlook changed immediately.” The obvious question for me was would that be any use to her if she wanted to do something else over here in later life? 

“Absolutely not – but quite honestly I don’t see myself staying in Gibraltar my whole life. Here there is nothing I could do with a degree in ‘Music Business’. When I finish my degree I will apply for a work visa in the US and as I have studied over there I will have a much better chance of getting it. My ‘Music Business’ degree will allow me to seek work in the music industry so that I can support myself as I continue to write songs. As a student I’m only allowed to work on campus and for any gigs that I do outside Uni through networking etc (she has done nine gigs so far), I do not get paid. That’s good and bad because in a way as you don’t charge to play you can get more gigs but if you don’t make money you can’t even buy guitar strings.”

Reality bites and Layla has realized in the last year that if she is going to make any money from her songs she has to be more commercial in her song writing,  making her music accessible for other people to sing and more importantly ‘Radio friendly.’ “I feel that I have changed my focus and although I don’t really like commercial music that much, I know that if my music is more commercial I will have a better chance of getting it recorded and published. In Country music commercial means the typical Nashville sound and singing about pickup trucks, whiskey and beer instead of reality.  I can now write reality songs for myself and commercial songs for others to sing. That is the direction I’m going in.”

“I went to Florida on a Spring break and I wrote a song about it called ‘Panama City’ which is where I stayed. I also wrote song about my friends and a concert we went to while over there. My songs now can be about the positive experiences I’ve been having, whereas at first they were introverted and reflecting my homesickness and the culture shock. I grew a lot from that experience and I wish I could have gotten over it sooner. That perhaps would be my only regret – I lost a couple of months looking inwards and missing out.”

“Now I’m quite open about my songs and share them with my friends at Uni. I also make a rough recording and send them to my dad for his input. I like to listen to a proper critique of them and can take note. It’s a way of improving. For example this year I’ve written ten songs and only two of them are dark. There are no more dark songs like ‘Johnny’s Lake’ in my current batch. Some songs are very personal and I don’t want to give them to anyone but there are other songs that as I write them, I’m thinking of a particular artist or a particular style that is different to mine.”

At Simon Dumas’ invitation Layla co-wrote a song with him which she is quite proud of, it’s called ‘Heaven help me Heal’ and obviously it’s her favourite because Simon wanted to be the first to collaborate with her in Nashville and she grabbed the chance and run with it. She tells me that Simon is doing really well in his song writing partnerships and that his band ‘King Calaway’ is picking up the slack which almost stopped them on their tracks during the pandemic. Their progress was interrupted but KC is making up for lost time. He is now the band’s front man and they have cut down to four members.

“I still can’t get over the fact that my dreams are still unfolding before my eyes and how lucky am I to be in Nashville studying music and jamming with really talented people while also enjoying learning about the American culture and making lots of new like-minded friends. At every party that I’ve gone to in Uni there’s always a back yard with a fire going and guitars, mandolins and all the joy that is the Country music scene which I have been able to soak up. There are so many talented people trying to make it that you just have to be inspired and feel grateful to have this wonderful opportunity that I have. I will make the most it. I‘m really happy and settled now I know how I can fit into all this.”

Layla the Country songstress will be performing solo every Wednesday at the Village Inn down at Catalan Bay and she will no doubt be booked to perform at the Montagu strip and Ocean Village. She returns to Nashville in August and she intends to cement all the work that she is putting in and build a realistic song writing career by the end of her degree in three years. All it takes is one lucky break and this talented and switched on young lady could be transformed into a household name in cowboy country. Our warmest good wishes go with her and our hope that those Nashville dreams of her’s continue to unfold and eventually pay dividends too. Welcome home Layla Rose we missed you.

A Spiritual Journey Remembered

in Features

Joe Caruana a former government minister in 1969 and brother of our late Roman Catholic Bishop Charles Caruana, is also an established author with six books to his name. Born in 1937 he is now a jovial octogenarian and describes himself as a poly-faceted man. He is that and he’s also a talented artist who has sold many paintings displaying them on the Costa marinas where I have seen him many times. I have previously reviewed three of his books each as different as the next. ‘When the Hangman Came’, ‘The Iron Knight of Malta’ and ‘Eyes Set on Heaven’ which he wrote about his brother the Bishop and I daresay, his late dearly loved mentor.

Being of Maltese origin with strong roots in the Catholic faith, it was always going to be on the cards  that he would also undertake a spiritual journey at some point in his life and in this latest book which I’m about to describe, he traces that long journey as a legacy to his Christian faith. Now in the sunset of his years, his hopes are that the story of the journey he’s undertaken maybe encourages those whose faith may have gone lukewarm and prompt a return to worship and persist in the faith they once had. He is as excited as he is wary about his latest book because as we well know Religion and Politics tend to polarize opinion.

‘The Power of Pentecost-The Power in Hands’ is the double barrelled title of his latest offering and there is nothing to fear about dipping into its 150 pages well illustrated with photographs and profusely supported by bible quotations as you would expect. I can do no less than reprint the author’s synopsis here to help acquaint the prospective reader with the contents of the book before I add my own appraisal of it. 

“My Spiritual Journey

Though still a sinner my spiritual experiences have strengthened my faith.

In the ‘Power of the Pentecost’ I testify to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The book goes through the rich and sad history of the many attempts to destroy Christianity.

Christianity would not have survived had it not been for zealous defenders of the Apostolic faith.

The separation of literature, authenticated from unauthenticated, would have not produced the present correct Bible that is known as the cannon of the Bible.

The chapter on heresies drives home the many disparaging issues confronted by the early Christian church.

No less than two million Christians were cruelly martyred for holding on to their Christian beliefs.

We touch upon other important subjects of today such as the Eucharist and ‘the Real Presence therein’ which is held to this day.

The Last Supper and the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and how it came about are analyzed from the original Greek text.

We explore the power of hands from the ‘imposition of hands’ when praying for cures. The laying- on of hands when empowering someone with authority within the church. The use of hands when praying. All are spiritual gifts from above.

I trust that this book will encourage those who may be lukewarm towards their church to return and persist in the faith they once had.

I have no shame in proclaiming my faith since I have the conviction that God is relevant to all our lives. Therefore I speak up for my Christian faith to remind Christian believers about their roots.

Maybe this book will kindle the glowing embers into a raging flame in the hearts of the faithful.”

The previous synopsis adorns the glossy back cover of the square format semi-hardback edition which is published by ‘authorHouse’. The first thing that comes to light is that this book was written in 1984 when the author lived in Canada. This does not make it an old story. It provides the starting point of a journey at a time when Joe Caruana was a successful businessman who was going through a separation which led to divorce. These life changing events usually lead to a self-appraisal, which in this case saw the author being drawn back to his Christian roots and then finding a desire and discovering a flair for pastoral work that saw him immerse fully into the Charismatic renewal movement. At first in Canada then beyond and eventually leading back to the Rock where he has finally made his home. 

The story is told in an easy and honest manner which is enriched by many photographs and acknowledgments to those who have helped and influenced the efforts and the vision of the author, who at one time even wanted to become a priest and at another time spearheaded the Camp Emmanuel project in nearby Los Barrios, which saw him helping addicts and fostering young people through religious retreats and volunteer work.  Addicts who came to the Camp Emmanuel for treatment underwent a drug or alcohol rehabilitation recovery programme that was based on the 12 step AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) programme and a few hours of hands-on work too.

Through seven chapters the book moves swiftly and effortlessly through Joe’s personal experiences and his journey with Biblical references that extol the ‘Power of Penetcost’ and the ‘laying of hands’. It’s a well known documented fact that in Hinduism this ‘laying of hands’ is called Pranic Healing and in my own experience of being prayed over I can attest to the obvious transfer of energy, which is felt as heat, even though no touching is taking place at any point in the ‘praying over’. Whether the intended reader believes or not, the varied contents of this book, will depend on their disposition to accept or not, the strongly held universal view that there is a higher power. 

We are not alone in our universe and as an Alaskan fishing skipper facing heavy seas once remarked “When you have a fifty foot wave coming at you everybody believes in something!” Indeed we are genetically programmed to believe and even in the deepest jungles throughout history tribal people have been guided in their actions by belief in a higher power that needs to be appeased by offering sacrifices and many forms of prayer.

Joe Caruana’s book ‘The Power of the Pentecost – The Power in Hands’ may be purchased from the following outlets…Heritage Bookshop, Cornerstone Bookshop, Petrol Station shop Queensway, Parody Tours Town Range, Eroski Rotunda airfield.

Hopes for peace in Ukraine have been shattered

in Features

Hopes for peace in Ukraine have been shattered mercilessly. Sadly the world watches with bated breath as a country of 45 million is slowly and systematically reduced to rubble. Nobody wants another war and yet this one is unfolding in front of our eyes and we cannot wish it away. What we might have taken for granted barely a few weeks ago has dissipated in clouds of belching smoke. Some of that smoke dangerously close to a nuclear power station reputedly six times larger than Chernobyl.  Our sense of peace and security has been roughly shaken and no one really knows what the outcome of this military occupation of Ukraine by its powerful neighbour will be.

What we do know and can see is a humanitarian crisis unfolding as thousands of ordinary folk are ousted from their homes by shelling and missile attacks. They are now refugees struggling to find new homes elsewhere. Outside the country in which they were born and at the mercy of humanitarian aid, potentially millions of displaced Ukrainians will face poverty hunger and cold as well as the great sadness of being made homeless by a ruthless war which was not of their making.  

Did NATO military strategists factor in these dire consequences when they were helping Ukraine, taking into account the country’s aspirations of joining the Alliance and how that might affect future relations with their Soviet neighbour?  I doubt that anyone foresaw Putin mounting an invasion of Ukraine. As the world wide sanctions start to bite, the ordinary people of Russia who have had no say and carry no blame for the invasion of their neighbour, will suffer needlessly but much less than the Ukrainians who have been invaded, and it remains to be seen whether the plight of the lower Russian classes will move the Kremlin elite anywhere near a negotiated settlement for a peaceful future in the region. The war seems to have stalled as peace talks continue but no one really knows when and how a settlement might end the conflict.

There is a maxim which says ‘the first victim of war is truth’ and there is little chance of discovering what that might be in the midst of the propaganda and political grandstanding emanating from all sides East and West. No war before this one has ever been conducted ‘online’ with the instant communication now available at our fingertips and the probability of countless keyboard warriors waging their own misinformation wars is quite high. Where will this lead when we already know that in war nobody wins? Throwing questions up in the air throws up more questions and the as news changes by the hour so does our perception of it too. As I revise this text (I write on 18th March) I have a feeling that only a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine will bring lasting peace. Continued fighting will only bring more death and destruction to a beautiful country and I am sure that no one wants that. 

Looking back at history now might help us understand the past but it doesn’t prepare us for the present or the future because since the dawn of man we have been fighting each other for dominance. In the natural world this territorial streak in animals somehow manages to keep the animal kingdom in balance because no species is strategising to wipe out all opposition and control all the food supplies. When man learned to trade he unlocked the door to greed and as ‘progress’ dictates that as we must move forward, the speed at which we move is relative to how our trading partners are dependent on what we have to sell and how much of it they can afford.

 It’s a precarious balance at best and historically conflicts play out in a way out that invariably sees the poor working for the rich and the rich getting richer until there is a revolution and the balance of power changes. As the people start a new journey which always promises freedom and progress at first, there follows a period relative peace and prosperity, however that too will be tainted by greed and the hunger for power. The circle of life is not a happy one and as stewards of this planet we have not yet learnt how to look after it in a cohesive and structured way that might benefit all of us and not just some of the privileged nations. 

This is where we are today and we don’t like it but we have to steady ourselves and bear it. The question is what is Russia’s end game in this war and can the West help to find a way to broker a peace agreement that will stabilise the region? Will sanctions alone stop this conflict – as the Russian invaders will have also factored sanctions into their plan? Sanctions and counter sanctions will bite back and unsettle progress at a time when we might have just started to understand ourselves a little bit better. Global cooperation has been possible recently as seen in the last three years through the efforts to fight and overcome the Covid pandemic. Let us hope that the same spirit of cooperation still pervades and brings with it a renewed chance for world peace which we sorely need in order to survive in a free world.

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