It is quite common for political leaders to publish their Spotify playlists to the world, but making an entire concert of it is slightly unusual, to say the least. Add to this the fact that the concert has been organised by the state-funded national orchestra and conducted by a Labour candidate for the benefit of a charity run by the Prime Minister’s wife, and the entire event starts to get tinges of a Latin American dictatorship.
So it was with a degree of trepidation that I attended the ‘Prime Minister’s Playlist’ at the Mediterranean Conference Centre last night. Joseph Muscat himself wasn’t present, having attended the concert with his family on Saturday, but the Prime Minister’s omnipresence could be felt throughout the show – which was around two-thirds full.
Before the show began, people had the chance to buy an programme with a foreword by the Prime Minister, in which he almost self-deprecatingly admits he was originally sceptical whether anyone would care about his choice of music when approached by the philharmonic orchestra’s executive chairman Sigmund Mifsud.
In the foreword, Muscat says he selected 17 songs from his playlist of 500 tracks which he listens to while working out and travelling and as background music while writing.
“Some have been with me since my student years since I could not get myself studying without my vinyls,” he wrote.
However, Muscat adds a word of caution that the 17 songs are not all his all-time favourite tracks, as “that selection might have proved to be a bit too much for some people’s tastes”.
The playlist was clearly carefully crafted, with a mix of songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 00s, but curiously not too many from the 90s, when Muscat was a youth. The songs were all performed by Maltese singers – from popular ones like Kevin Borg, Ozzy Lino, Amber and The Travellers, to more under-rated gems like Cheryl Balzan and Yorika Attard.
Whether the Prime Minister himself, or one of his strategists, designed the playlist, it was a job well done. Some were classics you can never go wrong with – David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, and Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Three of the songs were from the current millennium – Lana Del Rey’s soulful ‘Born to Die’, Coldplay’s pop hit ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ and Maltese hit ‘Xemx u Xita’, which was performed live by The Travellers themselves.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his family at the ‘Playlist’ concert on Friday night. Photo: Tonio Magro
I’ve listened to all those songs so many times before that at times I almost forgot I was sitting in a concert dedicated to the Prime Minister. In its own way, this concert helped me see the human side of Joseph Muscat way more than all the staged ‘day in the life’ interviews he has given on Xarabank.
It was low on the hero-worship side too. No massive smiling face of Joseph Muscat portrayed on the stage, no mementos of the Prime Minister sold at the entrance, no surprise entrance of the Prime Minister at the end of the show to make the crowds go wild.
All there was to remind people about the concert’s design were regular announcements about why some of the songs are especially significant to Joseph Muscat.
Gianna Nannini’s ‘Meravigliosa Creatura’ was the song Muscat and his wife Michelle listened to on the radio while driving back home from hospital after the birth of their twins.
Eddy Grant’s anti-apartheid ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna’ reminds Muscat of when he attended Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa in 2013, and David Soul’s ‘Silver Lady’ reminds the Prime Minister of his childhood days watching Starsky & Hutch at his uncle’s house.
Ġensna’s ‘Isimgħu Ftit’, originally sung by the recently-deceased Tony ‘Bayzo’ Camilleri, reminds Muscat “about how Malta must keep on aspiring to progress and provide work for future generations”.
Rock singer Mikaela wows the crowd. Photo: Tonio Magro
The loud cheers from the audience whenever Muscat was referred to or when a photo of his twins flashed up on stage gave the entire concert an uncomfortable leader adoration vibe. Yet this was easily swept away by the brilliance of the songs singers themselves, particularly (in my opinion) rock singer Mikaela Attard’s powerful rendition of ‘Meravigliosa Creatura’.
Later on, I read through the programme and found a description of the show by its artistic director Felix Busuttil that pretty much summed the whole thing up.
“It is a celebration of life – seen through the eyes and ears and heart of the man who like all of us has loved, lived, lost and found. It is as straightforward and as simple as that – asking the man leading our nation to open his musical Pandora’s box and share it with us all.”