Nine years after he charmed the Eurovision audience, GIANLUCA BEZZINA tells Adriana Bishop how his number one priority will always be his family over music, competitions and public life.
“Tomorrow” may be several yesterdays ago but for some he is still “Jeremy”. For his patients at Agenzija Sedqa, the genial doctor is simply Gianluca. To the rest of us, he is the perennially smiling singer currently one of the three coaches on Malta’s first edition of The Voice Kids.
“I don’t smile all the time,” he insists, unconvincingly. “My wife tells me that when I reprimand the kids I should try not to smile but I always find it funny when they do something naughty.”
I manage to squeeze an hour in his ridiculously busy schedule in between a conference on addiction medicine and filming for The Voice Kids. It feels like I’m interviewing two people in one go: the doctor and the musician.
“I feel no real need to make a clear distinction between myself as a doctor and myself as a singer. It’s one, it’s me, I can be both at all times.” He has no qualms being a doctor outside office hours and is happy to be known as “il-kantant” by his addiction patients as it helps break down barriers with them and “create a relationship of trust and transparency that is so particular and very hard to gain in this field.”
However, once he leaves the agency and is in his car on his way to pick up the children from school, he shuts down and forgets about his work as a doctor. He starts every day with an 8km run that sets him up mentally to face whatever the day brings. “I do take care of my mental health. I try to use my time as best as possible. Every day has enough hours to do all the things I’d like to do.”
His optimism is reflected in his joyous songs, described by one YouTube viewer as “the kindest thing I’ve heard”.
“What I like about Tomorrow and my latest song Sabiha is that they transmit a certain positive vibe. They offer a temporary escape into something that’s positive. We’re living in a world which is full of negative news that can make you feel heavy or down, but a three minute song can make you feel better.”
And he wasn’t even aware of how much better his songs could make some people feel. I read him a comment someone left on the YouTube video of Tomorrow: “This song was very important in my life. When my family and I were in Malta (in March 2013) we lost our baby. We lived a difficult experience in our holiday but this song helped us to pass through this terrible moment.” As he listened to that comment for the first time Gianluca became visibly moved. “You never know what you’ll transmit to others through your song … If you don’t believe in what you’re singing then you probably wouldn’t transmit much.”
“It was never my intention to become a singer”
Music came first before medicine for Gianluca but he never expected it to become his career. Despite growing up in the shadow of his famous singer-songwriter grandfather Gaetano Kanta (Buttigieg), one of the pioneers of using Maltese in pop songs, Gianluca was encouraged by his mother to put academics before music.
“My mum always insisted I should focus on academic studies first then music later if there’s time and I am grateful for that. I would like my children to do the same. I like the satisfaction I get from music but I can’t really compare it to what I get from being a doctor. They are worlds apart.”
Music was always the background soundtrack to whatever the large Bezzina clan of seven siblings were doing but it was never Gianluca’s intention to become a singer. He was, and still is, a reluctant celebrity who prefers singing as a hobby and never imagined he would go so far with music.
The Eurovision remains the only competition he’s ever participated in because, by his own repeated admission, he is “not a fan of competitions”. “I cried backstage when I won [the Malta Eurovision 2013] because I thought I would not be able to handle the pressure on such a big stage. If I had known I would win I probably would not have participated although I don’t regret it now.” Paradoxically, Gianluca feels more comfortable singing to a large audience than a small group of people where he feels “too observed”.
The truth is, Gianluca is “not a big fan of public life” and prefers “il-ġabra”, a quiet life together with his wife and two, soon to become three children (his third is due on Christmas Day) and his many siblings who have always accompanied him on his music journey. Music remains part of his life, of course, and upon prodding if he would ever release another album he confessed to having “loads of songs waiting to be released”.
“I have a beautiful Christmas song which would make a really good John Lewis video. Maybe next year,” he teases. “But I have no plans right now. I make music for my own leisure. If the opportunity comes to transmit the vibes to whoever is listening, I’d be happy to do it in a festival or concert but I am not actively looking for such things.”
Coaching the kids
Gianluca’s “quiet” life was shaken up the past few months when he reluctantly agreed to be a coach on The Voice Kids. “I took a while to accept being a coach,” he confesses. “What worried me most was not the competition element as it wasn’t me competing but how to handle the children.” He relied on his past experience working with children to manage the psychology of delivering bad news to
young participants but was very much aware of their expectations and those of their parents.
“I am so glad I accepted to be a coach now. I really enjoyed the experience. It was so much fun getting to know the children and seeing the competition from their eyes. With children there is none of that rivalry. It’s the complete opposite. Children who were eliminated in one phase were all there to support the others in the next phase.”
He was adamant that the children should take only positive memories from this experience.
Back in Sixth Form, when he first sang on a large stage in the Battle of the Bands at St Aloysius College, he was scarred by a particularly unkind critique from one of the judges who scored him 2 out of 20 points. Years later he still remembers that harsh comment as an example of how not to criticise a performer. “That same person was participating in the same Eurovision competition I won so that was Karma. If you are criticising, always do it constructively otherwise better not do it at all. I hope I am doing it right with the kids.”
“What I definitely do not want for any one of these kids is to come to this competition dreaming of being a big singer and leaving the theatre feeling disheartened and not feeling good enough. I made it a point to explain to every child I didn’t turn for, why I did that.”
I ask him how appropriate it was for a pre-pubescent or early teenage child to sing something like Amor Prohibido or Shape of You. Whatever happened to Let it Go? Even Gianluca admitted he expected to hear a lot more Disney songs. He conceded that the lyrics to Shape of You were changed to make them more age-appropriate even though the participants knew the original lyrics.
“We tried to make it appropriate also for those children watching not just those performing. I’d always prefer choosing the vibe of Moana or Encanto but the children chose their own songs for the blind auditions. Having said that, it was also nice to see children interpret songs that are not usually their ‘go-to’ in their own innocent way”.
A family Christmas
With most of the filming for The Voice Kids completed and only the live final left, Gianluca is looking forward to regrouping with the family over Christmas as they await the arrival of baby number three. It is a long-standing Bezzina tradition that all seven siblings and their partners and children congregate chez mama and papa Bezzina for breakfast on Christmas morning. “I love Christmas. I have very fond memories of our childhood Christmases. We meet at my parents’ home for breakfast and we do a Secret Santa. It takes us between two and three hours to unwrap all the presents.”
If the perma-smile defines his personality, his family defines his life. It’s his number one priority, with medicine and music following in that order. “Family and faith,” he points out. “They are very much intertwined.”
Faith is what keeps Gianluca grounded in an increasingly materialistic world. “Youth Fellowship and Community are also a very big part of my life. It’s where I keep my faith alive and as life gets busier it gets even more important. If you don’t have your feet well anchored, you can get carried away [with materialism]. The more burdened by materialistic wishes you are, the heavier and the more negative you become. When you compare yourself to others and what others have you end up losing your focus, especially now at Christmas. That’s why I try to keep my priorities in place.”