Oliver Degabriele is the perfect example of today’s musical entrepreneur. He effortlessly juggles a plethora of projects whilst maintaining a powerful presence on stage. He intimately knows and loves his instruments and he is an inspiration to many for his sense of drive and professionalism. Here we have an insight into the happenings of his career.
Who is Oliver Degabriele in the eyes of Oliver Degabriele?
I would like to believe that Oliver is a bass player in the widest sense possible – someone who shies away from the limelight, but is still addicted to the stage. Passionate and calm, not flashy but level headed… not unlike an effective bass line!
What are the best things about being a musician and what are the challenges?
I guess the best thing about being a musician is that it’s the best damn job in the world! The challenges are never ending – no financial stability whatsoever, keeping up with different band calendars and constantly resolving conflicting dates, dealing with a million different egos whilst keeping yours in check, sleeping on lopsided beds in clubs that smell like a drummer’s armpit… but all these complications fizzle out when you’re playing great music with great musicians.
Photo credits: Carlo Muscat
You’ve been based in Paris for over a decade now. Why Paris, and what has the City of Light taught you?
I left Malta in 2004, right after the EU accession, so it was never easier to go study in another European city. I wanted to focus on jazz at the time, and study and play as much as I could, so Paris was a natural choice. Musicians from all over Europe gravitate there to play and learn from a huge and varied musical community. I learnt a lot from living in the city, and it’s where I stopped being a kid and found out what it takes to be a musician in a time when the whole music industry was (and still is) completely and constantly changing. I also learnt what it’s like to leave my comfort zone and challenge myself, test my limits and make tough choices by trusting my gut instinct every step of the way.
What are the greatest lessons that you’ve learnt from being a musician?
Playing music is about exposing yourself to an audience. It’s the closest you can get to standing naked onstage. So it’s not surprising that the greatest lessons I’ve learnt from music have been about my most inner self. As a bass player, my role is usually to accompany singers and soloists. This means that I’ve had to learn how to empathise with other people, try and understand what they want to say with their music, support and elevate what they are trying to say without hindering it. The bass is meant to make other instruments sound better (as the great bass player Charlie Haden once said), and that has been a mantra of mine, on or off the stage.
Photo credits: www.rdaimages.co.uk
You are familiar with namely the piano and the double bass. What shades and tones, in your opinion, do these two members of the musical family offer and how do they differ?
One would think that there is nothing in common between the piano and the double bass, yet they both rely on a vibrating string, except that one is hit by a hammer, and the other is plucked by your finger or bowed with an arc! But besides the obvious physical differences, one can say that whilst the piano has a wide sonic palette and can be played on its own for a lot of different kinds of music, the bass has a more specialised role, meant to support other instruments rather that be played solo. This is the reason why it’s important for bass players to be able to play and understand other instruments like the piano or the guitar.
If you could go back in time, which gig would you attend and which deceased musician would you work with?
It’s hard to give a concise reply to that question! If I had to mention two gigs I would have wanted to be present for, they would be Miles Davis at the Isle of Wight Festival and Led Zeppelin at the Royal Albert Hall. The curious thing is that both these concerts happened in 1970. I guess I was born in the wrong decade! I would love to have played bass with Billie Holiday. The fragility, darkness and incredible power of her voice is unique and unmatched till this day. Jazz has an unfortunate tendency to be reduced to technical prowess, speed and other such athleticism, but Billie Holiday just poured her soul into her singing and helped define the voice as one of the most important instruments in jazz.
Photo credits: Yann Bhogal
What’s next on the agenda?
I’m lucky to be currently working on some very diverse and challenging musical projects. I’ll be going back to Paris at the end of May for a few concerts with Akalé Wubé, an Ethiopian groove band with whom I’ll be then playing at Earth Garden in Malta on the 6th and 7th June, as well as some other European festivals throughout July and August. We’ll also be collaborating with a few Ethiopian singers throughout the summer festival season. I’m also working on a reboot of the Maltese world music band Etnika with whom we’re now focusing on playing more concerts abroad and recording a new album later this year. Some other projects include a new album with Festen, a UK tour with Oxyd, a new album and some exciting shows with Maltese band Brikkuni, and lots of gigs with some amazing young Maltese jazz musicians all around the island.