This year has been punctuated by many trips back to Malta for the internationally acclaimed tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens. After performing in the much-anticipated Don Giovanni, he has released a brave new version of the timeless Maltese classic, Xemx, established a foundation to combat domestic violence, among other issues, and has been rehearsing for his bigger than ever annual concert. Later in the year, he will also perform in an opera staged on Gozo. “I’m a very ambitious person – when I have something in my mind, I just want to do it,” he told Eve. This summer, he is using all his ambition and determination for a newly found role in advocacy for victims of domestic violence.
Photo credit: Kris Micallef
Most of his efforts revolve around the newly established Marcy Foundation – all the proceeds from his single and annual concert will go to give it a much-needed initial boost. Created to honour his mother Marcelline, who passed away last year, the Marcy Foundation aims to offer help without judgement. It focuses on raising awareness regarding domestic violence, drug abuse, mental health, HIV, and child abuse – referred by the Foundation as the Five Pillars. In addition to the tenor, the the foundation’s team consists of legal adviser Dr Martina Borg Stevens, treasurer Yvette Stevens, non-executive member and co-founder Estelle Borg, and practicing psychologists Julianne Grima and Cher Engerer.
The Marcy Foundation’s online platform will guide individuals as they seek help. It is seeking not to replace existing services, but to enhance them and serve as a one-stop-shop. “The support was so overwhelming that I could not believe it. People have called us and emailed us, either to say thank you, or offering their help or [contacts of] lawyers and psychologists,” Zammit Stevens remembers the first days of his new project.
He is thrilled, but knew he would touch a sensitive cord: “I’m very passionate in spreading the message across from people to people, because it can’t get more raw and genuine than that,” he explains his approach to using his and his colleagues’ talents for advocacy. “We see so many videos on Facebook or Instagram every day that it’s very difficult for something to touch you. But something like this [is] what everyone could relate to. Because at the end of the day, I’m sure one of the five pillars has hit you, a colleague, a friend, or a family member.”
With this heart-to-heart approach in mind, Zammit Stevens took up the challenge to release a new, modernised version of Xemx as a single – with no other than Ira Losco as a co-singer.
The video, which features Zammit Stevens and Losco walking together through the streets of Malta, subtly portrays victims of the Five Pillars of the foundation. “It was very, very difficult to shoot a music video that can deal with the issues that we are tackling at the Marcy Foundation. I couldn’t be too obvious and too cheesy. It needed to be done in a very classy way, which, thanks to Matthew Muscat Drago, who directed and filmed the video, really got the right emotion,” Zammit Stevens remembers. In the video, the characters eventually pull off paper bags, ready to face the world without masks.
“Xemx is such a classic, it’s been done so many times that it could turn into a bit of a cliché, but I really stuck to my idea,” the tenor’s voice softens as he explains: “It’s my mum’s favourite song. It’s so special to me and my mum that no one can take it away from me. Also, Xemx wasn’t released as often as we think. It’s been done many times, but these have always been covers and live performances. At least I really want to modernise Xemx. It gives such a different feel, but it remained the same song.”
Zammit Stevens, who has performed alongside Joseph Calleja and pop superstar Anastacia, remembers being nervous before reaching out to Ira Losco to be his special guest at the annual concert and sing Maltese classic with him. Yet the popular star’s prompt and generous response gave him additional encouragement. The result was an instant hit, raising expectations high for the upcoming concert. “These are things that me as Cliff would have never done alone – my previous videos had maybe maximum 900 views. It just proves that something so beautiful is happening, and that we’re really doing something to help people,” the young singer speaks, his eyes sparkling and his face without a trace of fatigue, although the two singers are now busy rehearsing, and emails keep accumulating about the Marcy Foundation.
With this success, can Malta’s operatic talent be lured into popular music? “I specialised in opera when I went to London. Now I can’t sing pop anymore, [as] it is a completely different technique, with a lot of training involved. I still love, no, I’m obsessed with pop music – my idol is Beyonce. I don’t like the snobbery there is in the opera world,” the opera singer admits.
Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve
Making time to enjoy warm sea while in Malta, Cliff Zammit Stevens is hoping to reach ever more people with his music. The Cliff Zammit Stevens 10th Anniversary Concert, supported by Valletta 2018, will take place 3 October 2018. Update: due to unstable weather conditions, the concert will take place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta at 8pm, instead of St George’s Square. Tickets are available here. More information about the Marcy Foundation may be found on the official website, or on Facebook.