“Australia’s ‘Voice of Romance’ Alfredo Malabello talks to Segmento”

“I absolutely adore and relish my Italian heritage but I also love being an Australian. Artistically, I am firmly based in Italian culture”

Alfredo Malabello. “The Voice of Romance” talks to Segmento’s Jytte Holmqvist (2nd June 2020).

Alfredo Malabello, many thanks for taking time out to see me. You are a fascinating and impressive man with many strings to your bow and balls in the air. You have built a name for yourself as a musician/pianist, singer and all-round entertainer, with a “Voice of Romance”. An icon in the Australian music industry, you feature heavily in the media and have been called “Australia’s very own Italian son of song”.

You have readily confessed that you have a burning passion for music. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and with a go-getter attitude, approximately seven weeks ago you opened the already highly popular and versatile piano bar/ restaurant the Rattlesnake Saloon in the heart of Lygon Street, where the action is and which is known for its vibrant Italian community.

I am curious about your life journey. Can you please tell me more about your background? Did you grow up in Italy or were you brought up in Australia?

I grew up in Adelaide, born 11th of December, 1959, at the Queen Adelaide Hospital. I was the biggest baby born in Australia that year 5.5kgs …. my Mum says I’m still the biggest baby in Australia. I grew up in Norwood, South Australia, went to private colleges and insured beatings every day because I was the new immigrant. I was always afraid of girls even though I was fascinated by them and at the age of 15, I decided to take up playing piano and singing as a way to meet girls. I was a good student at school and made my way into the Institute of Technology and got my electronics degree as well as electro-mechanics and physics. I’ve always been a bit of a geek. I started my professional career in electronics whilst performing on the weekends in a band, but the allure of music, and of course the girls, kept drawing me closer and closer to making a commitment to be a full-time musician.

In 1980 I formed a band called The Rhythms, and commenced my journey into professional musicianship. We supported and opened up for many bands nationally and internationally. We supported The Cure on their first tour of Australia. We also supported and opened up for bands like Midnight Oil, Australian Crawl, INXS, Cold Chisel, John Farnham, Mental as Anything, My Sex, The Angels, Little River Band, Hunters and Collectors, and many, many more. We toured around Australia for four years and then we broke up. I started performing as a solo artist piano playing and singing and touring around Australia playing at resorts and I must admit that that was the beginning of my musical persona. I moved to Perth on the eve of the America’s Cup in 1987 and for just a relationship with the wealthy glitterati of Western Australia and performed at many illustrious parties …. some extremely decadent. Have you ever seen the movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? Well that is pretty much the sort of life I lead at these parties for many, many years. I’m gloriously tainted.

In 1988, I was able to wrangle support in the form of $100,000 and travel the world in search of a record deal. Along with my musical partner, we were able to sign a deal with Polygram in Tokyo, Japan, and then we moved to New York and then Nashville, Tennessee, for one year and recorded an album. It was a great experience and one that forged an understanding of the professional music industry and recording industry.

Since then I’ve toured America, Japan, Europe, England, performing 5 to 7 nights a week and really honing my skills as a musician and entertainer.

How do you feel about your Italian heritage and are you more steeped in the Italian or Australian culture at this stage of your life?

I absolutely adore and relish my Italian heritage but I also love being an Australian. Artistically, I am firmly based in Italian culture. Attitudinally, I’ve done the attitude and demeanour of an Australian bloke. When it comes to performing, depending on the event, I will milk the Italian “Crooner”, or accentuate the Australian “Bogan”.

What do you most appreciate about Italian arts and culture?

What I appreciate about Italian art and culture, is that, from what I have learned and seen and experienced, striving for excellence is at the core. I really like this no compromise attitude …. but then again, when it comes to making love, there is no rule book …. and I love this attitude very much.

With regard to Italian people and identity and bearing in mind that also Italy is affected by global trends, is there such a thing as an Italian stereotype today?

There’s one thing I’ve noticed in my travels around the world, that whilst Italy had a very definitive personality and a recognisable persona, the advent of the Internet has definitely white-washed every culture on this planet. I must admit it is getting more and more difficult to spot the Italian purely based on behaviour, movement, fashion, and attitude.

Do you draw from certain Italian traits in your role as an artist and entertainer – i.e. are you very Italian in style?

As I mentioned earlier, it all depends on the event or the group demeanour of the audience. For example, if I were to perform to a group of Italians, I would definitely be the Italian.

You sing in both Italian and English – are you able to express emotions equally well in either of these languages?

Yes, I’m able to express emotions quite successfully as a performer, in both Italian and English. I enjoy the rapport I nurture with my audience …. I love people.

What inspired you to become such an enthusiastic and smooth singer and what is the recipe for success as a singer and entertainer?

My inspiration originally came from my need to meet girls. Then my love for music became stronger than my love for girls …. and then it dawned on me that it is better, and much more attractive, to be passionately interested in what you love, than it is to try to look interesting. I hope you understand what I mean.

I certainly do. Where do you feel most happy and fulfilled? When performing by the piano in a small and more intimate venue like The Rattlesnake Saloon or in a larger space like the Melbourne Crown Casino?

To tell the truth, there is no difference to me. When I’m behind the piano, and performing and singing, there’s only one person …. 99.9% of the time it’s a girl I’m thinking about. (smiles).

Is performing to you a dialogue between the audience and yourself as a singer and musician?

Absolutely yes. 1000% yes.

What are some of the most common themes in your songs and why are they so important?

Love, sensual passion, anger, jealousy, heartbreak, loss. They’re extremely important because it lets the listener know they’re not alone in this condition.

Do us human have the same needs across cultures?

Yes, of course. But certain cultures accentuate certain traits …. like rebelliousness, for example.

What, in your view, makes the world go round?

Religion, love, romance, fashion, food, sex.

How important is poetry in the world today?

I cannot begin to even try to express how important poetry is …. it’s something severely lacking in our artistic and urban landscape.  

Can music ease our pain and soothe our souls? In other words, does music have healing properties?

It has literally saved my life …. it has healed me …. many times …. from a broken heart.

What singer/singer-songwriter do you admire and feel most inspired by?‍

This is a very difficult question to answer …. but I would be confident in saying the person who inspired me to play piano and sing, is Elton John.

What made you embark on the project of opening up The Rattlesnake Saloon and did you know when you first set out that it would become such a success?

It was a serendipitous event. The fruit of a casual conversation overheard by philanthropic friend. Please forgive me if I sound cocky, but yes, I always knew it would be a success.

Can you please tell me something about the history of the venue? What purpose/s did it serve in the past?

It was an Italian restaurant called La Notte …. a very large one, quite popular in the 80’s and 90’s. It had been closed for approximately two years before I stumbled upon it.

Congratulations on gaining licence to stay open until 3 am 7 days a week(!). How did you manage to convince The Council?

Well, that was a seven-month ordeal. It’s best that we don’t talk about this because I’m not a huge fan of the Melbourne City Council. Their rules, regulations and planning laws are destroying Lygon Street. Let’s leave it at that.  

Why the name The Rattlesnake Saloon?

I wanted something TexMex, Cantina style, Mexican Adobe, casual grungy. I did some googling and saw the rattlesnake was an inhabitant of that part of America, and it stuck.

The Rattlesnake Saloon was awarded the title of Best Fringe Festival Venue this year. What makes this venue stand out above the rest?

Yes, and I’m very proud of that award. I’m an Artist and Actor, and I love anything and everything to do with music and theatre. I love young people, I love the energy, the enthusiasm, and their raw talent. There was not anything I wouldn’t do for these people at my venue. I believe they felt the love coming from me and my staff. And, I must admit, I had a ball being amongst it all.

Does the location – Carlton – with a rich Italian cultural and historic heritage add to its success?

Yes, Carlton is rich in Italian culture, but it has changed, morphing with a much more international cosmopolitan student base emanating from RMIT and university campuses. There are also many more affluent and arty residents living in close proximity. The Rattlesnake satisfies their penchants for an eclectic alternative.  

Please comment briefly on the many changes Lygon Street and its Italian community has undergone through the years. Do you see these changes as positive or less so?

I’ve been here for just over two years, and in that time I’ve gotten to know the old boys, the restauranteurs, the shopkeepers, the homeless …. and they all say Lygon Street is dead, it used to be amazing, now it’s all gone …. etc, etc, etc.  I’ll admit that this attitude upsets me, firstly because it’s defeatist, secondly because they’re resigning to the fact that it will never be great again. I believe Lygon Street is great and with the right attitude and support from The Council, it will surpass its previous legendary fame with even more glory.

I couldn’t agree more. The crowd-pleasing Fringe Festival cabaret/drag-show/confessional play ‘La Nonna’ (a tribute paid to an Italian grandmother, by her Melbourne-based “nipote”) was staged this year at The Rattlesnake Saloon. Did you watch the play yourself? If so, can you sympathise with the ordeals and identity issues experienced by the Italian grandmother? (to do with cultural identity, belonging, nostalgia for the past, finding your feet in a new place, etc).

An amazing show, and rightfully one of the most popular this year. It made me cry, sincerely heartfelt pain and joy experienced by all. I loved it.

You are a master in the kitchen and your Facebook page features regular posts of scrumptious Italian dishes that are a feast for the eyes. Is it true that not only music and poetry but also food itself is “food for the soul”? What makes a perfect Italian dish?

Hey, yoo gotta feela da love when you eat – you feeda da body, and itta shoulda feed da soul …. anda maka you feel happy, or at the very least that you are loved. If you don’t feel this love from Italian food, then all you’re doing is surviving ….

Last but not least, is there still a place for romance in these dire times of political turmoil and social unrest across the globe?‍

Now is the time to dive into romance more passionately, courageously, with more wild abandon than ever before. Don’t hold back!

Alfredo Malabello. “The Voice of Romance” talks to Segmento’s Jytte Holmqvist (2nd June 2020).

Segmento ‘Unapologetically Italian’

Alfredo Malabello | My Love (Official Music Video) | Ode To The Dudes | Youtube

* Alfredo Malabello has harboured a burning passion for music as far back as he can remember. “As a very young boy growing up in Adelaide, I couldn’t fall asleep unless I had the radio on. Music was my one true escape, and even now, if everything is crumbling around me, as soon as I start to play my piano and sing, the world as it is stops and my own private universe begins.”

Born to immigrant Italian parents, Sydney-based Alfredo Malabello is a true citizen of the world, and his colourful career has transported him to many places across the globe. “I’ve played in cities as varied as New York, Nashville, Tokyo, Milan, Dusseldorf, Saint Moritz, Munich, Rome, London, and all over Australia of course. What a trip it’s been!”

With over 30 years experience on stages around the world, Alfredo has earned a reputation as one of Australia’s most remarkable live artists. He has performed at VIP parties for Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, he’s entertained guests at a lavish ceremony to celebrate the opening of the 2011 Formula One in Melbourne, and he’s also shared the Sydney Opera House stage with Tina Arena. “Tina used to come and sing with me in a small bar in Melbourne in the late 1980’s, and it was a special moment when she recently chose me to sing ‘The Prayer’ with her, backed by grand sixty piece orchestra. It was a glorious highlight of my career.”

Along with his credentials on stage, Alfredo has also cemented his status as an exceptional recording artist. His 2010 debut album ‘Ciao Bella’ peaked at Number 4 on the Jazz and Blues chart in Australia, spending an astounding twenty-seven weeks in the Top Twenty. “I was pleasantly surprised with the success of ‘Ciao Bella’, and I’m thrilled I’m able to connect with so many people.” His 2nd album ‘The Two Of Us’ achieved the number 2 spot on the National ARIA Jazz and Blues Charts in Nov 2011.

He is a man of many surprising talents. He has established himself as an actor, getting major roles in the acclaimed SBS series ‘Carla Cametti PD’, Channel Nine’s successful ‘Underbelly Files’, ABC’s ‘The Devils Dust’, ‘Tricky Business’, UK TV’s ‘Dripping In Chocolate’, and as the loveable Rocco ‘The Barrista’ in the national CGU campaign.

Even though he claims to be a “damaged rogue”, Alfredo proudly admits he wears his heart on his sleeve. “I’m a hopeless romantic! In relationships, I believe a man has to be a rock.” And as Alfredo promises, “When it’s just me and my piano, you get to the real heart of who I am.” Soundscape Media.

Alfredo Malabello | Could You Ever Love Me Again (Official Music Video) | Soundscape Media | Youtube

“Perth crooner Alfredo Malabello scores record deal at 50” | Sydney Morning Herald

Scoring a record deal is tough. Managing it at 50 years of age is even tougher. If you are not flaunting yourself on a reality television program, locking in a deal means working hard to refine your craft, define your sound and prove your talent.

Fifty-year-old Perth crooner Alfredo Malabello got the best present possible on his recent milestone birthday Universal Music was going to release an album of Italian and English songs performed by him, including three original songs of his. With a voice that sounds a little like Harry Connick Jr’s at times, the album, called, swings from romantic and sexy moments to funky bigger band tunes.

In Perth, Malabello has been one of the musicians of choice for the swankiest parties around. “I’ve done parties for Alan Bond big ones Lang Hancock, Tony Barlow, Nigel Satterley, Laurie Connell and Brian Burke,” he says. It allows the piano man to step out from behind his favourite instrument and work with several musicians, a luxury rarely afforded him during his years of travel. “I miss having musicians with me, and this album was such a joy to have the band with me,” Malabello said. “But it’s so easy to travel solo, you don’t depend on anyone, no one is waiting for you, they have got a piano there you rock up and rock on.” Malabello is planning a tour soon, and will travel the world spruiking the album.

“Piano Man’s Singular 50th” | Alfredo Malabello | The West Australian

As far as birthdays go, Alfredo Malabello will probably always find it hard to beat his 50th. That was the day late last year when the Perth singer and piano man signed on the dotted line for his debut album, ‘Ciao Bella’.

Those who followed the 2009 SBS crime series Carla Cametti PD, starring Diana Glenn and Vince Colosimo, might remember Malabello as the singing cook, Leo Cametti. It was his first acting gig and since then Malabello has appeared in more than two dozen movies, short films and video clips, most of them local. Oddly, it was the SBS show rather than an extensive musical performance career which sparked the idea for the ‘Ciao Bella’ album. “I have played many of the songs all over the world” says the musician whose decades-old piano man career has seen him play for royalty, in stately homes and watch the unfolding of Melbourne’s gangland underbelly from behind the keys.

Through his own choosing, the classic Italian and English songs from ‘Ciao Bella’ are old-fashioned, dating back to the late 60’s and 70’s. “I learnt these songs growing up in an Italian family but the versions on the album have been rearranged and are more lush” he says. “Fantastic songs have been written and these are beautiful ones. It doesn’t mean you can’t make them your own with an arrangement. It’s nice to let some of them back into the light sometimes. “At the same time, this was about pleasing myself. You have to be happy with songs before you can perform them and give them their own life and say “this is me” …”.

A seasoned live performer, Malabello says that by starting his recording career later in life, at 50 he feels more mentally, spiritually, musically and emotionally ready for the next step, more so than if this had happened when he was much younger.

* Somewhere in the embers of last century, the work of songwriter, poet, shaman Billie Reid started to exert a pull on other independent-minded Australian talents. Stories can, and maybe will, be read about those adventures. At this point, the vessel for that work has, since 2020, been our music production biz Soundscape Media.

Billie Reid’s talents are the molten core of what we do. To those who’ve come across him, Billie’s an irascible generational talent. And we want the number of those who share that impression to grow.

Sharing the load, and bringing a canny female take on Billie’s words, is versatile Fremantle-based singer and classy piano player Lily – who’s also writing impressive material of her own.

Our artist collaboration list also includes in-house stormcrow Quinlan Porteous – a man who’s weathered years of industry bs and continues to find redemption in music regardless. As do we all.

Let’s hear it too for Wayne A Halifax, the man whose vibe Chris Isaak channelled. And never mind which came first – sometimes those who follow get it right, and Wayne has the advantage of Billie’s lyrics. As does Alfredo Malabello, cursed by Universal Music Australia describing him as the country’s “Voice of Romance”. He’s more content, and rightly, with the tag “Australia’s Leonard Cohen”.

Soundscape sounds dip in and out of alt-rock, Americana, and smart pop. Our production styles range from roots-raw to Netflix-friendly rock with splashes and squeals of electronica. We can do polished, but we’re a fan of loose edges and first take magic too. And we look forward to hearing from you – about what we’ve done, what we’re doing now, and what we could perhaps do together. Soundscape Media.

“… the golden thread that links these wonderful artists is Billie Reid and his songs”

Billie is a dusty troubadour, a poet and songwriter and activist whose music is steeped in concepts and images that echo down the centuries. Here and now they wear the clothes of rootsy Americana, Celtic seers, and the holy ghost of rock and roll. His words spill through the mouths of some of our other artists, new light pouring through glass stained with red wine, raised to toast victories, remember the fallen, and curse those whose fall we ache for.

Sometimes Billie writes stripped-down, just a few words capturing the core of a moment, an emotion, that listeners can connect with. Other times he packs syllables with density that warps space and time. Even across the course of a couplet he can go from what feels like a classic folk song in words and delivery before a collision with Dorothy Parker’s acerbic wit: “They won’t let us live on the beaches ‘n’ trees, while they breakfast at Maximes, and brunch at Los Angeles”. In a flash Billie does with 19 words something akin to what Kubrick did with his classic cut from a neanderthal throwing a bone at the sky to a spaceship floating above the Earth in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

Something of that process applies to Billie’s way with constructing a song. Or you could hop and skip to science fiction writer Samuel R Delany, author of books including ‘The Einstein Intersection’, and as a musician part of the ‘Greenwich Village’ scene that spawned Dylan. The angle he had on those years as a queer black guy is fresh like the eye Billie brings to the world we’re accelerating into now, and may be heading away from at lightspeed assuming things work out the way they could. Whether the impact of that counts as better or worse is the kind of judgement call that Billie’s around to chronicle.