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Melodies of Friendship: Remembering Lito, (Rock Enthusiast & Friend)

Emanuel Micallef, affectionately called Lito by his peers, would have celebrated his 55th birthday today. The moniker was bestowed upon him by one of his classmates during his early primary school years in Birgu. His journey into the world of music began alongside his elder brothers, Pawlu Micallef and Horace Micallef, and their circle of friends from Birgu and the surrounding areas…..

At the age of 13, in 1982, Lito made his initial appearance on stage as part of the Vittoriosa Rock Opera Group, a production directed and choreographed by his brother, Horace Micallef. It was on February 14, 1984, that Lito auditioned as a vocalist for the band Trash, hailing from Cospicua and influenced by Black Sabbath MKI. Instead, he joined the band as a roadie, but soon developed a keen interest in his local group, Purple Haze, led by guitarist Steve Borg. Lito assumed the role of the band's official lyricist, and his talents led him to compose a Rock Mass at St. Lawrence Church in Birgu, paying homage to his beloved father, fondly known as Il-Mike, a cherished figure among soccer enthusiasts. For a brief period, the Bormla band Trash and the Birgu band Purple Haze amalgamated as Dark Medallion, with Lito serving as their roadie.

Subsequently, Lito co-founded the band Avalanche, as the Vittoriosa Rock Opera Group acquired a section of Fort St. Angelo in Birgu for their creative endeavors, which also housed studios for Purple Haze and Stratkast MKII. However, Lito later departed from Avalanche, and Frankie Tanti took his place. During Frankie Tanti's tenure, Avalanche performed at Cafe Riche in Birgu and for one of Ħaż-Żabbar's festa band clubs.

Lito briefly joined Exorcist without any live performances. In 1985, he became a member of Ivory Cross, with their rehearsal space located in Żejtun. Their sole live appearance took place at the RockPak concert in 1986, held at the Floriana Catholic Institute. In 1986, Lito left Ivory Cross to replace Ivan Grech (now part of Winter Moods) in Lords of Misrule. Lito showcased his vocal talents twice at the annual Maltasajf concert, held at Pembroke's Shooting Range. Eventually, he was succeeded by Daryl Ebejer, formerly of Entracht and later a member of Purple Haze, Kartridge and 12th Ode.

Meanwhile, Lito collaborated with Ivan Filletti to establish Filletti & Friends, who became the resident band at Rock-A-Buzz 1987/88 in Kennedy Grove and The Splash And Fun Park in Baħar Iċ-Ċagħaq.

In 1988, Lito briefly joined a band based in Birżebbuġa named One Across. He made a sole appearance as the band's lead vocalist during a New Year's Eve celebration in Paceville. It was during this time that he began writing live gig reviews for Far Out and occasionally filled in for Tony Miceli's musical page in Il-Mument and Mark Doneo's musical page in It-Torċa.

Ivory Cross photo shoot for Far Out Magazine 1985

Lito made his debut in a recording studio when the Vittoriosa Rock Opera Group worked on an original musical called Iskra. Horace Micallef penned the musical's story centered around the Russian Revolution, featuring lyrics by Raymond Tabone and music by Mark Vella of Stratkast fame. The musical was staged at Dar il-Mediterran in Valletta and later at the Depiro Centre in Tas-Sliema. Due to logistical reasons, the cast and crew of Iskra were reduced, and Lito took on the acting role of Batinov, miming to the voice of Charles Azzopardi at the Ċittadella Rabat Għawdex and as part of a cultural exchange program in one of Turin, Italy's local councils.

He later co-founded The Moviment Mużika Rok, which had a short existence. After spending several years as a singer without a band, Lito joined Brainstorm in 1991, replacing Mark Storm. This coincided with the opening of The Alley in Paceville, where live bands performed. With Lito as the vocalist, Brainstorm recorded two tracks for the multi-band compilation called Watching The Music. The recording took place at Temple Studios Imġarr in 1992. The compilation featured two tracks from five bands commissioned by Radio 101 to celebrate the station's first anniversary. The project was launched live at the Eden Palladium in Bajja ta' San Ġorġ, San Ġiljan and on radio simultaneously.

The same trio behind Iskra formed the events company Synergix and worked on another original musical called Living Legends, which was presented as a live performance. The musical took place at Dar Il-Mediterran, and Lito portrayed the character Hasan.

After leaving Brainstorm, Lito explored various bands as a vocalist before deciding to shift his musical career to become a rock DJ, performing at different venues over the years. He made his debut as a rock DJ at Sticky Fingers in Qawra.

Lito initially began his DJ/presenter career on the pirate radio station Radju Alternattiva, commissioned by the newly formed political party Alternattiva Demokratika (AD). When AD obtained a local broadcasting license in Valletta, Radju 99 was born. Lito hosted rock/blues shows such as "Rock On" and "The Blues Connection."

In 1997, Lito co-founded Mediacoop, which led to the establishment of Capital Radio 88.7FM. He launched his first rock show called "Radio Lito" on the first Saturday of July 1998. Among the bands interviewed during this period were Winter Moods, Scream Daisy, and Joe Mizzi's band.

In 2000, the radio schedule for Capital Radio introduced the rock show "System Overload" and the Sunday program "Slow An' Easy", later renamed “Easy On Sunday” and which focused on soft rock and power ballads. "System Overload" featured interviews with bands such as Forsaken, Winter Moods, Scream Daisy, Fire, Frenzy Mono, Corkskrew, Beangrowers, Different Strings, and Nomad Son.

On April 1, 2009, Capital Radio discontinued its broadcasts. On July 9, Lito joined Joe Genovese on Xalata Rock, and on October 8, he replaced Joe Tanti and joined Noel Mifsud on Rock Moods, both shows aired on One Radio 92.7FM.

On April 6, 2010, Lito began airing pre-recorded episodes of his show, the Cottonera Rock Show, on Kottoner 98FM, with repeats on Saturdays and Sundays.On January 4, 2011, the Cottonera Rock Show was replaced by "System Overload," which was also aired on allRock via the digital system DAB Plus later that year. This marked a unique occurrence of a rock show being simultaneously broadcasted on two different stations. However, the program concluded after 30 editions in August 2011. Excerpts from the show were aired on Kottoner 98FM during the remaining slots in August and throughout September.

In October 2011, the Cottonera Rock Show returned to the airwaves, replacing System Overload on Kottoner 98FM. During the same month, Lito joined the Fuzz Box team on Radio 101 as a live program contributor. However, four years later, the station's administration discontinued Lito's involvement after he posted some black-humored comments on Facebook regarding the Paqpaqli għall-Istrina incident. His remarks received harsh criticism from Facebook users, who deemed them inappropriate. Lito subsequently apologized and deleted the comments.

Manuel Micallef, widely known as DJ Lito, tragically passed away at the age of 47 on Sunday, May 29, 2016, when his car was involved in a head-on crash on the Cospicua seafront.

Note from the author:

I first met Lito on the bus to school in our teens, him being from Birgu and me from Paola, and probably due to our common interest, rock music, we clicked immediately, although we used to dispute without end on who’s the best guitarist, singer and so on. He was a Ronnie James Dio aficionado and was one of our debated topics till Lito’s early demise nearly eight years ago. After our school years we sort of drifted apart as we started jobs which took us in different directions, although we occasionally met during some event or another, of course the topics of our conversations would be the Rock and heavy metal scene, especially the Maltese one. In 2009 our paths met again when One Radio programme manager Ray Azzopardi informed me that from October Lito will co-host Rock Moods with me. It was an interesting period alternating week in week out who chose the music for the show, and thus making it more vibrant and motivating. During the summer of 2011, the show took a sabbatical and later on Lito informed me that he was given a chance to produce his own show on Radio 101, and so we became guests from time to time in each other’s shows. Of course, we kept our yearly guest appearance on Michael Bugeja’s show Rockna with his end of year edition discussing local releases throughout the ending year.

with Tino Troy from NWOBHM legends Praying Mantis, Andy Barnett (ex F.M.) and Billy (ex-Getting Closer) on Rock Moods

One of the most notable shows I am flattered to have been invited on, was The Cottonera Rock Show special edition during Christmas time 2012. Also invited on Lito’s show were Michael Bugeja, Dorian Cassar and Charles Marsh. Other notable appearances together that I’ll cherish forever were the celebration of Rockna’s anniversary at Valletta’s Hard Rock Café and the mega event ‘Remembering Steve Borg’ held at Paceville’s HRC on the 16th February 2014. An event organised by Purple Haze, the band Steve* founded in the early 80’s, and friends.

Sometimes months passed before we met or talked, but one thing for sure Lito would always be present at the Simon’s Pub yearly music marathon where we would evoke back to our discussions.

On that fateful day, a Sunday, I was at home, probably watching football or listening to music when I was contacted by a mutual friend delivering the sad news that our beloved Lito was involved in an accident and that now he’s pestering Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy in person, but still every year nearing the end of it we still feel his presence while recording the annual end of year Rockna show.

He was proud to love all that is Maltese and although gone he shall never be forgotten.

*The music scene lost Steve on 4th February 2013.

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