Making the Fire Work

EZ has a chat with Asia’s most recognised firework maverick, Joe Ghazzal, who has orchestrated some of Malaysia’s most iconic fireworks events.

Up in the sky, breaking the treacle dark expanse, bursts of colours shoot from the ground, loud and shrill in their accent only to break out into a thunderous explosion of magical proportions. Such is the beauty of the firework, a human invention that combines the science of pyrotechnic with the aesthetics of art.

Fireworks, like many other endeavours of human expression, have over the centuries taken on various forms to produce what is known as the three cornerstone effects fireworks – the sound, the light, and most importantly, the effects.  So sophisticated are the fireworks of today that they can burn with flames and sparks of a wide range of colours and in spectacular effects with distinct sounds.

Though it may trace its roots back to 7th Century China where they were invented, fireworks have become a form of entertainment of its own.   Mind you, we are not talking about run-of-the-mill consumer fireworks that can be purchased by the public during major festival seasons but professional grade fireworks used in world class events; fireworks that have become a symbol of grandeur and prestige. These are fireworks that stretch the possibilities of pyrotechnics while continually seeking to perfect its art and science.

One such fireworks event, which also happens to be the largest international fireworks competition, is the Danang International Fireworks Competition (DIFC). Held annually in Danang, Vietnam, DIFC surprisingly has a Malaysian connection which began at its conception through the Malaysian and Hong Kong based Global2000 International Ltd. At the helm of Global2000 is the enigmatic Joe Ghazzal – a leading figure in the entertainment and events industry.

‘We were invited by the Vietnamese Government to produce the Danang International Fireworks Competition in Vietnam in 2008; we have been producing and choreographing (the competition) since then,’ said Joe. ‘DIFC is a complete success and it attracts a million visitors to watch the event over two nights.’

Prior to being invited to produce DIFC, Joe’s Global2000 was already making waves in the region for its spectacular fireworks shows and also for organizing world class events. In 2007, Global2000 organised, produced and managed Malaysia International Fireworks Competition (MIFC), which was the first ever international fireworks competition staged in Malaysia. ‘MIFC was the key and major event for Visit Malaysia Year 2007 and 50th Merdeka celebrations,’ explained Joe. ‘MIFC was hosted and supported by Ministry of Tourism in 2007 and 2008 for Visit Malaysia Year and it was a huge success that attracted 3.5 million people to Putrajaya.’

Joe’s involvement in the fireworks industry happened quite naturally. Having been involved in the entertainment industry since his university days, Joe has seen it all and conquered it all, that is, until he went full force in producing world class fireworks competitions and events. He started deejaying in Singapore during his university days and would then go on to recruiting and supplying DJs, records and equipment to new clubs, first in Singapore and then expanding up to Kuala Lumpur. ‘Whilst I was in the clubbing scene, I got into producing special events for product and brand launches in these clubs. Then I moved on and opened an event management company in 1994,’ said Joe on his venturing into event management.

‘I have done over 100 events for Petronas; I did the Launch for the Mercedes cars, produced and launched (events for) Astro, Measat, KLSE new building, KL Tower, Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, Sepang’s F1 circuit, Formula 1 opening ceremony, F1 Gala dinner and produced and managed the official Millennium celebrations at KLCC Petronas,’ said Joe. ‘I wanted to create a legacy for the new Millennium, so I produced a mega party at the Subang Terminal One, which was called ‘Zero’ – One World One Party.’ The airport, according to Joe, was a symbolic choice – it signified the departure of the old and arrival of the new Millennium. ‘It was the biggest party ever held in Malaysia that attracted more than 100,000 revellers!’

This is where the fireworks connection comes in. According to Joe, all his past major outdoor events capped off with a bang with a fireworks display. ‘As the finale was important to the event, I personally choreographed the fireworks so that the fireworks display would sync with the actual events.’

The lure of such fireworks displays is undoubtable. Elaborate fireworks displays are fascinating and quite magical. As Joe elaborated, it is ‘the creative side that is the wonder of fireworks. It is a combination of curiosity and emotion that lead us to watch these shows of explosive art. The one reason everyone continues to be fascinated with fireworks is that they remain incomprehensible. They are a chain of reactions that begins with a spark on the ground and ends in flashes of light several hundred meters in the air.’ This adds to the magical allure of the firework, which he said makes us ‘appreciate fireworks much in the same way as we do art – well-choreographed fireworks displays take us on a magical journey!’

While it may seem enchanting to the spectator, a lot of work by a large team of experts goes in to producing a wow-worthy fireworks event. ‘A major event like DIFC, requires writers, content producers, lighting designers, sound engineers, technical and safety specialists and event production team and logistics planners. To produce (the event), it takes months of planning; a team of good skilled and talented men and technical crew – which Team Global has – months of communications with clients and the selected participants,’ said Joe. On the technical front, stringent quality standards and procedures need to be adhered to.

For Global2000, which is capable to provide A to Z services for large scale international fireworks events, the gamut of its involvement in events such as DIFC and MIFC is indeed vast. ‘We implement the scheduling and format of the competitions and we also manage the press conferences, radio and television programs; receptions and other public events prior to the events,’ he said.

‘In some cases, we supply all supporting hardware and technical equipment; Mortars, Racks and firing system that is required for the fireworks competition as well as produce and manage all logistics,’ he added. ‘It’s a lot of work and many man-hours because we provide a complete turn-key production from start to end.’

The Malaysian-born-Singapore-educated Joe professed a deep passion and fascination for fireworks that goes beyond just a professional interest. ‘Fireworks have always fascinated me since I was a kid. It’s the sound of the massive explosions followed by a barrage of bright colours that makes me happy! I think it has to do with the many patterns of the fireworks because they are all different and unpredictable, just like life, and they explode in various directions and it just looks amazing above the night skies. People just love the explosions in the sky and love bright giant glowing paintings in the sky. The sky is a large canvas and fireworks allow me to paint the sky with my art.’

The sky is a large canvas and fireworks allow me to paint the sky with my art.

To Joe, everything he does seems to come from the heart. Outside his work, he is all about having a wonderful time with his family and friends. While his tastes might veer to the extravagant (a penchant for fast cars, globe-trotting and putting off at golf courses all over the world), Joe is very much grounded and humble. ‘I am a very normal fellow. I have a wonderful family just like the ordinary Malaysian Joe! I have a lovely wife and a beautiful daughter. They mean the world to me. I have a bunch of good friends and I love them too,’ said Joe. As for his work, Joe has only nice words to say, ‘I enjoy the work I do, so, it’s my hobby more than work. I put my heart and soul into my hobby.’

This hobby of his in which he has made the sky as his canvas has proven to be more than just a spectacular form of art; it has helped transform the way tourism is done. Joe and Global2000’s contribution to the region of Danang has not gone unappreciated. ‘We were presented with a special certificate awarded by the Danang Government for significant contribution to socio-economic development, international friendship promotion and humanitarian activities for the city of Danang,’ said Joe.

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