It was billed as the biggest concert of all time in Malta. And it lived up to expectations as an estimated 25,000 people packed Floriana’s Independence Arena on August 30, 1990, to witness a show by Tina Turner, one of the greatest rock stars of the 20th century.  

Described at the time by a Times of Malta journalist as “rock’s raunchiest grandlady”, Turner had travelled to Malta as part of her ‘Foreign Affair’ tour of Europe, named after her 1989 album of the same name.  

Backed up by two dancers and a five-piece band, Turner performed for around two hours, performing hits like What’s Love Got to Do with It, Private Dancer and The Best.  

Fans climbed poles, trees and monuments to get a glimpse of the legendary artist while others fainted from being pushed against the barriers in front of the stage, prompting the international star to appeal to the crowd to move back, according to media reports at the time. 

“It was an electrifying experience,” recounted audience member Daniela Said, recalling the singer who died on Wednesday night at the age of 83. 

“There was nothing like it before and it set a high standard... I remember someone describing it as 'the hottest place to be',” she said.  

Excerpts of the Malta concert. Video credit: Alfie Fabri/TVM

The concert represented a turning point for the country’s music scene, which, before Turner’s visit, had never welcomed stars of such calibre, explained broadcaster and former artistic director of Spazju Kreattiv, Toni Sant. 

“Before Tina Turner, we’d never had a major rock superstar perform live in Malta,” said Sant, who broadcast live from the arena before the concert for a TVM news segment. 

“It was about opening up to Europe and the rest of the world in terms of the cultural scene and was immediately followed by a visit by Joe Cocker the next year,” he said.  

Turner’s visit in 1990, the same year as the inaugural edition of the Malta Jazz Festival and the start of Malta’s journey back into the Eurovision Song Contest in 1991, created a momentum that propelled the country’s music scene forward, Sant explained.  

With it came a flourishing of new local sound and lighting companies and a scene that would go on to continue attracting international artists, he said. “These things really put Malta on the map,” Sant said.  

The concert was also remarkable for being mainly government-funded with the help of sponsors, the brainchild of the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and Culture at the time, Michael Frendo.  

“The country had just come out of a very divisive time,” said Frendo, describing the concert as a unifying experience.  

“It was the first ever big concert and it was an amazing experience for a lot of people,” he said.  

Describing Turner as “magnanimous... a very pleasant person,” Frendo said the singer had been particularly gracious when asked to film an anti-drugs promo video for broadcast in Malta.  

A ticket for the Floriana concert.A ticket for the Floriana concert.

Turner agreed on the condition she could write it herself, Frendo recalled, adding the star had said it could be used “free of charge, wherever and whenever we wanted.”  

In her 1986 autobiography I, Tina: My Life Story, the singer opened up about the years of abuse she had suffered at the hands of her first husband, Ike Turner. He died from a cocaine overdose in 2007.  

Backstage crew member Keith Marshall describes how the concert, his first, made a big impact on his 21-year-old self.  

“We worked like dogs for four days, but there was a huge sense of personal fulfilment from standing backstage and seeing such a huge artist performing,” he said.  

He and his fellow crewmates were referred to by Turner’s manager as his 'water boys', Marshall recounted, so-called because of their assigned task on the night of throwing buckets of water onto the audience to help dampen the excess heat.

“It wasn’t like today with all the health and safety, it was a bit of a jungle... but it was really fun,” he said. 

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