Saturday, 2 August 2014 | MYT 8:00 AM

Boom, boom, boom: Joe Ghazzal is a firework that makes us go aah, aah, aah

Putting on a fireworks show isn't just about igniting the light and letting your colours burst as they shoot across the sky, explains fireworks expert Joe Ghazzal.   

Kids, grown-ups, old people – everyone enjoys a fireworks show. It's one of the few sureties of life, that a grand display of fire, lights, colours, bangs and booms high up in the sky, can stop anyone in their tracks and make them look up to the heavens to marvel at the man-made pyrotechnics.  

Behind every spectacle is a team of writers, content producers, lighting designers, sound engineers, technical and safety specialists, logistics planners and, of course, pyrotechnicians who work for months in advance to pull a show together. In Malaysia, one such group came together to realise the vision of producer Joe Ghazzal, who has been wowing us for almost two decades ago with his extravaganzas.

Joe is the managing director of Global2000, an events company that specialises in fireworks and has lit up both exhibitions and challenges like the Malaysia International Fireworks Competition (MIFC) and Da Nang International Fireworks Competition (DIFC). Their upcoming productions include the International MixedMedia Festival, but he can't say much more because of "confidentiality status and agreements". 

Global2000 has been behind several massive fireworks in recent years, including the millennium celebration at KLCC (top) and the showcase at KL Tower (bottom).

For the public, a fireworks show that (usually) lasts about 20 minutes seems only too short though immensely sweet. But what many don't realise is how much time, energy, effort and money goes into those few minutes. Every presentation is a work of art, and though the general public may not be able to tell the difference between one programme and the next, there’s a great deal of creativity that goes into each one.

“These days, putting on a fireworks display does not involve striking a match and lighting a fuse. It’s more a matter of firing up a computer and state-of–the-art systems,” Joe says. “Pyrotechnics themselves have greatly improved over the last two decades. Computers and digital systems have multiplied the creative possibilities of fireworks displays, and today, we can achieve an expansive array of effects that was simply impossible to imagine just a decade ago. Such displays are strictly controlled by digitised processes, which maintain the precision and execution of the effects."

"At the same time, choreography and timing is crucial to ensure that the fireworks explode in precision timing with the musical score. The result of such innovative technology and pyrotechnic designer’s creativity is an elegant and breathtaking show.”

And as always, safety comes first when you're playing with fire. This includes the matter of the storage and transport of the fireworks, the firing site and, paramount to all that, the safety of the viewers. Before a single fuse is lit, Joe's team scrutinises the entire choreography one more time. “This is a very important task that Global2000 has mastered over the last 10 years," Joe says. "Overseeing all safety procedures with respect to international fireworks regulations.”  

Global2000 organised the International Fireworks Competition in Putrajaya.

Despite the joy of seeing a fireworks show, putting one together is a tough job. But after 20 years of thrilling his audience, Joe is nowhere near burning out. Those 20 minutes when everything blows up in a blaze of glory makes it all worth the while. “It’s most rewarding to witness the end result when the months of tedious planning, designing and choreography come together in a show,” Joe says. 

“What inspires me most is translating a client's dream into reality, and seeing the faces of spectators and children light up with smiles when we light up the night skies.’’

Joe says that “creating new ideas and unique storylines for a special project is mental endurance’’. What drives him is his passion for fireworks and the ability to keep working when things get explosive. “That separates the top producers from everyone else,” Joe says. 

The next step for Global2000, he adds, is to augment the pyrotechnics with special effects and taking spectators on a “journey through sound, visuals and artistic electronic motifs”. 

Joe says, "It's a mixed multimedia spectacle where we sync fireworks with video mapping and lighting effects. Our fire and light shows come with a storyline which is a unique mixed-media journey enabling everyone to experience a momentous intertwining visual excursion for a few minutes. These large scale pyro-musical displays are choreographed with powerful emotions and cultural dimensions.”

More views from the International Fireworks Competition in Putrajaya (top) and one from the Da Nang International Fireworks Competition 2013 (bottom).

When the smoke from the fireworks have disappeared from the night sky and the debris swept away off the ground, Joe retreats to his comfortable home and family life to recharge. A recent experience opened his eyes to the things that matter most in life – two years ago, he lay in a hospital bed after a five-hour major surgery, and it was then that he began to truly appreciate life’s gifts.

“Dire moments like this force us to acknowledge what’s truly important to us,” he says. “I now spend significantly more time with my family, simply sharing stories, telling jokes, and appreciating each other’s company. The operation made me realise how much time we had been wasting every day on things that weren’t important ... and this prevented us from spending quality time with each other.

“You never know where the next miracle is going to come from, the next smile, the next wish come true,” he says.

On the subject of style, Joe likes being casual – for our shoot he throws on a smart suit and a fedora, but most of the time he is in jeans and shirts.

“As much as I can help it, I steer clear of suits and ties. I like cool and unique brands like True Religion for Jeans and I like Tag Heuer watches,” he says.

With a successful event company to his name, and surrounded by good friends and a lovely family – his wife is Nadia Wong Abdullah and they have a daughter, Kayla Aalia – this go-getter is not content to sit still and feels there is always more to aspire towards.

“Yes! World peace!” he says emphatically. “We all aspire to do great things. Yet most of us simply are not creating the results. We complain that we don’t have enough time, money, romance, success or joy in our lives. We point fingers and blame external problems that ‘happen’ to us and make life more difficult. But what we need to understand and keep at the forefront of our minds is that greatness exists in all of us.’’

His positive outlook has definitely played a part in getting him to where he is now, as this has kept him going through tough times.

“It is simply up to us to pull it out of ourselves. Regardless of personal circumstances, the economic climate or access to resources, it helps to maintain faith in the fact we each are more powerful than we think,” he adds.

> This article was originally published in Life Inspired, out every second and fourth Sunday of the month and distributed exclusive with The Sunday Star to selected households.

Tags / Keywords: fireworks show , Joe Ghazzal , pyrotechnics , Global2000 , Malaysia International Fireworks Competition , Da Nang International Fireworks Competition , International MixedMedia Festival , millennium celebration KLCC , playing with fire , pyro musical , Life Inspired


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