Meet the man behind the 'biggest rock band in the world'
Rockin' 1000 founder Fabio Zaffagnini on getting the Foo Fighters to his hometown with a viral video, the band's upcoming feat at Global Village - and how we can dialogue better despite our differences
In a world that cannot see past polarities, it's rather refreshing to have a rock band - the 'biggest on earth', no less - demonstrate the way to better harmony.
Last month, Global Village announced that it had enlisted Rockin' 1000 to create a "historic" concert for its 25th Season's opening concert in October this year. The feat will look to unite 2,500 artists from 100 countries around the world in the process - a fitting tribute to the cultural diversity of the park itself. But the message of its creators deserves the brightest spotlight.
Five years ago, former marine geologist Fabio Zaffagnini was struck by a "crazy" idea: he assembled 1,000 Italian musicians in a park to play the Foo Fighters' 'Learn To Fly', in a bid to get the famous band to visit his small town of Cesena, Italy. They did. And Rockin' 1000 has been adding more venues to its 'tour' schedule ever since.
Due to Covid-19 precautions, the concert in Dubai is being planned as a virtual one. Nevertheless, that hasn't dampened Fabio's excitement about bringing Rockin' 1000 to the Middle East for the first time with this show.
We have to ask: of all the rock bands out there, why the Foo Fighters? "They're still alive," Fabio quips. "I also love their attitude. As far as I know, they're more approachable than other rock stars, so our chances of having our request successfully granted were higher with them. Most of all, though, I just love the Foo Fighters."
Fabio says he didn't really expect the rock legends to come to his small town. "When it started, it was almost a joke. a crazy idea. Sometimes, you have crazy ideas, but you don't go for them. We did." A researcher at the time, he didn't have a clue how to organise an event and had to enlist the help of friends, who worked tirelessly with him for more than a year to bring it all together. The result exceeded all expectations and Fabio quit his job to work full-time on Rockin' 1000. "In a world that is moved by millions of dollars, I wanted to see if we could achieve the impossible with just a crazy idea plus passion," he says.
The equation certainly added up - but not without its fair share of naysayers and dismissals. "We had thousands of rejections by sponsors - all of whom, I'm sure, regret that very much now," jokes Fabio. Eventually, it was a crowdfunding campaign that saw the project come to life. Musicians were given all the info they needed to participate - from tutorials to music sheets to logistical details - via an app. "They had to study the material from home months before the event, and get to the site with their own instruments and at their own expense," explains Fabio.
At the live event, each of them were given headphones and a click track, which helped them synchronise and play in unison. "The space the musicians occupy on the day is like a football field. There's a huge distance between one end to the other, so it would've been impossible to coordinate and play otherwise."
For the Dubai show, the band is inviting all interested musicians to join the effort by submitting their applications through their official website (www.rockin1000.com). And since the concert will be a virtual one, all the audio and video submissions will be pre-recorded and mixed together. "It's going to be a massive amount of work - but I'm confident the result will please everyone," Fabio says, assuredly.
He is especially thrilled to be attempting the feat in Dubai - the city of superlatives. "The entire world is in Dubai - and the entire world watches what happens in Dubai," declares Fabio. "We're also hoping that having the opportunity to do something in this city can give us a boost to move to other continents like North and South America, which have a huge rock 'n' roll fan base."
For all the things this project stands for, however, no doubt, its greatest credit lies in its ability to break down all sorts of barriers - demographic, cultural, religious, political and more - to find a common language. If there's anything Fabio has learnt in the last five years, it's that differences don't have to encumber dialogue.
"I'm just the manager of a rock band," he says, "but in my experience, once we find a common language - in this case, music - it's so much easier to bring people together. Having people join the same project and realise that we all need each other is the most powerful thing we can do.
"I think inclusion is a complicated mission," he continues. "Necessary, but complicated. Because if we want to be inclusive of different people, we have to give up something that we own, that we have, and that exists in our experience. That usually requires a complicated effort. With Rockin' 1000, this process happens quite easily because we use music as a language to share - and it transforms something requiring much effort into something natural, enjoyable and fun."
The impossible should not scare us, believes the entertainer. "Slip the impossible into smaller, 'possible' steps - and go for them," says Fabio, who notes that even if their original attempt had not worked, it would've still been a very enriching experience. "Don't struggle so much with the final goal that you don't enjoy the journey. I think people really underestimate the importance of having fun every day - even in pursuing goals."