Roots as Routes

I’ve always been fascinated by what the late Stuart Hall said about identity and culture, so much that recently I decided to deviate slightly from the textbook by Giddens to include these thoughts on identity as ‘Routes’ as opposed to just ‘Roots’. As Hall said:

We reproduce our own identities in the future, rather than simply inherit them from the past. Of course we make them in the future, out of the past. So it’s not that I want people to forget the past — not at all, I want them to really remember it….If you think of culture always as a return to roots — R-O-O-T-S — you’re missing the point. I think of culture as routes — R-O-U-T-E-S — the various routes by which people travel, culture travels, culture moves, culture develops, culture changes, cultures migrate, etc.

I try to explain this innovative approach to students during class, teaching Principles of Sociology for the first time, I decided to do it through poetry and music, exploring a time line from 1920 -1995. A poem by Langston Hughes (1920) inspired Gary Bartz (1973)  who in turn inspired Courtney Pine (1995). The R-O-U-T-E-S Stuart Hall refers to are are like the rivers in our lives, the journeys we take…the cultures we explore and who we are… as a combination of where we come from with where it’s at, and where it might be going…(source)

Here are the three texts…

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (1920)

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Gary Bartz  NTU Troop ‘I’ve Known Rivers’ (1973) from the LP I’ve Known Rivers And Other Bodies 1973

GARY BARTZ

Courtney Pine – 4Hero remix ‘I’ve Known Rivers’ (1995) 

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In making classes more  creative, students, I think tend to engage more with ideas and concepts. While these ideas are interesting to read, and personally I identified a lot with Stuart Hall’s thoughts on many levels, as a reader, academic and poet/musician/DJ – experiencing things like this tends to be more like living Sociology through examples that people can feel/understand better….

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Good Times at Real World

It did seem a bit of a crazy idea when my long time buddy Rob Bozas was over for a few rays in the spring. I have known Rob since his Swanyard Studios days, when I was fortunate enough to work with producer Simon Emmerson, that led to a publishing deal, and recording three songs which defined my future, ‘Mousiki’, ‘Stavroulla’ and ‘Vrakaman’ with bouzouki coming from my friend and mentor, Sugar Hajishacalli, who sadly passed away in 2007. In the UK music whatever you want to call it, business, arena, field, zone one thing always leads to another. So when Rob when is Cyprus I invited him to our HighGate Rockers band rehearsal. He was impressed and said we should record at Real World Studios. It did sound far fetched at the time, but we worked hard over the next few months honing down our material, rehearsing regularly and doing a few local gigs.

Before we knew it we were playing live at Schtumm, a night Rob runs with Dean Creighton at The Queen’s Head then, three days in tranquility, recording at Real World. I have been in many studios around the world and this heavenly place, tops them all. The Studio was established by Peter Gabriel in 1986. Surrounded by water, in a converted 200 year old water mill in the town of Box in Wiltshire. The ‘Big Room’ 2000 sq ft was added and is built out of concrete and lead, with all the piping being made of clay in the AC – something which exudes positive energy. Stepping into this beautiful acoustic nirvana, my mind just thought of all the sessions, and all the happiness this place has brought to the world of music.

Rob appeared at the sessions just like he did in 1992 at Swanyard, popping in and out when he could find time. We had just finished Vrakaman on the afternoon of day one. It’s not so much a remix, just a band version, The HighGate Rockers Version,  with a groovy vibe in the percussion that kind of takes you to Latin America. Rob smiled and said ‘You know you are onto something here, its got a good groove…but nah the MC…heheh’ and he grinned at me just like he did in 1992 in that special original session with Sugar at the controls. He said exactly the same thing then, and just like then, and just like now as if it was yesterday, we all cracked up laughing. It was hilarious hearing the same compliment again. Rob is a great friend, a humble person whose opinion and wisdom I will always value. So here we are at the controls…two buddies 28 years on still making music together…EhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhOpppppassss!!!!

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A great night at Schtumm

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Traveling to Wiltshire UK from Cyprus we note a drastic change in temperature (40 to 25 – heaven) and some huge traffic on the M4 and we’re heading to Schtumm!!! What is Schtumm – a slang word meaning – keep your trap shut – it’s also a monthly live music happening with a difference set in The Queen’s Head on the A4 (also known as The London Road). Long before motorways this was the transport link between London and Bristol. The Queen’s Head is a charming place. Low ceilings, music memorabilia and signs that make you smile like…

The wonderfully informative and welcoming Dean Creighton, who runs the pub, is a supportive and knowledgable guy. You get the feeling instantly from Dean that he loves live music and along with his partner at Schtumm, the infamous Rob Bozas, the two of them make a great team out here in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside, in this charismatic pub just a stones throw away from Real World Studios and WOMAD’s offices. I’ve known Rob since my ‘Stavroulla’ and ‘ Vrakaman’ days, when he worked a Swanyard Studios in Islington, London. Rob is one of the few people I have met on this journey called music who a)really knows his stuff and b) is a very genuine friend. So what is Schtumm? Basically it’s a live event which is streamed also simultaneously online, in a marquee behind the Queen’s Head overlooking a lovely field with some huge trees. OK you might say, every one streams live these days. Well the difference with this team is what they come up with looks so professional that you feel you have just been on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Vintage gear galore, great sound on stage and a warm receptive audience. We thoroughly enjoyed playing at Schtumm. Its one of those places that gives musicians a really professional platform to their thing. On the stage with us the same night was Phil King, a solo artist who totally blew me away. Great voice and moving songs, and the first person I have ever seen to play a Squeeze box with a drum pedal. The drone the instrumental gave was haunting.

 

All in all a great night at Schtumm and we are really looking forward to our recording session at Real World Studios next week 🙂 Here’s the band live, Dimi (guitar), Kemal (vocals/guita), Kristian (bass), Hugo (Drums), & Haji Mike (vocals/guitar).

Haji Mike & The HighGate Rockers Live @ Schtumm

 

 

 

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Eurovision Cyprus – δεν ΞΕΧΝΩ – Ι do not forget

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As an observer and tax-paying individual in Cyprus, I have seen many Eurovision ‘attempts’ rise and fall over the decades and when I was thinking about writing this blog there was a dilemma that came to mind. Do I write it after the contest, in which case, if Cyprus loses (does not come first) I will be accused of an ‘I told you so’ ‘sour grapes’ bratness which in the Greek vernacular is called ‘gkrinia’. Alternatively, do I write and publish the blog a few hours or so before the competition and get accused of negativity by all those who are determined in their quest for first place even to the extent that any form of critique equals treachery. I say publish and be damned, my view is based on historical realities. Its one I have had for ages, it will not change, but before explaining it, I would like to clarify some things about this year’s Cyprus entry.

From the outset. I have not heard the song. I did however come across it by accident when doing a live radio show with the sound muted and in so many ways, it reeked of plagiarism image wise. The hair waving profusely, the simulated flames and synchronized dance moves. I expected Jigga to appear out of nowhere at some point to spit some annoying little nasal rap over an 8 bar break. However, plagiarism is such a common thing in mass produced pop music that you cannot expect anything else, its Eurovision after all.

As for the artist, I must confess I am not a big fan of Greek pop music, and Eleni Foureira’s roots as an Albanian Greek do not bother me one bit. I will leave those kinds of racist digs to the Neo-Nazis of The Golden Yawn party in Greece. Now how Foureira was chosen by Cyprus and why, does concern me, because that relates more to the matter at hand. Like all entries in The Eurovision Song Contest, people are chosen to represent at a national level by a state or public broadcaster, in our case, this is CyBC who have a complete monopoly on Eurovision. Aside from the World Cup and Olympics, it is probably their biggest earner financially.

So, I have not heard the song, and probably will not hear it. I plan to listen to Mi-Soul Radio on recommendation of the mighty Lindsay Wesker tonight with the studio door shut tight until the contest finishes. After which point if I hear car horns beeping loudly in my yard I will know Cyprus has won. If I do not, it will be all quiet until next year. You see Eurovision for many people in Cyprus is the pinnacle of their musical engagement and the rest of the year, they go back to their routines until the next song is dished out and hyped all over again by the state broadcaster. Which brings us to the essence ‘δεν ΞΕΧΝΩ – Ι do not forget’ – such a common worn out cliché term for the eternal Cyprus Problem. We have grown up with it – heard it-seen it-lived it thoroughly for so many decades.

I cannot engage with Eurovision because in the past, they, the state broadcaster, I will not say we, as we had nothing to do with their choices, have entered some embarrassing bloopers and any critique has always been muted in the mainstream media. In addition, if Cyprus wins, one of the reasons for that happening will be we have never won before. We are the underdog of underdogs – who more or less every year gave 12 points to Greece and got 12, usually in return. I used to love that moment when the late Terry Wogan would say, year in year out, ‘well there you go, they’ve done it again….’  The underdog syndrome has been  so evident in international media coverage this week, and its really cringe worthy. Some people even think the extra coverage, the prospect of winning Eurovision will help the ‘Cyprus Problem’. Not sure how that works but if we had any sense we would have entered a tri-lingual song and caused a real stir locally and internationally, and promoted a much more positive image of Cyprus than a lot of the crypto-nationalistic drivel that represented us in the past – more of that in a bit.

It’s hard to accept that the state broadcaster, an entity that does not accept critique, has hosted a chat show with a Neo-Nazi like Notis Sfakanakis (and paid a heavy price for it as the singer was overtly racist and they were rightly fined for it) and yet you would never see me on the TV sharing some very basic thoughts on the Eurovision song contest. I guess that’s what people at CyBC call balanced broadcasting. So I feel a need, a desire, to state the case on an alternative way of seeing things.

Therefore people, I deem myself ready to go for this, here are my top 5 ‘δεν ΞΕΧΝΩ – Ι do not forget’ Eurovision bloopers from Cyprus. Click on the links if you dare!

  1. “Sti fotia” (Στη φωτιά) 1995 – Alex Panayi – a rather tribal pseudo operatic anthem like song which featured the patriotic line – ‘Είμαι ο Έλληνας που πολέμα’ – which translates as ‘I am the Greek who fights’. Patriotism was at its highest in 1995. The Government of then President Clerides had ordered S300 missiles from Russia, despite us taxpayers paying millions for these, they never came, the ended up in Crete but thats supposed to be a secret. The song finished 9th. I still find it hard to digest how the EBU, European-Broadcasting Union allowed such a blatantly political song to be viewed by millions of people around the world. In addition, as a taxpayer it made me ashamed to say I am Cypriot.  I must stress here that back in 1995 everybody who paid electricity had a levy on his or her bill, which went to financing CyBC. This draconian method particularly hit people with families in the winter. It was rightly phased out, as it was completely unjust. So our electricity levy financed this nationalistic drivel.
  2. ‘Ela Ela (Come Baby) 2005 – Constantinos Christorofou. Christophorou entered the context 3 times, 2 solo and once with a boy band called One. There is so much wrong with this song musically – a weird 12 bar bridge in the middle of it makes you want to count to 16 – and his English, oh my lord his English. ‘I’ll make your heart go bang, bang’ ‘I’m the king of the night, Let me show you tonight who I am Ela, ela, ela, la…’ and very cliché rhyming ‘mysterious’ ‘delirious’’action’ ‘passion’ etc. I did try to bring much of this up at the time, in my weekly column at ‘The Cyprus Mail’ but I was censored from saying anything on TV and radio shows soon afterwards. Relief is, after 3 attempts, Kochos from Limassol probably will not enter for Cyprus again – well at least never again in English.
  3. ‘Genesis’ 1998 – Michalis Hajiyiannis. Not sure what this song is about really. It has obviously a biblical title but it seemed again to touch on nationalism, with an image of Cyprus rising like a Phoenix from destruction of the past leading to freedom. He also looked such a misfit, such an odd match. Here was the adolescent Cypriot teenager and he is singing a ballad song called ‘Genesis’ in Greek at Eurovision with a shiny black leather jacket and what looked like a full orchestra being conducted by Giorgos Theophanous. He on the night thought he was Andre Previn, doing all the moves a conductor does. There was also the backing singers with mismatching clothes and sizes. The wardrobe assistant at CyBC also got that one badly wrong. The entry just seemed so over dramatic that there was a real relief when the song finished.
  4. 2006-09 and 2014 – four years in a row Cyprus failed to qualify. A bit of an injustice was done in my opinion in to ‘Firefly’ to Christina Metaxa in 2009 which was not that bad. We also went from English, to French to Greek in  3 years (2006-08). 2014 is a notable year. Cyprus did not enter due to the financial crisis/haircut of 2013. There was no money in the state coffers. Ironic then that our current Minister for  Economy and Commerce, Haris Georgiades has declared this week that he will open the same said state coffers if Cyprus wins in 2018. That is a hard one to stomach as a taxpayer. Has he visited the state hospital lately? Why doesn’t he take out the chequebook for that? People are dying due to incompetents and health cuts and a minister gives Eurovision more priority!
  5. “Tha ‘nai erotas” (Θα ‘ναι έρωτας) – 1999 Marlain. I had to put this in because it was the worst ever entry points wise – just 2!. Marlain, a nice affable singer/actress was convinced of a much higher place and tended to blame everyone else at the time. As a song, it starts as a ballad made for theatre, with again grandiose imagery in the lyrics and then about half way through it goes into a cheesy euro-house beat, which was an uneasy transition to make – imagine that on the dancefloor? Marlain’s platform shoes hindered the dance routine tragically as well, which is why she was only moving her arms. Still she was a member of Hi-5, the first Greek girl band, they did not last as long as The Spice Girls, but there you go…that’s the pop music game for you.

I am often accused of negativity on Eurovision, a contest I affectionately refer to as ‘Euroxtijon’ in the Gringlish vernacular as most of the songs on the contest are complete stinkers. Nevertheless, there is one or two I liked. I mentioned ‘Firefly’ already. That’s just my taste. However, the best entry for Cyprus points wise was ‘Stronger every minute’ by Lisa Andreas getting 170 points and finishing 5th in 2004. A simple ballad that simply worked.  Nothing more than that. Lisa Andreas just mesmerized the audience. We never came close to that kind of points tally again, which does lead me to beg for a final question. If Cyprus has done consistently badly why have no heads rolled at CyBC? In any other context in the music industry, when so much is at stake, failure would result in a change of approach and management.  This is not the case at the state broadcaster, which ticks over, no matter who is in government, the taxpayers pay, and the bureaucrats stay in their seats, despite a long list of absolute bloopers. I have only named a few, there are many more. In another domain, like football, managers change based on performance and goals set within specific time frames. Many of us have these in our work duties – and if do not meet them – there could be trouble. Why should there be one law for a state employee then and another law for us? Are they ever made to be accountable by any one?

No matter the result in 2018, it is time for some heads to roll and changes to be made. If Cyprus wins it will partly be due to this. We have never won, so even if the people making the decisions do get it finally right, for so many years, they have time after time, got it consistently wrong and that I find hard to forget…let alone forgive…because it is my taxes and yours that pay for their bloopers.

 

 

Playing in the Prison that held you captive – 2 compañeros from back in the day

Around 1984 I was living in a bedsit loft in Hackney, post doing 2 degrees at Essex University, and getting back into all things London. It was a buzzing time in the area. Most weekends soundsystems could be heard humming familiar bass lines passing through poorly insulated walls and ceilings, and you might wonder still why I like Dub. During this time, through my flat mate Alister I met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world. We were all in some way linked as political nomads of sorts, people who had either been forcefully uprooted from their place of birth or had at some point in their lives decided to up and leave the pressures of what they left behind them.

One of the things that attracted me was the sounds of Latin Americans in exile. My friend Lukax Santana, a political refugee from Chile, had escaped Pinochet’s fascist regime by coming to London. The capital gloomy and usually raining was however bustling with sounds from South America. The London School of Samba, Inti Illimani, Dave Hucker spinning discs at The Sol Y Sombre and a strange  little experimental outfit called Quilombo Expontáneo ( Q.E. ) which Lukax was the percussive part of. Q.E once played Essex University, I think that was one of their first gigs. It must have been 1984 and it was a wonderfully weird concoction of sounds and things played spontaneously. Most people present at the gig expected Andean flute pipes but they got one of the most surrealist acoustic performances of their lives. ‘Ere’ someone asked me ‘was that bloke really playing the bendy hoover pipe with his mouth whilst rotating it above his head like a helicopter’.

One night Alister came to the flat with a friend. ‘Mike this is Mauricio – Mauricio this is Mike’ and the rest was up to us. I did not know who I was talking to but soon found out he was a poet and singer who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Naval Secret Police under Pinochet’s regime. We talked for a couple of hours about poetry and music with me realizing how limited and backward my thinking was. Those moments with Mauricio Redolés changed me so much that whenever I hear his name or read one of his poems or hear a song I know this is one of the few people in life who shone some light on my creative poetic mind in troubled times. ‘You are trying so hard’ he told me ‘why make it sound like a lecture, it’s too didactic’ and from that time, whenever the inspiration has taken me, songs, lyrics, poems flow free without the habit I had before of writing in a routine way about everything and anything. Mauricio taught me not to provide answers all the time, leave some questions in people’s minds, and  upset a few people, annoy the establishment, whoever they may be, as well. I felt like I was listening to the Chilean equivalent of John Cooper-Clarke.

Now the free flowing approach and that sense of spontaneity I owe rhythmically to my friend for life Lukax Santana, who I reconnected with recently via LinkedIn (of all places). Lukax is now based in Chile after decades of living in exile in London. We did so many gigs together and no one gig was ever the same. Some times in band settings other musicians found this tricky to deal with but he always smiled and said ‘don’t worry I will follow you’ proceeding of course to improvise again. Lukax is a humble, relaxing soul who I never had an argument with. I don’t know if this is a healthy thing as in most relationships it’s good to have differences. We did disagree on a few things but we never disagreed on playing music, unless of course he had another gig somewhere else already booked! This wise friend could play a rhythm on a match box if he had to and whenever I worked with him things were easy, cool, no pressure, no worries, just music and feeling your heart beat to the flow.  Lukax will always have two things over me – that famous surname – comes in handy saying I used to play with ‘Santana’ in the 80’s and 90’s and, he played in Cyprus before me, thanks to our mutual friend and compañero Costis Ahniotis – RiP.

Mauricio, who I only met once, and Lukax, who I performed with countless times, recently did a gig together in Santiago Chile on March 8th 2018. On this day the old prison where they were held as political prisoners in 1973 was declared a National Monument and they played live there together, 2 compañeros from back in the day, in the prison where they were once tortured and detained. Hoping we will link again soon…and be 3 compañeros….

Radio Haji Is Here :)

 

Radio Haji is here – an online station playing Haji Mike music 24/7

Its been a long time in the making but its eventually happened…Radio Haji features music 24/7 plus special live radio streams from around the globe where Haji Mike DJ’s – check it here on Tunein

Bye Bye Jimmako….

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‘You will never guess who was just in here’ Aki beamed with a Cheshire cat-like grin from ear to ear. The ‘good Greek music guru’ as I affectionately called him in my weekly music column seldom smiled like this. His knowledge of Greek music was so vast that anyone could walk into Trehantiri – the biggest Greek music record shop in the world – hum a tune and he would know it. Aki passed away far too young due to complications after a routine hip replacement operation. I can see him now sitting with Jimmakos somewhere beyond this world saying quiet jovially ‘remember that day when you came into my shop in North London?’

Akis Pattalis -The Good Greek Music Guru

Today the world is a much poorer place soulfully following the death of Jimmys Panousis. Jimmys was an artist who came in and out of my life as a friend and fan. Before I get into the how these connections were made over the years I just want to clear something up on that word ‘artist’.

Since his death Jimmy has been called all kinds of things, stand-up comedian, comic, actor, satirist, singer but very few people have touched on that word artist, that’s what he was, a unique resonant opinionated artist who had a habit of always sending-up people in or with power. Whether these people were politicians, priests, pop star singers, media celebrities or just plain hypocrites, Jimmy always had a way of exposing them through the tool of satire. He was for me an astute oppositional voice in a sea of mediocrity and his work touched the soul of this thing called humour simply by being daring, different and provocative. Yes he did get up people’s noses, and no he was not PC (politically correct) but what did we expect from someone who made art into a form of cultural anarchy. Even the sounds of some of his songs, often cleverly pastiche – take note of the tune ‘Psofia Glosa’ his take of ‘La Bamba’ – buzzed away annoyingly.  In some cliquey music circles dominated by  Greek notions of ‘entexna’ – those crafted often PC songs – which are wrongly associated as natural expressions of protest music – he was shunned. I had to get all this off my chest because the most pukey thing I heard about Jimmy’s passing was from George Dalaras, the ‘famous one’ from Greece who Panousis often satirized (and at great legal expense). It so easy to sweep things under the carpet….And Dalaras is so good at grandiose carpet sweeping exercises, his best being those concerts for the military defence of Cyprus in a past life – nuff said!

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My  first connection with one of his songs was mid-1980’s, a couple of years after Greece joined what was then called The European Economic Community -EEC – aka nowadays the EU. 1981 was a bumper year when EEC membership reached double figures. Jimmy, ever loud and vocal, shared a different viewpoint a couple of years later with the hearty song ‘Axx Evropi’ – loosely translated as ‘Ohh Europe’ – although it must be said – ‘ohh’ is much milder than ‘axx’. This was the song which everyone with a guitar and half a voice would sing at Bouats – those bijou music gatherings – a lot of French words in here-  where radical students congregated to ease their troubled minds and souls. It was a song with an anarchist slant, and while not everyone was one there was something defiant about just singing the chorus because mainstream political thought went in the complete opposite direction. ‘Ax Evropi – esy mas maranes’ ‘Oh Europe – you have drained use dry’. What a way to start a song. Direct to the point and prophetic. Axx Jimmako what a philosopher – predicting so much that came true.

 

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So when the good Greek guru was for words, exasperated by who had been in his shop on that grey, drizzly north London afternoon, he just pointed his finger ‘that-a-way’ to the next room bursting with vinyl, rifled through a few LP covers and held this one up to my face.

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My initial reaction was ‘when, where is he, how come…’. Aki then told me everything he observed about Jimmys Panousis being in his shop, with every meticulous detail.  He actually came into buy a copy of ‘Mousikes Taxiarxies’ his LP unleashed to an unsuspecting public in 1982. ‘Imagine that’ he said ‘Jimmys Panousis coming into this Shop, buying his first LP because the record company did not give him a promo!’ Akas said in a whimsical philosophical tone, ‘and he stood right there’ (pointing to where I was standing) ‘and he was quiet shy actually, trobalos, very softly spoken, and I did not realize who he was until he took off his hood off’. These were the good memories I had from living above a Greek Record Shop in Green Lanes Haringey.

Jimmys songs kept flowing over the years and he carried on unconventionally, attacking the rotten system and anyone who he deemed as being too establishment/part of it, there was The spat/dig/oppositional rant on Dalaras, ‘Kankela Bantou’ (Railings/Metal Fences Everywhere) to ‘NeoEllinas (The New/Nouveau Greek) – the cover of this release again found him in court for being featured ripping up the Greek flag. He was always a wind up merchant but he always did things as a defiance and not just for the sake of it. Myth has it that once in the 80’s he called a press conference to announce his marriage. Journalists arrived to find him sitting comfortably with a goat.’ She is my wife to be’ he declared! You could see this ridiculous scene as a wind up I guess but it was also a critique of a mass media obsessed with gossip so Jimmy simply though I will give you something surreal to gossip about!

Jimmy was a big inspiration to me. He was the epitome of the Greek saying ‘we laugh with our pain’ – ‘yelame me ton bono mas’ and after my first LP, ‘Haji Mic On The Mike’ somehow, sometime in the mid-90’s a copy of it was ‘liberated’ by Panousis from my good Kyperoundan friend Alvinos. I never really figured if Jimmy fully understood what I did, but he was fascinated with the ‘Gringlish’ vibe of it. So much so that he used it on his popular daily radio show as background music which he ranted over.

Jimmys  Alvinos declared was a fan of mine and a few years later, on one of my trips to Athens to spin Reggae and Dub with the very Rankin Johnny I was waiting anxiously outside a small bar in Psiri, Athens to greet the man who more than any artist from Greece had inspired me to dare to be different and satirical. Meeting Jimmy and spending a good half hour with him was very special. He was ordinary, polite, smiling, we shared a few stories and jokes. When he stepped in the venue a quiver of voices whispered his name which carried the weight of someone historic and radical yet so remarkably ordinary. He stayed around for a couple of hours, skanking in his own way, smiling at every one who smiled at him. There was none of the usual fuss that surrounds celebrities, like autographs and this was also in the pre-selfie age. I thought to myself ‘I finally met Jimmys Panousis!’ and took the early morning plane back home after the gig. I was so happy on that trip. The customs man rifled through my stuff, proclaiming ‘DJ!’ when he went through my modest collection of records. I just smiled back in a Panoussian way and said ‘DJ’.

 

I only saw Jimmy perform once, at Skali Anglatzias, a few years later, in Nicosia. I returned the compliment to visit him at a show, and saw him briefly before he hit the stage we chatted for a short time, he gave me a warm hug and hand shake. The show itself was so powerful, so painfully funny – a combination of media sending everything and everyone up in his unique acerbic humour acutely post-modernist and anarchist to the bone. He did his Dalaras jokes, as the resonance of the pop singer who always played ‘the ever so radical one’ was heavy in Cyprus. Jimmy decided to say the name cautiously, whispering Dalaras name as if a Cypriotic Greek Leviathan would descend from the stage and obliterate him. H ended with the band with carnivalesque version of ‘Zorbas’, with every one mimicking a machismo masturbatory in sync dance.

I followed him online. His radio pranks were just so funny, and yet so ordinary. He once cold called a woman and accused her daughter of allegedly hitting on his 13 year old son. The woman tried to be defensive, with the ‘what’s my daughter’s name’ line but Jimmy out maneuvered her and before she knew it, the whole thing sounded so spontaneous, so believable – check it here . And his passion for doing alternative/disruptive like media interviews even made the Sex Pistols on The Today program with Bill Grundy in the 1970s look so lame. Look no further than the artist’s last ever unedited interview.…And then, the here and now, when we all learned of his passing, and there is this big empty space in our lives called Jimmys Panousis. He will be sorely missed by us and by the establishment, the politicians in suits, the pop stars with egos, the politicians without ties, and the priests in their robes of corruption, then plastic media people and the tyrants who rule out lives day and night. Kankela Pantou Jimmy, even today…And we still sing Axx Evropi with a louder passion that haunts our souls even more these days…..so RiP my friend…we laughed and sang with your/our passion and pain….Bye Bye Jimmako…

 

 

 

 

The Story of Stavroulla….

stavroullaThe song came out in spring 1992, with music produced by the legendary Sugar Hajishacalli, who sadly passed away 8 years ago. The idea had started a few months earlier. Shaggy’s version of ‘Carolina’ stormed the charts. I had it on white label a few months before it came out and when I was lucky enough to meet the MC I told him I planned to do a Cypriot version. Shaggy smiled at the idea but the production was a long way off. Nowadays you can sit in front of a screen and with some basic skills and talent its failry easy to knock up a tune, record it, mix it and have it up on Soundcloud by evening. Back in the early 1990’s things were different. You had to have a budget for the studio, the production and dah dah dah, the pressing. I had been hearing alot of stories about failed relationships/marriages that were based on ‘broxenia’ /arranged marriages. I am in fact still convinced that 2 out of 3 arranged marriages, of my generation,  ended in divorce. So why not write a song about it. The original lyrics to ‘Stavroulla’ were radically different, based largely on a friend’s painful experience (he will remain nameless)  of being with some one called Stavroulla. When I played my mate the tune he chased me around the room with a hammer with the word ‘pezevengi’  coming out of his mouth several hundred times. I did find the lyrics hilarious mind you but he guaranteed a libel case. I did the demo at home, taking a loop from ‘Carolina’ on my double cassette player, plugged in a mic, and worked out a basic verse chorus structure. It got played to a close circle of friends and relatives, many of whom liked the chorus but thought writing a tune about some one else painful relationship did not quite sit right.

sugar

I thought about it for a while and one day went to Sugar in his home studio in Edmonton. He was convinced I had something with the idea for the chorus,. after all, who else had written a tune called ‘Stavroulla’ but he said the lyrics needed more work. Writing them again and again, I started to craft a story that was more generic, as  a tribute to my sisters in the community, who basically wanted to do their own thing, as the descendants of Aphrodite. Haringey came into it, as I was then living in a flat above Trehantiri. A Baklama came into it as well played so eloquently by Sugar. He was such a mastron as a musician. That sound, along with a phenomenal bottom end mixed on a pair of Yamaha NS10’s by Jimmy Dimitri Swanyard studios rocked the walls during that session.What a day it was. Sitting in the studio after it was done we all had huge smiles on our faces. That ‘Stavroulla’ recording session was an epic experience. With support from Trehantiri Music the tune fell into the hands of the one Andy Kershaw who played it on the BBC World Service. It was also supported by the late Tony Piatas,  and my brother Perry, AutoAcoustics who both contributed  to pressing the vinyl, and would not have happened without my publisher, another legend, Rob Bozas @ Swanyard, who negotiated me the studio time. Kershaw didn’t know it at that time but he was the first person to play Stavroulla on air and in Cyprus. The rest as they say is history… I feel life has come full circle now that I will be singing the tune, at a special Summer Party after so much time again in Haringey on July 16th, back in London where it all began.  White Hart Lane  is a place dear to my heart, as many of you know, and playing on that special road will make me very happy. You can see the clip for Stavroulla here and the tune can still be purchased on vinyl  by emailing PowerofWords.

Keep on Rockin’ Arthur….

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I am not sure if we ever actually met. Somewhere in the not so distant vraka past our paths must have crossed in Paphos, the place where so many things started. Its strange though because I felt like I really knew my dear friend and compadre Arthur Tilley, my Paphian cyber buddy who had moved to Finland, because like many people these last few years, emigration seemed a better option than trying to survive in post ‘kourema’ Cyprus. Arthur first came to my attention as journalist when my wife Marina worked at SIGMA TV as a sound engineer. He was the station’s correspondent for Paphos. Many years later we ‘reconnected’ on Facebook and bantered on about so many things on a fairly regular basis. Arthur was always brave enough to speak his mind, even if people didn’t like what he said, he stood up always for truth, rights, justice and most of all, for freedom. He was passionate about the liberation and unification of Cyprus and frustrated just as much as me about  corruption and the suffocation of expression by local party hacks.

Arthur was also a musician, and that side of him always fascinated me. We planned to meet to discuss all of that. He started playing music at the age of 15. Like most people he started out in a covers band, as a drummer in The Crazy Horses. A short time after  with a Andros and  George Athanasiou , and Andreas Georgiou they  formed the Black Angels a pioneering rock group in Cyprus in the 1980’s – and I always felt they must have been pioneering because they were from Paphos.  There are so many chapters to Arthur’s life. Journalist, athlete, radio and TV presenter, and more recently, after he relocated to Finland with his wife Tuula, he became a qualified youth worker!

More than all the music and journalism, Arthur was a rebel, a fighter til the end, a person dedicated fully to the liberation and unification of this at times suffocating and frustrating homeland of ours Cyprus. Friday 26th February 2016 was such a day. Vibrant, creative and non-stop. I met a few old friends, saw our 12 year old daughter Melina  take part in a musical at Satiriko, and then had to shoot across town to talk about Reggae at opening of a poster exhibition. When we got home and heard the news about Arthur through Facebook, silence struck, shock, sadness, how, why, ma yiati olan, not Arthur!

We never had that coffee, neither here nor there, and I am sure it would have been ‘tou laikou’. Arthur passed away on that morning while undergoing heart surgery combined with  complications from pneumonia which he had been trying to shake off. I will always drink to your name my friend and compadre, and think of you, Paphos, Cyprus and that cherished Freedom. Rest in Peace Arturo…

 

 

 

 

Island Connection – 30 Years and still going strong

Island Connection started in dances at Essex University with Donald Mack , DJ Skev and myself, Haji Mike, forming a core team of DJ’s who held their own campus events playing Soul, Reggae and Rare Grooves.  There were of course many other people involved on campus DJ wise, the legendary Count Claude, Derek Robinson, Jah Andy and one Dotun Adebayo who has of course gone on to much bigger things at the BBC. Many of these DJ’s were involved with student based groups like the Afro-Caribbean Society, Black Music Appreciation Society (B.M.A.S), Reggae Appreciation Society (R.A.S) ,University Radio Essex (U.R.E) and the more mainstream Entertainment Society. Essex raves, back then didn’t happen in fields with thumping banal house beats. They occurred usually in the events room behind the Student Union Bar or in the tower block flats where we lived as students. Most time the towers based parties were private free events, like a birthday, and these sessions, neighbours permitting could go on til any time, event 6 or 7 am when the sun came up. The events room was a bit different. That’s where we did our own sessions, with a minimal door fee which usually ended by 3 am (although some times we did close the doors and let the bass rumble on an hour or two more). Its where I first picked up the microphone to MC in the early 1980’s with Donald coming into the DJ booth in total shock saying ‘did you just chat on the microphone!!!’RAS POSSEE POSTER 1980'S

The event for the poster above shows just how DiY everything was. We would take an image, photocopy it, then use letraset transfers for the lettering, which had to be placed meticulously, letter by letter and this would make a master template which would be photocopied. As you can see this one was coloured in by hand with Ital Rasta Colours, and it took me a good few hours to do those 100 posters by hand. We played records back then, this was pre-CD, pre-Mp3, used our own decks or if it was a bigger event, hired some from the town of Colchester. DJ’ing was a pricey business. Buying vinyls every week burned holes in our students and renting equipment was also expensive. Back then we never did any events in the town. It was a very hostile and racist place and no local clubs or pubs, as far as I know, hosted any student events. I recently saw a crowd funding site for a student society event which looked like a huge banquet. None of them 5 course meals in our day we was much more humble. I spent 5 years as a student at Essex, doing a BA and MA. In that time radio was something I did for years, some times 5 nights a week on URE, and each week there were usually several parties to go to. We never really made money out of DJ’ing back then. Private events you did them for friends, at the end of the night they’d give you a few bottles of wine and you’d walk home happy at sunrise, humming the melody of the latest Gregory Isaacs tune. Our own events usually cost just as much to do in renting equipment and buying vinyls. So there was a real love for the music, money was not the motive, no egos. Every one had their set, their half hour, their hour. No one bossed any one around and we would just party. We’ve kept in touch over the decades, Skev, Donald and me. We had a great session for Skev’s 50th in his back garden in London. A couple of years back we played in Nicosia at the old Maple Leaf, and the place was packed to the rafters. We used vinyls that night. Some people had never seen a record, let alone heard one play.

The Dream Team

We made ourselves a promise, whether her or there, when the occasion arises, to get together and DJ again. We are bit older of course. Donald Mack was always wicked on the mic with his banter, and now he’s turned that into Standup Comedy. Skev has worked in local authority management for a few decades and music, DJ’ing and sweet soul music is still his escape.And I went on to become Haji Mike based in Cyprus, teaching, making music, DJ’ing and hosting radio shows. I always look forward to these Island Connection Re-Unions because the tunes just flow, like back in the day, the decks, the mic and the music. Our events will be at Brickyard, Nicosia Sat 12th March  and Lithos, Oroklini Sun 13th March – join us 🙂

brickyard

 

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