Haji Mike ‘XXVIII’ (Power of Words) 5/5

Dub Poetry and Life Commentary is an art form that has often been undervalued throughout the world of reggae music and it’s sub genres.

Three decades on, and entering his 58th year, entertaining not only his fellow Cypriots, but also intertwined throughout the Mediterranean. I present observer/commentator, reasoner, professor of philosophy and dub poet Haji Mike, who since 1990 has been creating, collaborating and touring his works throughout Europe including Germany, England, France and Ireland with stints in Jamaica and beyond.

He has collaborated with countless musicians and bands, producers and DJs, he has made music with words in his native language, he has supported the cause for unification of the divided Cyprus, he and his fellow Cypriots so justifiably push, he lived in London for some years enabling him to enter the radio broadcast arena and gain friendship and links with many vintage veterans of the reggae scene both in the UK and Jamaica.

Today, almost three decades on – well 28 years to be exact – and his latest long player entitled XXVIII is here.. Although his back catalogue extends to many a release with vinyl 12″ and 7″ records, tape cassettes and collaborative digital EP releases including one-off excursions over the years there have been 4 albums that when played back to back showcase the diversity and creativity of this wordsmith combining both his wry wit, serious heartfelt commentaries and life stories that have been on the whole delivered over a reggae and dub backdrop with occasional and delightful forays into jazz and acoustic ambient leanings.

From the classic album ‘Virtual Oasis’ in collaboration with Dub Caravan (2009) to the vintage sounding UK roots style CD ‘Midnight Stories At 3am’ in collaboration with Manchester’s The Breadwinners (2015) to the deluxe lo fi portfolio styled double album and CD ‘One Summer’ with Kingdom Signal (2017) to this brand new offering XXVIII in collaboration with Cyprus dub artist producer Med Dred, every Haji Mike album is different in their respective musical and mix style deliveries yet after just a few seconds of listening to a new release it immediately says to the listener “This is Haji Mike, stay tuned” and to this day the listener has never been let down, it’s hard to decide on what his best album is, it’s easier with many other artists releases to name ‘a best album’ from their catalogs perhaps because other artist releases have a ‘samey’ sounding album after album mentality with no progessivness or indeed retro progressiveness, with Haji Mike album releases one gets something uniquely different every time and this way of entertaining our ears has stood him in good stead over the years to become a well-respected artist within the underground and uptown dub poetry scene and sound system arenas.

Here we have an album dripping in lyrical intensity over a backdrop melange of happy dancing jivers, thought provokers and serious rootsy one drop specials kicking off with the album opener a track entitled ‘Friend’ which is a reworking -and a far superior arrangement- of an old track that Haji recorded many moons ago with a dub riddim producer named Bandulu Dub during a collaborative project which incidentally was almost lost to time by being deleted from the hard drive only to be rescued in reasonable quality some moons after so it is nice for Haji to have re visited this piece and expand on the original concept of it in tandem with Med Dred’s accompaniment, an upbeatish tempo and very melodic piece with what appears to be a french accordian giving the hookline during the chorus. It’s a peace and harmony tune, a reminder lyrically with Haji pointing out the downsides of division and its somewhat constructed reality.

Then we go party mode with a full on soca inspired bright ska acoustic guitar led ‘CY2JA’ celebrating the links with Cyprus and JA with its infectious foot tapping jive revisiting Haji’s famed ‘Vraggamuffin’ riddim style, a good fun floor filler with full on happyness, this followed by another old piece from archive which was an earlier collaboration between Haji and Med Dred a track called ‘No Nazzi’ originally released on a reggae compilation some years ago and now given a second outing and remastered for XXVIII and it sounds large.
It is however the next seven tracks that allow the album to fully kick in and lay down its roots firmly and it does so commencing with the track ‘Only Jah Can Judge Me’ with its infectious horn led hooks, deep down bass, playful hi hat shuffles and a very nice snare drum setting fully complimenting Haji’s laid back vocal delivery and equally so with its follow on piece dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg who left us in 1991 entitled ‘Pipe Of Peace’ “We must be united, smoke from the same pipe of peace” and then we uptempo 80s dancehall style with a very recognisable riddim hook ‘Reggae So Sweet’ with its three section ‘large bathroom sound’ psychedelic flutey bridge that wonderfully gives a contrast to the minimalist main riddim The two tracks entitled ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ backed by their respective intoxicating riddim tracks pay a personal tribute from Haji to his parents.

The high piece of the album and fittingly its playout track ‘Ten Commandments Of Dub’ is a vintage steppers sounding witty instruction, I am drawn to Commandment 5 as Haji states -and I am smiling in absolute agreement on this one- “Talking of machines, one is not to partake in autotune vocals, in the dub arena, dub is about the Ital, the diversity of sound, the versatility and pushing the envelope to the max is not about everybody sounding like a chipmunk” and of course there are nine other dub commandments to entertain you during this outing, a crucial tune.

Possibly his most cohesive album to date both lyrically and musically and it has to be said musically fine with a nine out of nine.
A ten vocal track traditional running time album complete with three bonus dubs, although a slight concern is that perhaps there has been a bit of a missed opportunity mixing the three bonus dubs.
Big sounds from Cyprus town coming to chop ya down, this is no candyfloss situation. Uptempo, downtempo, outernational quality. XXVIII is released on Power Of Words record label. Sound collaboration and mastering by Med Dred.

Gibsy Rhodes