A Universal Tone: Music Bridges Division in Cyprus

Senior Broadcast Journalism major Lauren Stebelton traveled abroad to Cyprus in March with her International Storytelling class to discover how music unites the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot cultures.

Sounds of reggae music and dub poetry resonate through the radio studio. A mic stands in the middle of all the lights, soundboards, and vinyl records. Mike Hajimichael, better known by his artistic name “Haji Mike,” is getting ready for his Wednesday night radio show.

Mike Hagimichael

Mike Hajimichael “Haji Mike”
in his classroom
at the University of Nicosia.

The show, “Outta Me Yard,” is not what you would hear on your typical Cypriot station. He creates his own music and uses his passion for the Caribbean-style genre to spread an important message.

“Radio’s been something I’ve been into from a very young age,” Haji Mike said. “[I feel inspired to perform because] there are a lot of things wrong with the world.”

Haji Mike notes that since he was young, he began to question injustice, especially the tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which led him to write poetry, his original medium. During his college career in London, however, Haji Mike felt the pull towards making music out of his lyrics, called dub poetry.

“Dub music is [basically] instrumental reggae music,” Haji Mike said. “If the dub is really good, I get the inspiration to write…but if you give me a piece of techno music, I probably wouldn’t be able to write anything.”

Since the age of 15, Haji Mike grew to love the reggae culture. Musicians around the globe send music and rhythms to the lyricist, but he can only write if he feels a certain “vibe.”

It comes out of nowhere,” Haji Mike said. “I mean, it comes out of somewhere because of the message I get in the music…you can’t really explain what you’re doing, it’s just inspiration.”

The DJ-turned-MC applies his inspiration towards another goal: teaching University of Nicosia students about radio and pop music culture.

“I’ve done both [radio and teaching] the last 17 years, but music is not just my occupation,” Haji Mike said. “It’s my passion.”

This passion has shed light on many of his students over the years, but the one pupil that Haji Mike finds the most influential is not even a pupil at all, but an unlikely friend.

“I actually met Valentinos last summer…” Haji Mike said. “I was on tour in Paphos [Cyprus]…I had one night off…I went and played [at Val’s restaurant Val’s Place, which I discovered on Facebook] and we became friends ever since.”

Since that fateful summer, Haji Mike comes back and visits, listening to Val, his sister, and their friend Avgi play gigs in the country-style tavern.

“I met Val purely by luck, really,” Haji Mike said. “Sometimes things like that happen in music. You meet people and you never see them again…There’s other people you meet and you become lifelong friends. I really feel that way about Val and his family.”

Valentinos Dimitriou, 23, could say the same about his new friend as well.

“My sister [actually taught Haji Mike’s daughter] piano lessons [before I knew him],” Dimitriou said. “When I opened up this place, I got in contact with him…We had a gig here and have been friends ever since.”

Similar to Haji Mike, Dimitriou finds his inspiration in his homeland and sees a universal tie within the musical culture of Cyprus.

“I don’t see why we’re not connected with [our] people through music,” Dimitriou said. “Cyprus might be divided into two parts, but we’re still connected…like we’re connected to the rest of the world.”

Val notes that everyone has a part of them that is attracted to sound, to music. Anything could be music for anyone, which is how he fell in love when he first heard the strum of a guitar.

“I want to create a musical culture in this place,” Dimitriou said. “I started [Val’s Place] because it’s a family thing. This land has been [a part of] my family for a very long time…and I’m starting where my family left off to create something new and relevant to our generation.”

This new generation of music enthusiasts, especially those born in the 90’s and early 2000’s, could feel inspired by the music portrayed in Val’s work, but he personally is inspired by the land he calls home.

“Paphos, for me, is inspiration. I let go of everything and worries and stress,” Dimitriou said. “I might have grown up here so I feel very attached to it, but even though I have traveled around Cyprus and I’ve lived in other cities and seen other types of lifestyles, I think here is the best…I feel I am home and [at peace].”

The universality of the music culture throughout Cyprus takes the meaning of “no boundaries” to a whole new level for Haji Mike.

“One of the main reasons I’ve always [worked with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots] is because I think it’s important to show a positive image of Cyprus,” Haji Mike said. “I’ve never seen Cyprus as two divided parts, but as one united whole. A lot of people don’t agree with that, of course.”

Haji Mike encourages those who have the power, especially the young people he teaches and befriends, to go out and use their talents to help unify the island.

“[Working together] is a difficult thing to do sometimes. I believe that in doing it we’re part of the solution and not the problem,” Haji Mike said.

“Stevie Wonder once said, ‘Music is a world within itself. It’s a language we all understand,” Haji Mike said. “For me, that’s a good philosophy to have. I think it’s important to show the world that we want a united island.”

For more stories from Dateline Cyprus: International Storytelling 2016, go to http://internationalstorytelling.org/cyprus/.