By Kate Radojkovic & Konstantinos Nicolas Kouvaras (CNK)
Where have you been all this time?
Hahaha, I have always been here. Some people think I went back to the UK. No chance! I have been in Cyprus since 1994 making music, teaching, writing, being a father, DJing, doing radio shows, walking the dog. Those who know, know, those who don’t… don’t!
Why do you think people have that impression of you?
Now if you posed the question differently, say like, where have you been, you are no longer on TV or doing radio shows in Cyprus then maybe it would make sense.
What do you mean?
Well I have not done a TV show, as in presenting one since around 1998, around the time my son was born. I was on SIGMA TV, doing fairly well when one fine day a manager told me they had to out the show to do ‘Pare Pente’! Ok I thought, time to move on. . I never really felt I was a TV person. I have a face for Radio 😊 I found TV stressful and frankly, back then very badly paid. The kind of TV I would like to make costs money and local TV stations have different priorities like tacky soap operas and blasé sitcoms. As far as radio goes, I have never really stopped. In one way of another, with a few intermissions I have been doing radio since 1980 when I was a student at Essex University. I got off air in Cyprus, as in a land-based station around 10 years ago, I was on Astra then. I feel all local stations marginalize the music I play, which is Reggae. And most of them now have a play list of basically the same songs content wise. Very few stations have actual DJ’s. There are some exceptions on Astra, Kanali 6, and say a legend like Robert Camasa on CyBC, but most people in my mind know very little about music. So this last decade I have been on internet stations around the world. I am not sure how many I have been on. It has been a quiet a journey. I am now on a station called Nice Up Radio in the USA. It’s a wicked net-based Reggae station @ www.niceupradio.com. Usually my show is done form the studio but inder COVID-19 Lockdown I do it from home on a laptop.
How do you make a radio show from home on a laptop?
Easy, plug in the mic, open software, start recording and edit. I know it's not the same thing as the studio but there are so many things you can do in a program like Reaper, which is what I use for editing my shows. It's amazing how so much can be done online.
You mentioned teaching earlier on, how and when did you start doing that?
Around the time I stopped doing TV 😊 I had just finished my PhD in 1997. A friend of mine, Andreas Panayiotou, who was lecturing at Frederick called me and asked me if I wanted to teach. We met down town at OXI round about. I said yes. He said you start next week! I was teaching Cyprus History. It was a challenge for me, but in many ways, I was drawn into teaching, it's something I liked because I had one or two inspirational teachers at school and university.
You went to school in England, you grew up there, was you born there? What was it like going to school there?
I was born in Cyprus, Marathovouno, Me-sar-ka. I am a CBC not a BBC. That whole abbreviation started in our dorms at Essex University in the 1980s. BBC = British Born Cypriot. CBC = Cypriot Born Cypriot. I knew I was different from the first day I arrived at school when I was about 5, that was around 1965. School was not easy being an outsider, from another country, in the mid 60s in North East London. It was hard adapting and surviving in school. I’d say I got my best experiences, outside of a great Sociology teacher called Mr. Clark, in college and University. That’s where I developed more intellectually, you had more freedom there, more choice, and University particularly, Essex University, which as a campus was like a small utopia for me. That’s where I first got into so many things like radio and music.
How did that happen and when?
Well music I had kind of been into from a younger age, so I started buying and collecting records from about 1977, before that what I heard was in my brother's collection, stuff like ‘Abraxas’ by Santana, Stevie Wonder’s ‘InnerVisions’, James Brown’s ‘Make it Funky’. In terms of DJing proper, I got into that around 1979/80 my first year at University by initially doing private parties, and getting on University Radio Essex, URE, the campus station. I loved doing radio from back then. I had a show 5 days a week at one point. It was fun. A different environment technology wise, no internet, just an internal ohone system, where students called you up. We had some amazing times in that pokey little URE studio. I also got involved with the ENTS society, responsible for hosting concerts. Met and saw so many bands in those 5 years. The Specials, The Pretenders, Osibisa, Misty In Roots, Orange Juice, Level 42, so many more. Every week there was a couple of gigs. My role was usually on the stage door. So I got to hear and see the gigs from the back of the stage. I liked that feeling of being on a stage, even at the back of it. I also started to DJ more at those bigger events, which were way more challenging playing to 800 people. But that’s where I got my first taste of the DJ bug. From around 1980 I got much more into Reggae, more so Dub than anything else. With some mates, Skev, my oldest friend who I have known since school, and Donald Mack, we made societies like ‘Reggae Appreciation Society and ‘Black Music Appreciation Society’ and hosted out own dances events. That was a lot of fun, a lot of work too, but with very little money. We ended up usually with at most a fiver or a tenner in our collective pockets at the end of the night after paying for hiring the gear. Madness when you look back at it. But a tenner was worth a lot more in say 1981 than it is today.
So when and how did you become known as Haji Mike? Who gave you that name as a DJ?
That’s a story. My Greek friend Giorgos from Patra, and Donald, from Jamaica via London, at one of these Reggae parties we used to host one day came up with names for all the DJ’s. I was last, so one of them said, Haji, the other said Mike. My Greek friend said ‘Hazti Mike’ and it stuck from then. Haji had been my nickname for a long time. So all these Greeks the next day on campus started to shout my name from the high-rise student dorms!
So was you famous from back then?
No, on campus, fame was irrelevant. We just had good times. You can’t call yourself famous on a campus of say 3000 people. But I was active, involved in The Cypriot Society, all the music societies, the campus radio station, concerts, politics. Essex also had a few people much more famous than me back then.
Yianis Varoufakis, Ben Okri, John Bercow
And you knew them all?
Well I knew Varoufakis and Ben Okri very well. Bercow, who have much more respect for nowadays was a hardened extreme-right Tory back then, I didn’t know him, only when he made speeches at student union meetings. Where he would often say the biggest chioftes!
So you were involved with politics as well
Yes, I was actually quite a radical leftie back then. I went to a lot of National Union of Students Conferences. I think those experiences made me realize how dirty, corrupt politics is and how I was not really made for it. Politics is a beast, it's like a plague. It can cloud our thoughts, blind our intellect even. But at the same time, I realized that politics gave me a sense of conviction, ideals, things to fight against and it also gave me a right to express myself. Essex activism taught me so much about the world, things were different then. People had a sense of solidarity. We stood up time and time again during campaigns like The Miner’s Strike, The Steel Workers Strike, Anti-Nuclear marches/CND, anti-racism, campaigns against police harassment and racist immigration bills. Organized politics though, political parties, I’d say I got disillusioned with them a bit later on because they were and remain so corrupt. Politics both took something from my life but it also gave me so much in terms of understanding things around the world, and in Cyprus.
Talking of Cyprus, you always seem to have this attachment with the island...how far back does that go, how frequently did you come here?
I was torn / taken from Cyprus in 1964 after the intercommunal conflict flared up. My family had left in 1960, as a baby I was too young to travel with them so the first 4 years of my life was spent in Marathovouno with my grandparents. I always felt more Cypriot than British. Although I’d say I never really felt at home anywhere.
Why is that?
Because in varying degrees I have always been treated as an outsider as a ‘foreigner’ by how I look, the colour of my skin or how I speak a language. As people say in Cyprus ‘fakka h glossa sou’ and I have come to the admission to reply ‘Fakka o nous sou’. That feeling of being different will always follow us people who have been born here but grown/lived somewhere else. Wherever we have lived, in diaspora, whoever you are, whether here or there, there is always this sense of marginalization.
Would you say you even feel that way now?
Not as much as say in the early 1990s but yes, I don’t think there is this integration of people in Cypriot society. No matter who you are, with varying degrees, you feel different. Of course, I felt that even more in the UK. Even when I attended my first graduation at Essex the Dean announcing our names got mine completely wrong, he mispronounced the ‘Haj’ making it ‘Haaaaaj’imichael which made most of the people who knew me at the graduation laugh. But home is where you make it for yourself, and I accepted that in 1994 when I came back to Cyprus for good. So going back to original question, yes, I always had a strong bond with Cyprus. I came here many times as a student. Every summer more or less for a few years in the 1980s. And music brought me back eventually...
* PART 2, will be posted online on Saturday 11th April 2020.