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Pain Pain Gain Gain – an auto-ethnographic exercise

It is strange at times being an academic and an artist. I have often found myself in these two quite distinct worlds with their very different working timetables and lifestyles wondering ‘it’s time to get up’ – ‘no it’s time to get some sleep’. There is also a plus side of course, namely auto-ethnography. Over the last couple of years I have been writing a number of songs about the way our societies in crisis have become. These have been free downloads shared with people online. The songs, as we have discussed in the Cyprus workshop, are, for want of a better term, ‘Crisis Songs’… they are just songs that reflect on the way things are. And in making that kind of statement, as an artist, there is a sense of indignation with these situations and refusal to accept the way things are as given. When writing these songs I have often been influenced, inspired, moved by something seen or heard or talked about with people. This could be a phrase, an image of a moment in time, even a word. By reflecting on that starting point a longer idea tends to develop as a narrative or series of narratives.

The latest song I am on is in collaboration with Zion Dirty Sound out of France, and started from a phrase I heard from an Irish journalist at a seminar in the EU Parliament last February. Sadly, I cannot recall the journalist’s name, but he was just doing his job, being inquisitive as journalists should be when confronted with a bunch of smug MEPs.  In response to a rather wishy-washy explanation of austerity from an MEP on the panel, who would be categorized as a neo-liberal, the journalist simply said “when countries like Ireland, Greece and Cyprus joined the EU they all anticipated a sense of benefit, a sense of gain. With the present austerity measures, the only thing people are feeling every day is pain!” The phrase stuck in my mind, those opposites ‘pain-gain’ – ‘gain-pain’.

A few weeks later, my friend Dub Thomas, who runs a dub/reggae net-label in Cyprus approached me about a project he was doing with people around the world. The ‘Celebrity Fever’ riddim was sent to people in Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia, USA, Japan and Cyprus. Each person came up with their own version or adaptation of the song. These were then sent back to Djibril and Faida, the duo known as Zion Dirty Sound who then mixed and produced the finished tracks. That phrase that had stayed in my mind since the conference in Brussels re-surfaced. The moment I know when a new song is happening is that moment of finding a chorus. So I chanted ‘Pain, Pain, Gain, Gain, Babylon is the same’ which developed into a longer 16 bar chant of a chorus ending in the repetitive ‘shame shame shame shame shame’. Sometimes the verses come to me first as well but sometimes verses can be harder to create. They are often based around something I have seen or experienced. At the aforementioned conference the heating in the huge glass and concrete structure of the EU Parliament was near to tropical. Outside it was -2 degrees. A few steps from the main entrance, on a busy road, a man ‘resided’ on a mattress, with all his worldly possessions around him in plastic bags. He wore many layers of clothing, the only way to survive the cold. At that moment when I saw him my immediate reaction was to take a photo and then I thought this was an invasion of his humble privacy. So the moment stayed in my mind and the story of the homeless person near the entrance to this bastion of democracy, the EU Parliament, became an integral part of verse 2. At some point as so often in many songs, live and pre-recorded, the free style came in and you let yourself go with lyrics. This time I was playing on an old theme heard on many Reggae tunes. ‘Life inna jailhouse no sweet’ became spontaneously adapted to ‘life inna bailhouse no sweet’ because we are living in these ‘bailhouse’ times where whole societies  are stunted and trapped  into a new form of so-called ‘first world’ meets  old so-called ‘third world’ forms of dependency. The song was completed and sent off for final mixing and mastering the next day. What do these songs do is a question many people ask me. They are not commercial, they will never be hits? Well, that is immaterial. We do these songs simply because we choose to say something about the injustice of the times we live in.

The release on Dubophonic is a free download and will be available from 30/7/2015 via Dubophonic.

Mike Hajimichael, July 2015