The power of positive thinking

Power of Words Tour delivers on the good vibes but misses more than it hits with its premise

SWAPPIN’ STORIES <br>DJ Standout Selector (left) and Cypriot poet Haji Mike bring the power of words to the mics at Crux.

DJ Standout Selector (left) and Cypriot poet Haji Mike bring the power of words to the mics at Crux.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Power of Words Tour: Haji Mike, Karney and Mama Labeba Crux Artist Collective Thurs., July 27

As a writer, when I saw a press release announcing something called “The Power of Words Tour,” I was intrigued. After reading the thinly constructed PoW manifesto, built on non-specific promises of music with a “message,” I felt more than a little skepticism begin to poison that initial curiosity.

When I arrived at the Crux Arts Collective warehouse, the giant door was rolled up and an open-air room of graffiti-covered plywood unfolded into the parking lot.

Kicking off this night in front of an eclectic crowd of 20 or so was Crux member David “Dragon Boy” Sutherland reciting a surreal-image-laden poem off a few folded sheets of paper. A trippy duet between Dragon Boy (percussion and bells) and fellow Crux member Mama Labeba (spoken word) followed—and, at that point, my apprehension had melted some. This was funky and expressive, and Mama Labeba’s wide-eyed enthusiasm set a tone that would be sustained throughout the night: a very chill, positive (dare I say it?) “vibe.”

As it turned out, that was nearly all the power to be had most of the evening. Labeba’s set of Jamaican-accented reggae vocals over prerecorded beats was happy and positive for sure, but there was very little power in the words. Mostly, she gave thanks for good days, the moon, summertime and her family—all in very general terms. Lots of telling, very little showing.

Still, watching Labeba sway away in her pink summer top and breezy skirt, it was difficult to get too jaded. The good vibe was getting “much respect” in the house, and I was hanging with it.

Next up came the first of the two artists tagged by the tour’s organizers, San Francisco-based Independent Distribution Collective: S.F. singer/songwriter Karney. Despite her stellar guitar playing and soaring vocals, her words were packed with almost zero power. It’s never a good sign when there’s a long explanation for what a song is about, and this was especially true of the title track from her latest CD, All Connected. If she hadn’t said the tune’s impetus was 9/11, there would have been no way to crack its faceless exterior: “Everybody breathes the air, and everybody drinks the water / Everybody had a mother, and everybody had a father … I am you and you are me / It’s a natural destiny.”

Just as I was growing content in my contentedness, the static evening changed drastically. D.J. Standout Selector climbed on stage to share vocal duties on an older Karney tune, “Shellshock Girl.” The chill vibe got casually swatted away in favor of a much more proactive and intense one, thanks to Selector’s charged-up spitting: “Watch this! / I say fire, fire as the flames grow higher / You hear the news as it travel the wire.”

And Karney lit up in turn, belting out the chorus and showing up with clear images from memories of her own grandmother: “She’s a little shellshock girl / Wound up tighter than tight / Flashbacks keep her up in the night … Take her out on the Fourth of July and she’ll just break down and cry.”

Unfortunately, that’s as good as Karney got, but fortunately, next up was poet/reggae artist Haji Mike, in the U.S. briefly from his native Cyprus. This is where the Power of Words (and the power of the hot drums of Jeff Herrera) delivered on its promise.

The graying, sleepy-eyed Haji Mike whipped up the Crux stragglers with a hopeful ode to his troubled homeland—"Party at Ledra,” an anthem for the party his fellow countrymen will throw at the Ledra palace whenever the now-split capital of Nicosia is unified: “Someone play a tune so sweet / Feel the vibes from your head to your feet!”

Urged forward by sidekick (and producer) Standout Selector, Haji Mike balanced bouncy party tunes with emotional songs of struggle. And the band’s dynamics were stellar, dropping the beat and snapping it back in, or bringing the volume down.

The final tune was the highlight. Set to a Middle-Eastern syncopation, the almost brittle anthem quietly cried over and over: “We don’t want no war / Peace and love is what we’re living for"—sending the vibe into the night with a proper weight.