Mi Cyaan Believe It

Michael Smith

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Mi Cyaan Believe It Review

by Jo-Ann Greene

It was with the striking poem (also the title track) that Michael Smith's reputation was established. Originally recorded for Ras Michael's Light of Saba label, the poet included "Mi Cyaan Believe It" in his rousing performance at 1981's Carifesta in Barbados, which itself appeared in a BBC documentary. That in turn led to Smith's appearance at the International Book Fair of Radical Blacks and Third World Books, to great acclaim. By this time, Linton Kwesi Johnson's interest was well peaked, leading to both the single and the album titled after it being released in the U.K. on Johnson's own label. The similarities with the British based dub poet's own records is instantly obvious, not surprising considering Mi Cyaan Believe It was co-produced by Johnson and his engineer Dennis Bovell, with Smith's backings provided by the same musicians as Johnson utilized. There were, however, significant differences, beginning with locale; Johnson inevitably dealt with the concerns of Britain's West Indian community, Smith with the Jamaican experience. Both men's politics leant far to the left, but Johnson was ever the reporter, an angry observer on the scene, Smith, though, was the man caught up in the mêlée. Thus Smith's seminal poem is written in the first person, as is his equally epic storytelling in "Trainer," while "Mi Feel It" bristles with an intensity of emotions. The poet was also deft at irony and sly humor, as "Black and White" and "Long Time" respectively illustrate. And whether he was turning over the myriad meanings and implications of "Roots," or warning of the coming revolution, as on the incendiary "It a Come," Smith's words -- sometimes playful, sometimes wrenching -- were always as sharp as a scalpel. A stunning debut, Mi Cyaan Believe it already finds the poet at the height of his power, with his work superbly showcased by the sizzling, simmering musical backings. Murdered the following year, this album would also be Smith's epitaph, a heartbreaking monument to a brilliant talent taken away far too soon.

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