The Mid Summer Ball (MSB) is one of the most famous club nights in modern Turkish Cypriot history, helping to bring a slice of the London underground to North Cyprus since 2004.
Every summer, this mega event, attended by thousands of people, flies in dozens of leading House and Garage DJs and MCs to perform in the country’s top clubs in Girne (Kyrenia) and Mağusa (Famagusta).
For those who don’t know, MCs in clubs are not dissimilar to other masters of ceremonies; they host the event and chat to the audience, generating lots of interaction. The difference with club MCs such as MSB’s Mr Buzzard, Lev & Edski, is that they often ‘chat’ in the form of a rap.
Rap is widely considered an art form. It came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Hip Hop music. Rappers have learnt to ‘freestyle’, improvising with rhyming lyrics they compose at that instant.
The best rappers enter freestyle battles where they seek to outdo each other with their live improvisational raps, taking their cue from the person before, constructing their own witty rhyming retort. Those who falter lose.
To my great surprise, Cyprus is no stranger to rapping. ‘Chatista’and ‘Biimada’ are traditions that stretch back to ancient Greece, involving people using rhymes to express themselves.
The Greek versions of Iliad and the Odyssey are Biimada, or rhyming poems. Lawyers in ancient Greece would also use this method to help win cases; their spontaneous unrehearsed comments were known as ‘chatista’. In centuries gone by, this art form also came to Cyprus.
Very few Turkish Cypriots were able to master ‘chatista’ primarily because their knowledge of Greek had to be exemplary.
Luricina (Akıncılar) is a village in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, located just above the Green Line, half way between Lefkoşa (Nicosia) and Mağusa. It was one of the biggest Turkish villages pre-1974, yet all the villagers spoke excellent Greek.
One of its famed sons is Mehmet Veli ‘Kirlapo’, a champion chatista who honed his skills in the fields.
The young Mehmet had a hard life, forced to skip school by his father who hired him out from the tender age of five to local shepherds to help tend their flock.
Nicknamed ‘Kirlapo’, the young man started to gain a reputation for his sharp, quick wit. Around 1948-9, aged 18, he went to Athienou, a nearby village, with a friend in order to work.
While at a local café, a well-known chatisti named Muymon began to entertain and challenge anyone to catch him out. It was soon brought to his attention that an upcoming chatista from Luricina was in the crowd.
Muymon walked up to Mehmet and prodded him to take up the challenge. Initially overawed by the older man’s reputation, Mehmet decided not to respond.
Muymon was having none of it, and started his witty chatista, taunting the teenager. With his blood boiling, Mehmet took up the challenge, responding time and again with brilliant spontaneous comments and put downs that eventually left Muymon speechless.
News of Mehmet’s win went far and wide, and he started to receive invitations to attend ‘panayirs‘ (village fairs) to compete in chatista competitions with neighbouring villagers.
Panayirs played a big part of Cyprus life, giving people an opportunity to bring their products to sell. It was where you would meet relatives and old friends, and have fun watching or entering competitions during an era where radios and TVs were uncommon.
Back then, pride was the biggest perk for chatista winners. Although no doubt the young Kirlapo also won the hearts of a fair few young ladies as he performed at various village fairs and weddings.
In 1958, aged 29, Mehmet was forced to leave Cyprus and come to Britain for a life-saving operation. He also brought his Cyprus rap. His family recall how he would create a rhyme about anything and everything.
Watching the news on TV was never dull as ‘Kirlapo’ would strike back, instantly responding to serious news reports with hilarious commentary on the bits the presenters had ‘missed out’.
In his later years, Mehmet didn’t have the rivalry to keep up his practice, and no doubt he wasn’t as fast as before, but he still couldn’t resist responding chatista style. If his wife told him off for talking too much, he responded by saying: (sadly our English skills don’t quite do justice to Mehmet’s chatista, but see below for the rough translation).
She likes me to keep quiet, and stare at the wall
Poor me I can’t even say anything anymore
Your tongue has started to nag at me,
You’re trying with tenderness to break my head!
Aresgidiz na-ime thrihtos, je na horo don diho,
Enimboro o ftohos bile na sindiho.
I lossasu arkinisen je mashede midamu,
Brosbahis medo galon na spasis da myalamu.
Sadly chatista is a dying tradition on the island, kept alive by a few old-timers such as Veli Kundi, Mehmed Bede and Muzaffer dayi (three other famed Luricina chatistas), and contemporary writers trying to preserve these old Cypriot customs and traditions.
One such person is Ismail Veli (of human rights group Embargoed! fame), who has created a fantastic online portal for all things Luricina. Many thanks to him for collating and sharing these wonderful details about our rich Cyprus customs and of course about his father Mehmet Veli ‘Kirlapo’, the original Cyprus rapper.
RIP Mehmet Veli Kirlapo, born in Luricina, Cyprus, on 12 August 1929, died in London, UK, on 6 August 2020
Note: a variation of this article was first published in Cyprus Today on 28 July 2012