By Christopher Nosnibor

For his latest project, Ashley Reaks has hooked up with Hull writer, poet and spoken word performer Joe Hakim. Because it’s Ashley Reaks, the music is an eclectic mix of dub reggae, ska, electronica, rock and opera. Conceivably, Reaks’ rebellion and antagonism toward mainstream culture and commerce manifests in musical terms in his absorption of myriad elements, a defiance against categorisation.

Ashley Reaks + Joe HakimAshley’s rare and not inconsiderable talent is making it all hang together while sounding natural. On this outing, though, the music doesn’t dominate, instead serves to augment Joe Hakim’s spoken word spiels.

Hakim’s accent, rather than a hindrance, adds emphasis to first-person his socio-political vignettes. His delivery is rhythmic, but doesn’t fall into the self-conscious white rap that cheapens the words of so many poets. Would it be crass to allude to notions of ‘authenticity?’ Perhaps so, but nevertheless relevant: there’s something in the delivery of Joe’s poetry (I mean both the spoken delivery and their delivery on the page) which conveys authenticity, or, moreover, humanity.

His words are honest, direct, pithy, gritty and real. Take for example, a piece like ‘(I got those) Special Brew blues.’ He isn’t about glamorising the lowlife, and nor is he reflecting from an academic distance or taking an elevated poetical high-ground. The impact of his words lies in his depictions of everyday lives, everyday situations, depicted in the words of the everyman.

‘Every Day’ is exemplary:

I’m sat on a bench in the park. 
The previous night’s excitement has
turned into granules of sand in my nostrils.
My sweat tells me that I dropped a logo,
sometime around 3.

On my lap sits a list of all
the people I haven’t pissed off yet –
places to shit, shower, shave,
brush my teeth and maybe have a coffee
and catch an hour of Jeremy Kyle if I’m lucky.

I haven’t paid a bill in months and
many, many sofas bear the imprint

of my arse. But today, the sun is out
and I’ve got Szechuan flavour Sensations
and half a bottle of Shiraz for my lunch.

And to be honest,
it’ll do

It’s economical writing – which is, of course, in keeping with the album’s title. Without wanting to labour the play on words, Cultural Thrift evokes so many themes which are the reality of the now: recession, austerity, the diminishment of lives, of culture (in all its forms). Impoverishment, not merely fiscal in nature. Times have changed, and not for the better. Quality of life is poorer for all that’s being taken away in the name of ‘balancing the books.’ And who really suffers? That is, of course a rhetorical question.

With so much taken away, it’s the small things that mater, and which offer the most basic of joys, a glimmer of hope in scraping enough shrapnel for a bite to eat, the simple act of waking up and still being alive. Those faint flickers of optimism are integral to the texture of the album: it may not be ‘Friends,’ but it’s not as bleak as all that, there are fleeting moments of levity and humour, chinks of light in the darkness.

While his focus is very much life in England under late capitalism in the wake of the banking crisis, it’s relatable because this is a global crisis and we’re all feeling the pinch, the pain. The personal is political, the microcosm contains the essence of the macrocosm. It’s strong stuff.

Release: 16th September 2015

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