Even amongst the great majority of their fellow South Asians, the Maldivian nation draws a blank. They have no political influence. They do not even have much of a cricket team. How serious a country can you be?
But as we demonstrate this week with our handful of video clips, there is a helluva lot happening down in the atolls, especially when it comes to music. You may not be planning a honeymoon anytime soon but don’t let marriage get in the way of some wonderful sounds.
Smooth island reggae is the calling card of Dinba Family led by one Ishaantey aka Shiuz. A veteran of the Maldives music scene his grandmother (featured in the next clip) was an early musical legend of the islands. The Dinba Music family is a broad one welcoming a changing lineup depending on everyone’s mood. One of the frequent collaborators is Easa, ‘Bob Dylan of the Maldives’, a prolific lyricist and songwriter.
Joasha ufalun eid mubaarik
A much beloved singer even after her passing Jeymu Dhonkamanaa seems to be the matriarch of Maldivian popular music. In this clip made for Maldivian TV she sings a seasonal (Eid) song accompanying herself on what I was told in my youth was a "banjo": a keyboard cum steel stringed lap guitar. Dhivehi, the national language of Maldives (and Minicoy Islands), which all these artists sing, is a descendant of Maharastrian Prakrit but has been influenced by dozens of others over the centuries, most especially Arabic and Persian and even some claim European languages.
Habeys Boduberu Group
This clip by the Boduberu (Big Drum) Group is a stunning example of Maldivian folk music and tradition. Not dissimilar to dhamaal the drum driven ecstatic dance of Western India and parts of Pakistan this percussive music builds and builds with intensity as time ticks along. The dancers show beautifully how thin is the line between the sensual and the spiritual.
Shiuz, of Dinba Music fame, puts together some edgy political reggae in the wake of the "coup" against or "resignation" of President Nasheed in February 2012. The video with shots of gagged young people unable to speak interspersed with footage from the popular protests that engulfed the nation for many months is powerful. The band taps into the dynamic energy inherent in reggae to channel the great Bob Marley and convey simultaneously a confronting message and "good vibes".
The Trio was one of the country’s early adopters of western sounds and are credited with introducing the acoustic, unplugged sound to listeners. Though they no longer play as a group their place in the hearts and history of Maldivian pop music is essential and unchallenged.
Zero Degree Atoll
The word "atoll" is Dhivehi but was embraced by and incorporated into English many decades ago. The Zero Degree Atoll band, popular in the 1990s and early parts of the 21st century is probably the most respected and beloved band in the country’s history. As this clip (sound only, sadly) demonstrates, ZDA is a band of accomplished musicians with an ear for a variety of styles, especially the smoother atolls of jazz.
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