A Primer on Dhivehi Music from 1970s to 2010s
Hey guys, here I present a collection that I believe comes from artists whose work has left imprints on the collective unconscious of both musicians and non-musicians. Of course, I know it's not exhaustive, and I admit there are others who deserve a place on this list, but such is the nature of this endeavour. My intention is to expose these artists to a new generation of music lovers, who I hope will dig deeper and unearth more treasures.
1. Jeymu Dhonkamana, Samugaa Nubaiyyaa
The grande dame of Maldivian music, she was a giant in the 70s & 80s and is a much-revered figure by the musically inclined. This song is from the early 70s; it’s about how one needs to slave away to get the gulaabee maa (holy grail). The recording is shit but there’s still something in it that I find quite endearing. She typically sang while playing the stringed instrument that you hear in this track, a narukotti.
2. Olympians, Dhen La-la-laa
The Olympians, formed in the 70s, was among the first music bands in the Maldives. Theirs was a time when nightclubs lit up parts of Male and the youth flocked to them to have a good time. We don’t have them anymore, not that the law expressly forbids nightclubs. Post-Maumoon Abdul Gayoom governments have been closely linked to the Salafists, even the government that I voted for in 2008 was in coalition with a religiously conservative political party, the Adhaalath. Dhen la-la-laa became a fashionable phrase in the mid-2000s, used frequently in popular discourse of the opposition against Maumoon’s regime.
3. Naifaru Dhohokko, Jaazubee Asarugadha
An immensely popular song by legendary singer and harmonium player Naifaru Dhohokko. It’s said he appeared on public TV in the 90s and was asked what he wanted the most. He replied: “To see someone else at the helm of the country”. Maumoon was president at the time and apparently Dhohokko got some detention time for that remark.
4. Haaburi, Bohthaala
Haaburi is our Omar Souleyman, wedding/circumcision ceremony singer extraordinaire. He’s notorious for lewd adlibs. Haaburi came to fame in the 80s performing in the Male circumcision and wedding circuit. This song, a collaboration with a younger local musician Ishaantey, is a token of the so-called Dinbaa musical type, a mish-mash of genres that Ishaantey and his gang of young musicians came up with in the late 2000s. Bohthaala means ‘lie down’, something that grownups say to children. Haaburi uses the term ironically here, it’s a jab at Maldivians who were doing nothing in the face of growing tyranny (the song was made in the days following the coup). This video also shows footage from Haaburi’s 80s performances. At the end of the track, you can hear a snippet from Haaburi’s cover of Buffalo Soldier. Ah, Haaburi.
5. Zero Degree Atoll, Reethi Handhuvaru
A track from their seminal Dhoni album, Zero Degree Atoll is popularly considered the pinnacle of Maldivian music, and they’re said to have created a genre called ‘island blues’. This song describes a serene moonlit night, although you wouldn’t know from the video. Feel the island vibes and enjoy the bad videography.
6. Minikaa Raajjey with Yousay
Another delightfully awful vid, this song features Yousay, a vastly popular local comedian who made a hit comedy/social satire series, Dhiriulhumakee Mee Baa? (trans: Is this what it means to live?) that ran from the mid-80s to the early 2000s. He’s since fallen victim to heroin, which seems to be a recurring theme among his generation of local talent. Minikaa Raajje means the isles of cannibals, which is how Maldivians refer to the Andaman Islands. This song is about a group of young girls who coerce a skipper to take them to the Andaman Islands, but the skipper has issues with his boat and crew. This popular tune (not the vid) dates back to the early 70s when the first mechanised vessels were introduced to the country and is indicative of the public’s distrust of such vessels at the time (we sailed till the 70s, imagine that).
7. Ahmed, Bakari
Ahmed is a crucial figure of the aforementioned Zero Degree Atoll. This track is from his solo album released a couple of years back. The track and vid showcase Boduberu, the drumming and dancing that we Maldivians inherited from our African ancestors.
8. Meyna Hassaan, Raivareh Hedheema
Meyna Hassaan was a titan of the 90s, propelled to stardom with his distinctive style of singing and performing. His words don’t sound like Dhivehi and resemble Sinhalese, and his music is greatly influenced by Sri Lankan rhythms and melodies. Hassaan became a heroin addict, kicked the habit to become deeply religious, went back to heroin, and is kind of on the Wahhabi side of the fence again. A gifted songwriter, he’s known to come up with bandhi, a form of local poetry, on the spot.
9. Faththey, Astha
Faththey’s another star who gained prominence in the 90s and went to heroin in the 00s. This song’s from the last album he made in the first year of the new millennium. The vid’s supposed to be artsy. His tastes and influences are a bit more Western, as you can see.
10. Easa, Filaavalhu
Easa, another giant from the 90s, was jailed multiple times for heroin use in the late 90s and early 2000s. His old prison guard is a friend of mine and he used to show me stuff Easa wrote in prison: poems, aphorisms and such. Needless to say, they were very impressive and showed a sharp mind dealing with perennial existential and moral questions. In this song, Easa talks about Maldivian identity, violence, morality, and berates our (cultural/ideological) ‘closeness’ to the West.
11. Violet Addiction, Theyonaashi
A band that had a cult following in Male in the 90s though they only released a single album. They were greatly influenced by the alternative rock scene in ‘Mericah. Theyonaashi refers to a precious possession (one that was, according to the saying, stolen by a crow). Apologies for the quality of the vid.
12. Shiuz & Ishaantey, Bob Marley ge Kaalaa Manna
The title translates to ‘Bob Marley’s Ace of Spades’. The track was a humongous hit in 2010, and belongs in the Dinbaa family. The song makes sly drug references and is written in everyday language, describing everyday activities like going to the cinema, coming home, relaxing on the joalifathi (a row of seats woven from coir rope) and taking a hit from an old-school sheesha-like device (a bong hit). Woo!
13. Traphic Jam, Bagaavai
A song that describes the surrealness of the fall of the first democratically elected government, and the violence that ensued. Traphic Jam is unabashedly punk-influenced and has a cult following. They’ve been curiously silent since the 2013 elections though. Check out the hilarious subs.
14. Haisham, Nurakkaa
Haisham is a reggae icon and this song is from his debut album, Odihanu. The video was made by Andhu (Maizaan), who explores social issues through film. He’s trying to build on this vid and make a feature film with gang members and others on the fringes of society. Haisham was arrested for smoking a joint a couple of years ago, thus cementing his street cred.
15. Simon & Addu Haanee, For Hawwa and Amina
Simon is arguably Male’s most prominent DJ/electronic music producer. He made this track around a madhaha or devotional song by a talented young poet. Unsurprisingly, the song’s themes revolve around life, death, loss of loved ones (Hawwa and Amina) and god. It’s said the poet was a militant Salafist who died fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. The Youtube vid was posted while he was still alive, and the scenes of alcohol/drug-fuelled revelry were deeply offensive to him. The enigmatic local Twitter personality Addu Haanee, whose identity remains a mystery to this day, made the vid. The song’s since become a staple at every Maldivian E party.