Ahmed Nasheed was born on the 3rd of January 1966, the sixth child in a family of ten. A well-established and successful musician in the Maldives, Ahmed is best known for his achievement with 'Zero Degree Atoll', one of the most popular bands in the history of Maldives. Their groundbreaking ...
World Music/Traditional | World Music/Contemporary
The Maldives. No more than a tiny scattering of islands tossed down in the Indian Ocean. A place for a honeymoon or the vacation of a lifetime, where the waves are warm and the sun warm the bones. But it hasn’t been a hotbed of music. At least, until now. But Ahmed Nasheed is set to put the Maldives on the musical map with his solo debut, Dhaalu Raa (released March 11th, 2014 on Asasi Records).
The log drums that give the islands their heartbeat provide the rhythms, from the lulling that accompanies a ballad like “Dhiyaanaage-Huvafen” to the fearsome pounding behind “Sihuru.” They give a powerful, rooted base to Ahmed’s music, where the guitars of the West meld with the melodies of the East.
“I’m from the ‘60s,” he explains. “I love the Beatles, I love Pink Floyd. I grew up with that classic rock, it’s part of me.” But so is his homeland, of course. So the melodies are based on rairvaru variants, the long poetic songs that are the folk music of the Maldives. “They differ a little from island to island,” he notes, “and at times they’re very similar to music from Sri Lanka or India.” And the islands lay just 400 miles from the Indian coast.
This might be Ahmed’s first solo album, but he’s no stranger to music, or even to fame. His former band, Zero Degree Atoll, was the most successful ever to come from the islands, playing in Switzerland and Germany, as well as a huge concert in Male, the capital of the Maldives. They were also the most innovative; for their groundbreaking 1990 release, Dhoni, the members traveled to the islands that make up the Maldives, recording folk tunes and natural sounds.
“After that we sampled them and made them part of the rhythm and the melodies,” Ahmed says.
Dhoni was the first album of original Maldives music, but it took almost four years to complete. The only recording facility on the islands was a two-track studio at the government-run radio station. Through friends, the band finally obtained an eight-track recorder and a synthesizer to use for sampling.
But even with the album released the battle wasn’t over. Not in favor with the government, which thought the band supported the opposition, Zero Degree Atoll received no media exposure. They had to take a guerilla route to market, selling the record in the tourist resorts and relying on word of mouth and concerts.
Against the odds, they succeeded. Then, just as Dhoni was about to be officially released, Ahmed moved to England to study software engineering. But he never stopped writing music.
“I studied and composed. Music would come to me all the time, when I was walking or taking the Tube. Just basic melodies, but I put them all down. I looked through them all later when I began writing Dhaalu Raa. So it’s music written over a long period, different styles and moods. My wife wrote the last song, “Sheyvaa.”
And the song gives a reflective close to the album, with its Indian inflections that reflect both Ahmed’s homeland and his deep love of George Harrison’s music. But he’s just as comfortable with the rock of “Rasge,” with its fiery, roaring guitar solo and lyrics that rage against the corruption that stifles the Maldives. Ahmed isn’t afraid to speak out, whether it’s the treatment of women and children in “Manjemen” or the pressing concern of environmentalist that’s “Randhodhi.”
It’s an album that addresses the issues of the people in the Maldives, and sung in Dhivehi, the language of the islands. But it readily crosses the musical divide between East and West, where log drum and guitar, raga and rhythm all come together. It’s Ahmed’s music, his heart.
“My idea is to do what I want, not what other people want me to do. It’s the only way I can be true to myself and what I feel.”
But he’s still facing the old uphill battle to be heard at home. The government radio station won’t play his music, so he’s back to the days of Zero Degree Atoll, selling his CD in the tourist resorts and souvenir shops.
Ahmed isn’t about to give up, though. His music might be global, but it’s about the people of the Maldives and for them. He wants to play there, because “unless you perform, people can’t listen. But it’s hard to find good musicians, people who are willing to be in a band for a long time. Apart from playing for tourists there’s no real arena for music here.”
He’s been here before. But Ahmed has stories to tell to his people and music to play them. His voice will be heard, from the Maldives to Manhattan.