Bodu Beru – the beat of a nation

Bodu beru – literally meaning “big drum” – is one of the oldest surviving aspects of Dhivehi culture and is popular amongst tourists visiting the Maldives.

It is a tradition thought by historians to have been brought to the islands by African slaves shipped from Arabia.

It is widely believed that these magnificent beats settled in the Maldives in the 18th century as these slaves sought to remain close to their culture. Now, these enthralling drum beats form the very pulse of the islands.

The beat is hammered out with bare hands on a goatskin drum of traditional design  – sometimes stingray skin is used.

The tempo starts slow and builds up into a crescendo – this intensity then continues before reaching an abrupt end. During the music, performers do a splendid dance.

Ahmed Athif, known as Arthu – a member of the 24-piece band that is Harbee – is the grandson of the legendary musician and bodu beru player “Mureedhube”, who was revered in the Maldives up until his death at the age of 106.

“The tourist reaction towards the bodu beru is always positive. In almost every resort there is a bodu beru group, or they take us or other groups to perform,” said Arthu.

“It feels so great to be part of the most popular bodu beru group in whole of the Maldives.”

“I started to learn bodu beru when I was around eight years old – my grandfather was my master in teaching bodu beru. I learned so many styles of various kinds of beats from him. Every Maldivian knew my grandfather. He even got the President’s National Award.”

The group has been around for almost 15 years but officially came to be known as Harubee after their 2005 Dubai Shopping Festival performance, which brought them fame.

Since then, Harubee has gone onto perform at tourism expos  and various major events at resorts. They have appeared on the National Geographic Channel and the BBC, in addition to performing alongside major local artists at live events.

Harubee’s first mainstream success came when they won the MNBC Bodu Beru Challenge 2010, before retaining the title in 2011.

Fitting their engagements around full time work, there are 24 members with Shina, Puchu, Naube, and Shamru as the four main drummers. The other members sing backing vocals. Mandey is the main vocalist and the line up changes depending on who can get time off work for a performance.

Harubee relates to the traditional greeting of the sultan. During Eid, citizens would march with trumpets and big drums in a ceremony called “Harubee Ah Vadaigathun”.

Nowadays bodu beru is always popular at parties and weddings but mostly on eid and circumcision celebrations – or “hithaany”.

Many of the songs circulating around the bodu beru scene are so old that their origins are lost entirely. Harubee has revamped the musical style and made “bodu beru cool again” – not just something your grandparents did.

There are various styles of bodu beru – including baburu , nala , kaashimajaa, hedhi-beru or taki,  and now zamaani.

Harubee is currently working on a new album as the group continues to bring bodu beru to the mainstream. Not only are they carving a career for themselves at home in Male’ and in resorts like Bandos, they are also gaining international recognition, touring in India and China in recent years.

Arthu says that Bodu Beru could easily be exported and it is easy to learn, if you have the right attitude.

“Everyone, young to old knows our songs and sings them. It brings the nation together.”


8 thoughts on “Bodu Beru – the beat of a nation”

  1. Good luck, and when the mullahs start whining about you guys - THROW YOUR DRUMS AT 'EM!

  2. "During the music, performers do a splendid dance..."

    Depends on how you define the term "splendid". Since Bodu Beru has African roots, you'd expect the dance to have a strong Afro flavour as well. The sad reality is that Afro flavour has totally gone and long forgotten by the modern day Bodu Beru dancers.

    In fact, in our living memory, we can remember a very different type of dance performed by Bodu Beru groups which were more akin to it's African roots. Today, it's a very effeminate Bollywood induced, and to be honest a very boring form of dance.

    I wonder if there are any Bodu Beru dancers left in the country who remember or who can bring back the traditional form of the dance with its strong African flavour.

  3. Harubee has revamped the musical style and made “bodu beru cool again” ...

    Well, making something "cool" is fine, but losing its heritage and links to the past is disastrous. A serious performer of a traditional art has to try to keep the art pure and close its roots and origins and not just make it "cool".

    Bodu Beru has cooled off to the point, where it has lost a lot of its original roots. Yes, we have very very old songs and you can see in the songs where they probably came from.

    In African tribal culture, the drum is a key part of life, and it's almost a religious item. The songs are of the call-reply nature and this can be seen in Bodu Beru songs.

    As I've mentioned what's definitely NOT cool about modern Bodu Beru is the dance. We seem to have completely lost the African roots of the dance. The Bollywood induced stuff we see is definitely not what Bodu Beru dance was.

  4. The religious freaks of Maldivistan will do whatever they can to destroy any culture left in the ocean dwelling. Short pants and beards are all the rage these days lol.....

  5. I am not sure these articles by Donna Richardson is actually doing good to Maldivian art since she misses essential information that helps to contextualise the practices.. just writing for the sake of earning money..... I request minivan news to commission writers who are equipped with deeper knowledge of Maldivian history and culture to do the articles on arts and other cultural matters... or else, get Donna Richardson to do proper research instead of emailing interviews and googling whatever information she needs for the articles. thanks, Hameeda.

  6. Body beru and the drum itself dosnt resent as the african selves in a Maldives, similar variants of the drum is used in sri lanka south india ie the malabar coast and even in southern coasts of arabia and the gulf. Body beru dates back much further into the ancient history of the nation.

    Its a distortion of history in my opinion, I believe body beru variant the more hyper baburu lava and derivatives was what was imported by the african selves, it took roots with more populari. With the wild style.

  7. Thank you for your comment Hameeda but I must clarify that all of my articles for Minivan news are unpaid. I would be happy for Maldivian advice to add extra value to any articles I write historically. I do not profess to have insider knowledge as a journalist I report what I hear from people objectively with no value judgement. I would be happy for other Maldivians to write about this but since they have not taken the time or effort and since I am not profiting from it at all I feel your comments are unjustified.


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