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.”