Talking about a Maldives music revolution

Sounds of Identity is a series of articles that look at Maldivian musicians and performing artists. The first in the series is a profile of the pioneering music movement in the Maldives Dinba Family.

Much like the era of Hendrix, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the Maldives is undergoing its own musical revolution and developing an underground sound of its own.

The emerging new democracy is encouraging the development of the music industry. While a malady of music critics bemoan the lack of support for local music and a lack of original productions, music enthusiasts such as ‘Dinba family’ are creating fresh sounds. Because of their efforts, talented Maldivian artists are finally emerging.

Dinba is all about hitting back at the mainstream pop covers of the Simon Cowell era.

“Forget your manufactured pop covers – you can leave them to the resorts,” says Ahmed ‘Ishaantey’ Ishaan, the creator of Dinba music group, which consists of musicians and artists working at making original music and free expression in the Maldives.

Ishaantey prides himself on nurturing a new wave of underground music, sung by independent, edgy and talented Maldivian artists. As such, the Dinba Family is a fluid collection of more than 50 music artists, composers and songwriters (Ibbe, Faya, Rappay, and others). Inspiring creative music is the core goal, says Ishaantey, the grandson of the legendary singer Jeymu Dhonkamana.

Dinba music draws on an eclectic fusion of Maldivian and different styles of music influences, while blending elements of mainstream bass, rhythm and guitar into the mix. On the first Dinba Family album, Ishaantey played all the instruments himself and having even mastered the album A Different Taste.

“We create music of all genres, Dinba Family’s philosophy is to each his music. People listen to songs they like, no one can dictate taste.” The result is an amalgam of diverse sounds, varying from album to album and even from track to track.

Dinba Family has seven albums to its name. Their album with renowned local singer Shiuz named ‘Kula Yellow’ consisted of seven tracks of different styles, ranging from a piano ballad, world music and even a reggae song. ‘Fanditha’ album, is an eclectic mix, decorated with exquisite works of art drawn by local artists, complete with an interesting track listing of English-Dhivehi. The latest ‘Rakis Bondu’ features famous local singers like Unoosha, Affan, Haifa, Shiuz and Zara.

Creative freedom

What Ishaantey has successfully created in Dinba music is a not-for-profit movement, which provides music to as wide an audience as possible. Already they are starting to permeate the Maldivian cultural conscience. Dinba songs are comprised of a very different poetry.

“This is a 100 percent Muslim country and one of the only ways people can be relaxed is through music,” says Ishaantey.

Since childhood Ishantay has been playing music, going on to create the Seachild band in early 1990 with his childhood friend, singer-songwriter Esa.

Both of them wrote music together as they grew up, but faced difficult times during the previous government’s era.

“For 30 years it has been difficult to express anything in music, back then, in the Gayoom era, they censored lyrics, or musicians would constantly self-censor themselves which stifles creativity,” says Ishaantey.

Singers would insist on knowing lyrics beforehand and be terrified of singing anything that touched upon the government or the people.

“Musicians were scared to write songs in our mother tongue, but all that has changed. Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed [then an activist now the President of the Maldives] freed the Dhivehi language for us; this government gives us freedom to write what we want. We feel that with democracy there is a big change in the country and we want to make music in our own language while we still can, but this is not easy to do,” said Ishaantey.

Sounding Maldivian

Like their music, Dinba Family lyrics touch upon diverse aspects of Maldivian life, at times indulging in whimsical play on words. Some of the songs from Dinba Family have been hailed for preserving the age-old Maldivian style of songs/poetry, ‘An’ba’; offering cultural and societal insight.

Their latest album is Rakis Bondu and it is a study in diversity. It features an ode to a beloved child Dharifulhaa by Faya and great vocal effects by Shiuz while Unoosha belts out a declaration of love tinged with self doubt in Mashah. Muad’s Tis dhathi kamana hovers between spooky and intriguing: a woman steals a second glance and follows the man around, but it is unclear if she will be a prospective lover or stalker. The title track of Rakis Bondu sung by Muad, Shiuz, Haisham and Zara talks about a certain guy saying that only hypocrites can rule this country.

“When we make music we try to move away from sounds of music we had heard, to try and create something with a Maldivian feel,” says Ishaantey.

“At times we do succeed in this endeavor and end up creating a piece that cannot be pigeonholed, as being reggae, rock or anything.” Ishaantey says songs like Rah fushu vaahaka from Kula Yellow album, Koya from Zara’s album and title track of Fanditha album along with Soadhubeyge bodu saobu, Geydhoshu Kujja from Naacharangee fall into this category.

“When this happens often a person will turn around and say it sounds like a Zero Degree Atoll song.” Ishaantey says this in itself is a big credit. “We are happy when this happens, because Zero Degree Atoll is one group that had managed to come up with unique Maldivian sounding music that sets it apart from other world music.”

New pathways

Dinba Family’s unconventional approach even extends to the music’s marketing. Dinba music is compiled on CDs that are given away freely.

Rather than signing artists, the Dinba Family prefers artists to move freely without barriers. However it is the individual artist that holds the rights to sell songs that they perform in the Dinba Family.

“Singers come to us because we give them the space to be creative. We are lucky that a singer like Unoosha who is on the cusp of an international career [she is poised to sing for a famous film production house in India] sang for us. We push her to break boundaries in her singing. We do experimental songs with our vocalists,” says Ishaantey.

Some of the artists in the ‘Family’ include Zara, the first independent female artist to release a solo album in the Maldives history. Her second album with Dinba music Naacharangee featuring songs celebrating life, with those that raise social issues and concerns in was heavily supported and promoted by Wataniya. Ishaantey says “its companies like Wataniya that enables us to produce music.”

Despite the fact that a lot of youth seems to listen to and appreciate original Dhivehi music, Ishaantey says musicians who brought out albums in the past have said it does not sell well in the Maldives. “By giving away albums like this, we hope that in time we will be able to create a demand for original music in the market.”

Ishaantey feels that despite a thriving tourism industry, which caters mostly to high-end markets, the music industry is lagging far behind.

“Clientele from five star resorts want to hear jazz and diverse music, but the pay is so little that it’s not possible to develop the local music scene and buy proper equipment to play high quality music for those gigs.”

Dinba Family is working on their eighth album now, which will be out in March this year 2012. Some of the Dinba tunes are available on You Tube and via Wataniya’s Reethi Tunes engine, and Dhiraagu mytones, an online library of music by Maldivian and other artists.

Dinba music family had recently toured in the South in Maldives for the SAARC Festival and done a show with Shaaz in India ( Delhi ). Ishaantey says the love Indians have for music is amazing: “they love, respect and value musicians regardless of nationality.”

Dinba Family wants to try and establish a link with an international recording studio and Maldivian composers. “The Internet has opened up the world, and this will be a reality in the near future. Our heavy metal bands have already achieved this. It is sad to say that original music by Maldivians is not getting enough support from the media.”

Dinba Music has recently launched a website, where people can download music and budding musicians can contact them. The Dinba family does jam sessions at various locations and establishments across Male’. Talks are underway with hotels to have live bands playing regularly, and to help new music flow in the vibrant new democracy.

As Ishaantey says: “people go to resorts to perform, and sell-out to perform covers to earn money, but they come to Dinba Family because they want to play and they want to express their talents.”

Additional research by Aishath Shazra.


11 thoughts on “Talking about a Maldives music revolution”

  1. they have done a great deal for the maldivian community through music. and their work is great, been a fan since the first album. thanks and keep the music coming.

  2. "people go to resorts to perform, and sell-out to perform covers to earn money..."

    That's way too harsh and downright disrespectful of Ishaantey to make such comments. Musicians, just like everyone else struggle to earn a decent living. This is by no means a "sell-out", with all its negative connotations.

    They are using their God given talent to earn a living. That's a huge difference.

  3. Is it one of their songs on previous Maakana Show closing credits?

    Web address not mentioned, is it still not up?

    Appreciate the info

  4. Good work.

    Irrelevant article for the times yet still I've always been a fan of Ishantey's work.

    Would have appreciated a less politicized article though.

  5. At a time of social and political upheaval in Maldives, music (and all art forms in general ) does definitely have place. Imagine the amount of passion and emotions around us - ideally materials that all artists cherish.

    But the place for art is still vacant in Maldives.

    You mention the 'era of Hendrix, the Beatles and Bob Dylan' - this is precisely the type of upheaval that the west went though during the Vietnam and Watergate and the hippy movement. This is a time of social change, questioning old order which resulted in massive cultural change. Of-course, it would not be fair to compare early 60s to modern day Maldives (even though you have done it). But there are definite lessons.

    Even though this is a very ideal time in Maldives for artists, the creative culture is lacking. There is no venue or a forum where, ALL artists congregate and engage in social discourse - which was the case for the most part in the 60s US. People travelled, mixed, go to events together, like Woodstock. And they were not completely driven by drugs - there was love and idealism for the most part.

    In Maldives, the message of love and peace from artist is not very loud. The few remaining artists could be in politics.

    One can say that due to the persecution of the last 30 years, local artists have lost the beliefs.

    Finaly, you say that 'Zero Degree Atoll is one group that had managed to come up with unique Maldivian sounding music'

    Thats true but there is no magic in the Zero degree music. They are good but does not mean they are the best or no one else can set a new standard. All they did was to incorporate some indigenous sounds. But they were successful because they have invested time, creativity and resources in the one one album they produced.

    If upcoming groups are willing to do just that, there is no reason why Dimba cannot prodice even a better music. I mean where is the Maldives Bob Marley or Rihanna (the girl from Barbados, which is a much smaller country than Maldives)

    Finally, your mention of 'Simon Cowell era' shows poor taste. Please respect art and don't promote TV junk like Mr. Cowell here.

    Good luck

  6. hey artist, stay home and work on your art instead of gallivanting with the arty-types in cafes.

  7. @disturbed art and music lover on Sun, 29th Jan 2012 11:40 PM

    "Even though this is a very ideal time in Maldives for artists, the creative culture is lacking. There is no venue or a forum where, ALL artists congregate and engage in social discourse – which was the case for the most part in the 60s US. People travelled, mixed, go to events together, like Woodstock."

    The comparison is not exactly fair, as I'm sure you're aware. It's upto the artists to organise themselves in the manner you mentioned. Their is no hindrance to that as far as I'm aware.

    Our artists do not have the good fortune of living in a prosperous country like the US in the 60s. Most of us would struggle to find time to organise such creative events besides the obvious lack of resources.

    We do not have to emulate the 60s US. We have to fit our time and space. Grassroots movements like Ishantey's is the way to go.

  8. Its not Dinba anymore, its now sounds of maldives, the kops, and one nation time 😛
    I always valued seachild's songs and E-sa songs , but sad to say E-sa is been used by a group , a artist must have some kind of limits of his apearance, in TV e-sa, in a cafe' e-sa, a fair, lucky draw , ceremony etc, also heard
    E-sa is a contracted musician ,hehehe

    Ishantey's diffferent Taste is A indeed very differnt music. All the best Musicians 🙂 Peace,love & harmony


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