Alliance Française hosts “new soul voice of Cameroon”, Blick Bassy

Blick Bassy surveyed the tray laden with shorteats and helped himself to some bajiya, gulha and masroshi, at the teashop in the carnival area. Around him fellow musicians John Grandcamp percussionist, Geimbakouyate who plays ngoni and the guitar and Johanbarby the bass guitarist, munched away, happily chatting with the Maldivian musicians who had turned up to their workshop an hour earlier.

“I don’t think it’s too hot, we are used to eating spicy,” says Bassy, referring to his Cameroonian roots when told the food might be too hot for him.

The singer, often hailed as the new soul voice of Cameroon, is in town to perform a music show on Friday night at the request of Alliance Française of Male, before heading off to Sri Lanka to perform there.

He had not known much about Maldives before coming here. “I just knew that Maldives was reputed to be the most beautiful place in the world.”

Bassy started his first band at the age of 17; the band played a fusion of African melodies, jazz and bossa nova. In 1996 he formed a new band called Macase, which had a successful run, releasing two albums in 10 years and winning a host of regional and international awards.

“I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do,” says Bassy explaining his reasons for leaving the group after 10 years. “In groups you need consensus to do things, going solo is like taking another step, revealing who I am really.”

His first solo album Léman, was released in February 2009 under a Dutch label. The album has been well received in Europe. Bassy is the songwriter, singer, guitarist and percussionist of the album and it connects the music of Central and West Africa with bossa nova, jazz and soul.

“My second album in production now has contemporary African music. It’s a modern vision of Africa through my eyes.”

He explains how with the availability of internet young Africans listen to the same music as young American or English people.

“It’s traditional music colored by other types of music I hear, Brazilian jazz, old soul.”

Tradition is very important to Bassy who sings in his native language Bassa. Despite having lived in France for the last 5 years he says he envisages continuing singing in Bassa.

“Lots of reasons for this, foremost is that there are 250 tribes and languages in Cameroon, but our national language is English and French. If I talk to someone from another tribe we talk in French now to understand each other.”

He says Cameroonian native languages are in the danger of disappearing. “If you lose your language, you lose your culture, tradition and identity.”

Each language colours the music differently. “If you sing to the same tune, a song in two different languages it will sound different because each language’s intonations are different.”

His interest in the native sounds and music of a country is evident. He questions if there is a singular way of singing or music that is Maldivian, and says he has been told of Zero Degree Atoll and is looking forward to listening to it.

When a musician points out that Calbace the Cameroonian drum and boduberu (maldivian drum) have somewhat similar sounds he agrees.

“In Nigeria a drum like boduberu is played and the rhythm is similar to Maldivians.” The band also uses ngoni a guitar like instrument found in Mali and North Cameroon.

Playing traditional instruments is not difficult, he says:“It’s like any other instrument, if you practice its easy.”

Bassy can almost be called a revivalist; he has brought language and traditional elements along with him on his journey, and found a place for them in his music and the modern world.

“You have to be proud of where you come from; it’s a beautiful thing to have. The difference among people is what’s enriching, meeting Maldivians have been so interesting because people of the difference.”

He rues the fact that some youth try to copy the westerners. “You have to think of what you bring to a place, and what your identity is.”

Bassy’s music is a reflection of his philosophy on life itself. A mix of tradition and modern, shaped by his childhood spend in Cameroon and his travels around the globe as an adult.

Asked what kind of music he will be playing tomorrow night, Bassy’s answer is “beautiful music.”

Blick Bassy will perform at Artificial Beach on Friday October 15 from 9:00pm to 11:00pm.


Comment: The Maldives must value arts education

My first attempt at promoting Arts in Maldives was in 1999 when I opened SALAAM School, because I believed in the importance and significance of art in education and the potential development of people.

The discovery of talents and skills in Maldivians such as voice, and the ability to play an instrument without learning the theory, took Maldivians by surprise and a wave of pride and surge of energy swept through the 70s and into the 90s – the era of self discovery and connection to innerself.

The truth was that inspired by Hindi movies with beautiful traditions of dance and song, and the Western groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and later by Olympians, Amazon Jade and Quicksand, the Maldivian people discovered a new world that brought joy and connection to their very souls through a new form of expression.

Artists then were revered, Olympus hall unfailingly filled up, and people sang along to the radio. Jeymu Dhonkama’s songs struck the heart of the young and old alike. The two discos, house parties, two cinemas, stages for concerts and plays, traditional dance groups performing on the roads during Eid, dressing up for festivities, carnivals with acrobats and beauty competitions, imported circuses and music bands had Male’ swinging into the early 80s.

New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.

Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.

Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.

A country with a strong artistic profile is an indication of progression, the expression of its people and the freedom to express how they experience life. The following paragraph sums up the importance of Arts in Education and in our lives.

“The Arts are an essential part of public education. From dance and music to theatre and the visual arts, the arts give children a unique means of expression, capturing their passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures. They bring us joy in every aspect of our lives.

“Arts education not only enhances students’ understanding of the world around them, but it also broadens their perspective on traditional academics. The arts give us the creativity to express ourselves, while challenging our intellect. The arts integrate life and learning for all students and are integral in the development of the whole person.”

Schools in the Maldives never catered to the needs of the creative aspect in young people because the government institutions concerned with Education and Art, as well as Youth, had Ministers who were ignorant of what Arts mean to children’s and the community’s development.

On the other hand, art and culture is always at the end of the list all over the world, when it comes to education and budgets.

School of Arts, Languages and Music was abbreviated to ‘S’ for School, ‘A’ for Arts, ‘LA’ for Languages ‘AM’ for ‘And MUSIC’, thus giving the name SALAAM (appropriately meaning peace) to SALAAM School.

It had 400 registered students and over 200 youth volunteers when it started. What attracted such a crowd?

The school was nurturing the blessed gift of creativity and supporting young people to bring it out and express it. Youth in 2000 roamed the streets of Male’ as aimlessly as they do today. However, the youth that joined hands with SALAAM School disqualified the negative brand attached to youth (then as even today) through discipline, leadership and commitment that surprised the Home Minister Umar Zahir in 2000 during the first philharmonic and youth orchestra concert at the Social Center.

The Maldives needs a comprehensive and high quality arts education. The passivity we see in children, the nonparticipation in our youth and the lack of ability to bridge difference and solve conflicts in our adults can be caused by the lack of a most significant vehicle in our society: arts to “express the inexpressible and the unbearable”.

Music and dance and visual art forms are a unifying force and the only dialogue without argument. It bridges across races, sex, age, nationality, language, culture and even emotions and conflicts.

Arts hold communities together and through celebrations which are always combined with music, and usually dance, creates the good feelings and binds people despite personal differences. Any form of art enhances our lives.

Why do young children learn better with techniques of art? Why do children remember rhymes and songs? Why do all the countries in the world have National Anthems expressed in melody and lyrics?

The truth is that the impact of music is powerful and transforms emotional experience to learning enhancing the likelihood that something will be remembered. Art always leaves an impression.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his/her vision wherever it takes him/her.”

The dream of any person to be an artist or to integrate art into his/her life must be taken seriously. We must have singers, song writers, composers, actors, actresses, dancers, and visual artists in our communities without being labeled but supported through schools, theatres, concert halls, galleries, clubs etc, and last but not least, art-specific educational programs and trained teachers.

We need arts advocacy groups and associations supported by funding, artist support, and materials to continuously enrich the environments of our communities. These activities and people help to shape the culture of our communities.

“The arts reflect profoundly the most democratic credo, the belief in an individual vision or voice”.

Today there are factions of Maldivians who believe that artists should not be encouraged and there are stories of confrontations, threats and attacks. This happened to SALAAM School in 2000.

The school was vandalised in October 2000. Paint was thrown into the corridors, liquid soap onto the walls and the petals of the fans bent so that they touch each other at the tips. The school was under attack and labeled in the media as ‘spreading Christianity’. Miadhu explicitly wrote on April 22, 2010: “Anyone who has studied in the Arabian Peninsula should know that missionaries have been using the word “Salaam” to spread Christianity. After six months when the cat was out of the bag, Maumoon had no choice but to close the school which he opened with his very own hands.”

Was it the word “SALAAM” or the teaching of arts that was the measure to identify Christian missionaries?

The reason behind the vandalism will never be known. Was it political or was it the believers of the new Islamic movement? There was every attempt to stop anything that brought people together, and SALAAM School was attracting many young people to one place.

One comment from a staff of the Ministry of Education (2000) expressed regret at how the Ministry of Education had obstructed SALAAM school’s functioning. He said that if the intention was to obstruct SALAAM School, it should not have been allowed in the first place.

SALAAM School did not close but stayed dormant a few years, digesting a financial loss but growing stronger in conviction. Today, SALAAM School continues developing people of all ages, especially youth, believing in their potential and giving them dignity by guiding them and leaving them a choice to walk their own path.

SALAAM School’s first mission is on hold, the arts school will happen.

Each day is a new scene, a new painting, a new song, a new play, and a new dance, and each day brings new hope to one or more youth who passes through SALAAM School. Maldives is our stage.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: An identity for Maldivians

On the morning of the Maldives’ 45th Independence Day celebrations, President Mohamed Nasheed finally unveiled the new National Museum – a swanky, modern, grey building with high ceilings and polished interiors, that has been teasing the public for a few weeks now during the final stages of its construction.

The inauguration was greeted with much fanfare, and vows were made by both the President and the State Minister for Arts and Culture to preserve and promote Maldivian cultural heritage.

However, the reactions from commentators on many news websites to the opening were quite puzzling in their negativity and cynicism.

Or maybe not.

Despite the buzz surrounding the newly-inaugurated building, Maldivians have already had a National Museum since the middle of the last century; a tiny, old section of the former palace that former President Nasir had benevolently left standing.

Dusty, crumbling, and largely ignored by the general Maldivian public, the old museum had harbored the last surviving treasures of the long, unbroken chain of ancient Dhivehi civilization; the swords of the Sultans, ancient loamaafaanu copperplate grants, exquisite medieval lacquer-work, extinct scripts, and beautifully carved coral-stone sculptures of the Buddha that triumphantly showcased the skilled craftsmanship of our ancestors from centuries ago.

Yet somehow, the President had to remind the gathered citizens at the inauguration that Dhivehin have inhabited these ancient islands since 2000BC.

It seems ironic that despite being one of the very few countries in the world with such an ancient recorded history, we Maldivians show a strange disconnect from our cultural roots, and a feigned ignorance of our past.

Many Maldivians seek to satisfy themselves that their language, customs and cultural traits are of recent origin and, intriguingly enough, choose to whitewash whole portions of their history.

For instance, there are Maldivians who display a marked hostility for – and seek to disown – the entire culturally-vibrant Buddhist era of our past!

These attempts to sever the umbilical cord with the past have left Maldivians a culturally restless people, uncertain of their place in history.

It is hardly surprising then, that the swanky new museum has been built, not by Dhivehin as a monument to their proud heritage – but by enterprising foreigners.

It is perhaps befitting such a culturally aloof people that the new botanical gardens, being built on the very site where the former Sultan’s palace once stood, is also the product of foreign labor and initiative.

Interestingly, some of the most enlightening anthropological studies of the Maldivian people, our history, arts, poetry, folktales and traditions have also been carried out by foreign chroniclers like Pyrard, Bell and Maloney.

It would hardly matter to most Maldivians that the plaque outside the gate to the newest monument to Dhivehi culture reads, in bright red letters, ‘China Aid’.

Today, more than ever, there is a greater need to overcome this historical apathy of Dhivehin towards history itself.

The Maldives stands at a unique crossroads as a young, budding democracy about to seek its destiny and carve a niche for itself.

Maldivians have long been plagued by an identity crisis after decades of unfettered Westernization followed by rapid Arabisation. The moment is ripe for the newly assertive Maldivian public to permanently erase this.

If we take this moment to infuse ourselves with a strong national identity and cultural pride, we could overcome some of the most divisive issues burning our society today – the drugs epidemic and religious fundamentalism.

The opening of the new National Museum should hopefully provide the required spark to ignite a long overdue cultural revival in the Maldives, and a reawakening of Maldivians to embrace the Dhivehi identity that unites all mahl people.

If Dhivehin do not jump at this opportunity to rediscover our culture, and revel in our sense of common identity and inherited values (in much the same way our neighbors like India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan do) – then it would seem a rather wasteful expenditure by the Chinese government for an ancient people who have willingly betrayed their own culture!

In the words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Thick as thieves

“Would a Rose by any other name still smell as sweet?” wrote Shakespeare. In the case of the Maldives People’s Majlis, call Rose what you like – she will still stink of corruption.

The ‘cash for votes’ scandal has gripped the nation ever since secret telephone recordings between opposition MPs were published on the Internet yesterday afternoon.

In one recording, the deputy speaker of the Majlis Ahmed Nazim discusses with Abdulla Yameen how Gasim Ibrahim took ‘Rose’ to Paradise Island Resort to finalise a Rf1 million deal.

“So Rose is joining Jumhooree [Gasim’s political party] now?” Yameen asks.

“No it’s not that….it is just for these matters,” assures Nazim, before explaining that ‘Maniku’ will complete the deal with Rose for a further Rf2 million. Nazim goes onto say that Gasim “has said everything will be OK… 100 percent and not to worry.”

In another recording, MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed says to Gasim, “I need some cash.”

“Yeah, OK,” replies Gasim before the two MPs discuss how the transaction will be completed.

In the third recording ‘Kutti’ Nasheed explains to Yameen and Nazim how he will “prevent the government from trying to do what it is doing” by moving motions of no-confidence against Finance minister Ali Hashim and Economic Affairs minister Maumood Razee. He reads out a plan to stop “all work on the tax bills submitted by the government to the Majlis.”

Rumours of corruption in the Majlis are nothing new, but never before have the sordid details of MP’s shenanigans been aired in such excruciating detail.

Last week, President Nasheed was being pilloried in sections of the media for being ‘dictatorial,’ following the arrest of Yameen and Gasim for alleged corruption and bribery. Now, significant sections of the community seem keen to lock them up and throw away the key.

“Petty, cheap, revolting, nauseating” – “Have nothing to say except that…I am ashamed. How cheap are our parlimentarians?” – “Thick as thieves. Guilty as sin. Let them hang from the nearest coconut tree!” – a few readers’ comments from Minivan News’ coverage of the scandal.

While many Majlis watchers will not be surprised to hear the tapes involving Yameen, Nazim and Gasim, many people have been shocked to hear that ‘Kutti’ Nasheed is also implicated.

Kutti likes to present himself as an independent MP par excellence, a symbol of integrity who rises above the grubby day-to-day deals of the Majlis. No longer. He has been treating Gasim as his personal ATM. In return, he appears to be chief architect of plans to subvert the government’s tax and privatization initiatives, measures that could damage Gasim’s and Yameen’s extensive business interests.

In his personal blog, Kutti says he simply borrows money from Gasim from time to time and it has no influence on his voting in parliament. Few, if anyone, will believe his excuse.

So far, the corruption allegations appear concentrated on Yameen’s Peoples’ Alliance party, Gasim’s Jumhooree party, and their ‘independent’ supporters in the Majlis. Indeed, President Nasheed said yesterday that the speaker of the Majlis, DRP MP Abdulla Shahid, is “an honourable man.”

How far this scandal spreads is anyone’s guess, but it is likely to lead to both political and cultural change in the Maldives, as people recognise the real damage that corruption can bring to their institutions.

For centuries, Maldivians have pledged their loyalty to rich men, bodun, whose political power and status was measured by the number of their followers. These loyalties often spanned generations, and the practice of honouring the rich and seeking their ‘benevolence’ was deeply entrenched in the Maldivian psyche. The dictatorship and crony capitalism of the previous Gayoom government welded easily with this old cultural tradition. The democratic revolution of President Nasheed’s administration, and the President’s open condemnation of corruption, is demanding new loyalties to the rule of law, honest administration and institutions, and personal integrity.

It’s a painful process for the old cliques who profited so much and enjoyed high social standing, but a welcome change for the young Maldivian population who see an opportunity to compete and prosper without selling their loyalty and bowing to the bodun.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: We are criminals

The Maldives has the 10th highest prison population rate in the world and our society is set up to perpetuate this rate.

The victory in 2008 ushering in democracy has barely lessened the number of people incarcerated. It has not changed how we treat people who have gone to jail, nor the causes for which so many of our people lose their freedom. It has not made us reflect on the effect this is having on our society. And as a nation we will suffer for this together.

Culture promoting criminality

Before we won the election, politicians on my side of the divide could have claimed that many of the prisoners in jail were the result of political repression.

But the problem goes beyond politics. The problem is societal and the responsibility now falls on each and every one of us to change the direction we’ve been heading in.

The vast majority of those arrested have been sentenced on drug related charges. We have 30% of our youth falling into drugs like heroin, and we are surprised that crime is soaring. We are surprised when gang related violence escalates, and we are surprised that Male’ and islands around the country are no longer safe.

Male’ is now split up by the gangs controlling strictly monitored lines. They hijack each other’s cars and motorcycles and go after one another with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.

For all of us who have nothing to do with these gangs, we just ignore it. We turn a blind eye because that’s what we’ve been taught to do for 30 years.

But political commentary aside, we each let this happen. We live in a small community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. We know when our neighbor is arrested. We know why the boy down the street was taken to jail and why the police kicked down his friend’s door the week before.

But instead of helping them recover and reintegrate, we shun them. We ostracize them and say they are not worth our time. Instead of offering a helping hand, we kick them to the curb as the wasted undesirable elements of our society. But with the prison population so high, it is a large part of our society.

Our prison population rate is the 10th largest in the world, and this is without all the people who have not yet been sentenced. We need to help these people join the working ranks and support our nation to grow. We need to stop abusing them with our indifference, and we have to make it clear to our government institutions and those who work for them, that we will not tolerate abuse against inmates and promote true rehabilitation instead.


We as a society have to help with rehabilitation. I don’t mean drug rehabilitation. I mean we have to teach inmates how to function in society and how to be productive members of it. But the truth is that rehabilitation was never a part of our penitentiary services. In the past, the entire prison institution was based around repression, fear, and control of the unruly elements of our society. The new government is trying to change that and I’ve seen more change in the DPRS (Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services) than in many of the other institutions, though even the DPRS has been subject to politically based manipulation by jailers, and not just by government sympathizers. However, what about all those people who have not yet been convicted?

These people are kept in police detention facilities. The same kind of facilities which have been responsible for custodial abuse reported recently. In addition to the kinds of abuse described by the inmates on DhiTV, there is a culture of brutality amongst the armed forces which needs to be addressed. Prisoners are constantly manhandled by their guards, whether they behave or not.

Further methods are used to ensure compliance and deal with unruly behavior. Amongst these methods are handcuffing inmates in difficult positions and leaving them for hours at a time under the hot sun, or if it is raining, leaving them out in the cold.

These are people who have not even been sentenced yet! Guilt has not been established. Due process has not been executed. And even if these people had been sentenced, they are still human beings and thereby extended inalienable rights; especially from torture. We suffered these kinds of abuses under the previous administration; it cannot be allowed to continue.


The attitudes within both the Police Service as well as the general populous need to be reformed. The Maldivian Police Service has made phenomenal improvement in how the deal with the citizenry, so there should be no reason why this cannot extend towards those members of society who are placed in their care.

We as society need to care about what happens to inmates. Without reform and true rehabilitation, we will never be able to progress as a nation.

We may have had a democratic election, but we still do not have a free society. The democracy monitoring international NGO, Freedom House, still ranks us as only partly free because of our apathy towards the prison population. We are such a small community.

We are all brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and friends. We have no excuse to allow things to continue as they are. The shackles of tyranny still bind us. It’s time we start chipping away at these bindings, so that one day we will enjoy a free and stable society.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]