Death metal is the genre, Maldivian is the nationality – not the best odds for making it on the world music stage. However Nothnegal, a band of determined and passionate young Maldivians, have beaten the odds and are getting ready to perform at twenty different venues across Europe.
The band of young Maldivians Hilarl, Fufu, Avo, and Battery have been signed by Season of Mist, one of the biggest labels on the death metal music scene, who count music monolith EMI as a distributor.
They are going to open for Fintroll, one of the biggest bands on the contemporary metal scene, on their European tour. Starting from Europe, the band will perform gigs in various cities across Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Hungrary, Slovenia, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Their tour will conclude at the O2 Academy in the UK, supporting Fear Factory, a gold-selling band which tops the death metal scene. For band members it is a sweet success – Fear Factory is one of the first death metal bands they ever listened to.
“They were our heroes, and now we are doing support for them,” Hilarl, the lead guitarist and composer, told Minivan News. He feels the same about Arch Enemy, which they supported in July at Rockstorm in Male’.
Nothnegal started their career doing covers of Arch Enemy in 2006. Within four years, Nothnegal were their supporting act, an astonishing transformation by any standard.
Banging heads against a wall of prejudice
Nothnegal’s journey into big time has been difficult. The genre itself is a tough one in which to make it on the world scene. Being Maldivian has made it doubly-hard where musicians have to overcome not just the non-mainstream nature of the genre but also lack of support for music and youth as a whole.
“You are not a Maldivian band”, Nothnegal was once told by a local television station, which refused to give it any coverage. “You do not sing in Dhivehi”, was the reason given for their ‘un-Maldivianness’.
Without any institutional support to encourage the music scene in the Maldives, band members had to go to wealthy members of society with out-stretched hands, asking for sponsorship.
“It is a very subjective process – people fund what they are themselves into. If the head of a company likes football, football is the only activity that company will support”.
Even when a potential sponsor did like music, it was hard to find someone who had time for a death metal band. “It is easier for those who mime, or those who cover Bollywood music, to find sponsorship. Original work gets sidelined, because people are not prepared to listen,” Hilarl said.
They met Minivan News with a photocopy of their record label contract in hand, apparently a document demanded as “proof” by journalists.
“When we meet the media, they ask us to bring ‘valid documents’. They do not believe that we have a record deal”.
The general prejudice against youth manifested mostly in potential sponsors’ aversion to the length of band members’ hair, almost a must on the death metal scene. In Maldivian society, a ‘sure sign’ of a life wasted on drugs.
Nothnegal found an exception in Maaji (with Nothnegal people do not have surnames) of Le Cute, a businessman with a passion for music who looked beyond the long hair and the negative perceptions, to encourage and support Nothnegal. “Without him we would not have made it,” Avo and Hilarl were both keen to emphasise.
There were a small band of others who helped Nothnegal for nothing more than the love of music and belief in the band. Shamheed who did all the artwork and a soon to be released video for the song “Web of deceit”, Muhaa who did the photography, and Kudoo who does all the local promotion work, are people that the band wants desperately to thank.
A solo act
For the rest of the journey, they walked alone. Their last album, “Antidote of Realism”, was produced after many a sleepless night in a studio, which a friend had let them use for free. All of them were working, some holding down full-time jobs.
“Avo would come to the studio straight after work. He would stay up all night, sleeping for only an hour before going to work the next morning,” Hilarl said. They paid close to Rf70,000 (US$5500) for the album’s production in Finland out of their own money.
It was worth it.
“Antidote to Realism”, which they released on the internet, got Nothnegal noticed by the world death metal scene. It is also got them their new drummer – American Kevin Talley, and Finn Marco Sneck.
Both are big names in the world of death metal worldwide, and both wanted to join Nothnegal because their music is good. Greg Reely, a Canadian record producer who has worked with some of the biggest names in music including Coldplay and Fear Factory, is going to work on their next album.
Even the global recognition, however, has not been enough to get them noticed within the Maldives itself.
“We are still waiting to meet the Youth Minister [Hassan Latheef]. We asked for an appointment a long time ago. We are not even sure if he got the message,” Avo said.
Being left in the cold by the Youth Minister, however, is not the most pressing issue for Nothnegal right now. They have other, more important – again, uniquely Maldivian – problems to worry about, such as finding the right clothes to wear for the middle of winter in Europe.
“Not an easy task in the Maldives,” where wool is harder to find than even foreign currency. Nothnegal are in the process of procuring winter gear on e-Bay, and are hoping that it will get here on time before they leave.
Even wrapped up in wool, ready for a harsh European winter, Nothnegal remains Maldivian through and through.
Their new album, which they have just completed writing after a year’s hard graft, is going to be influenced by Maldivian sounds. Like Metallica, they have mellowed their sound from extreme metal to what they call ‘industrial thrash metal’.
Their new lyrics will tell the story of a post-apocalyptic world brought about by climate change. Their last album, ‘Antidote of realism’ tells the story of the political chaos of recent times.
“Singing in Thaana, to the tune of someone else’s music, is not what Maldivian music should be about’, Hilarl said. Nothnegal is going global as a Maldivian band, and are proud of it.
Listen to ‘Antidote to Realism’ online