The news came out yesterday – famous musician ‘Meyna’ Hassaan is going to end his musical career at 49-years-old. His final performance will be at Raalhugandu – the capital Malé City’s surf spot – tonight at 8:30pm.
The farewell show’s title ‘Hayyaru Kurumuge Kurin’ (‘Before being arrested’) refers to the fact that Hassaan has been summoned to the Criminal Court on a drug-related case and may soon end up in prison.
His potential incarceration is not the reason Hassaan is ending his musical career, however. His carefully considered decision has been made – in his own words – “to move away from heroin and to move closer to God”.
Tonight’s nostalgic show is going to be as fun and enjoyable as his performances from the nineties, Hassaan promised, with the catchy, hummable, sing-along hits from his earlier albums alongside brand new material.
The lineup – ‘Hassaan and Friends’ – will feature the famous traditional boduberu group ‘Habeys’ – just some of the fellow musicians who will play alongside Hassaan for free this evening. Indeed, the whole show is without any corporate sponsorship.
For Hassaan, the show is very personal and comes with with a personal message. As well as sharing good music, the main objective of the show is to transmit a message regarding heroin addiction – something the majority of Maldivians are directly or indirectly affected by.
“I want to warn the people of Maldives against heroin and drugs. Because I have struggled with it, I lost my family and everything, my whole life was ruined. I want to share my experience. My intention now is to do everything I can to help everyone, old and young, to get out of heroin [addiction],” Hassaan explained.
Meyna Hassaan (Hassaan Mohamed) is from Holhudhoo in Noonu Atoll, grandson of the famous Meyna Kaleyfaanu – founder of one of the first schools in the country.
Hassaan’s unique style of music and poetry can be described as melodic, Maldivian, and relatable. The combination of traditional beats and rhythm accompanied by unique Dhivehi lyrics makes him the most ‘Maldivian’ in the modern local music scene. It is for this reason he has received such huge support across generations. His music reflects his poetry, and his poetry reflects the Maldivian traditions, environment, lifestyle, and ethos.
The roots of Hassaan’s music and poetry lie in his childhood. His father was well versed in the Dhivehi language, while his grandmother was a poet who used to sing lullabies and educational and religious songs. Hassaan was also influenced by the Quranic literary form and the local form of melodious recitations.
His brother’s ‘music band’ with home-made instruments also influenced him greatly, along with a musician who was banished to the island when he was young. By the time he was twelve, Hassaan had started writing his own poetry as well as singing and dancing at ‘Hithaanee’ circumcision functions.
“Poetry usually comes to me when I am by myself, and it usually comes in rhymes and in metric forms. I dont have to sit down and fit them, it just comes naturally like that. Then as soon as I write them down and learn it by heart it becomes a song in my head. There it is…and when I go sing it to a musician, they will play some chords and it would all fit perfectly and become a real song.”
In the nineties Saikura Ibrahim Naeem, a poet himself, labelled Hassaan ‘Eesa Dhari’ – a poet from folklore, known for spontaneously making ‘raivaru’ form of poetry after being touched by the raivaru monster’s tongue.
Hassaan came to Malé to study at around 15-years-0ld and soon found himself missing the sound of his brother’s music practice so much that he found it hard to even sleep. Hassaan promptly started his own band with his own friends.
At just 16-years-old he took a job at his brother’s tourist resort, studying in Malé only in the off-season. This is where his musical career and the mixing of traditional and modern musical styles would begin.
Rannaalhi resort would also be the birthplace of the legendary group ‘Zero Degree Atoll’ (ZDA). The band’s member ‘Mohoj’ was a manager at the resort who would meet Nashid and perform at the resort on the weekends. Hassaan would join them, knowing how to please the crowd by mixing Italian and other languages with his poetry.
Rise to fame
Around 1988, Hassaan went with the ZDA group on a trip across the islands to collect the natural and cultural sounds of the Maldives – to be included in their ‘Dhoni’ album. On the trip they gave a show in Naifaru, in Lhaviyani atoll, which would be Hassaan’s first real public performance. The support he got was noted by Nashid and the other musicians who subsequently asked Hassaan to perform with them in Malé.
It was through his performance at the ‘Dhivehi Fannaanun Ge Musikee Eedh’ – an annual music festival for local artists – that the whole country would come to discover Hassaan’s music.
In 1992 he released his first two albums ‘Maldives Fantasy’ and ‘Maldives Ecstasy’.
“After that it seemed impossible to give a show in Malé without my participation. The fame had an impact on my personal life as well. By that time I had already started thinking about leaving the profession,” Hassaan recalled.
His performances were particularly praised by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and he soon received a government scholarship to study music in India.
“I was doing really good there, but after an year I lost interest. If I really had a full interest in music, I would have produced more songs though my career. After the first few years [of my career] I started losing interest in it. I loved God too much to focus on these things. I keep singing because of other people’s influence. Wherever I am people see me as a singer.”
This would Hassaan’s first turn towards religion, and his first attempt to quit music. He would grow a beard, wear more Arabic clothing, and spend most of his time in the mosque. He was trying to “live a clean life”, as he puts it.
Fall and return
“Whatever I do, I have to do it right. I can’t follow Islam in parts, I have to follow it completely. But the government at the time did not like that, so I was arrested while I was at the mosque – my beard was shaved with chilli sauce and I spent around forty days in Gaamaadhoo Prison. I thought there was no escape from this whether I do good or bad. I realised there were no democratic or Islamic values here.”
He was asked to write a letter to President Gayoom justifying and detailing his lifestyle change, after which the president himself met Hassaan and offered his unsolicited religious advice. Gayoom explained to him that another man named Hassaan (a companion of the prophet) had used his skills in poetry to prevent a war during the prophet Muhammad’s time.
Hassaan was not convinced that his songs could in any way be compared to this other Hassaan’s poetry. But he felt he had no choice but to return to music as requested by the president.
Hassaan performed at some major shows after the return, such as the O’Neil Deep Blue Open surf event in 2003, the One World Beat music festival to help children with HIV/AIDS in 2004, and the Dhidhooo Eid Festival in 2005.
After another break he returned to music once again in 2007, now describing himself as a moderate Muslim. During this period he released the ‘Oivaru’ album.
Hassaan subsequently disappeared once again from the music scene, returning around 2010. In 2011 he was seen with Maldivian Democratic Party – something he states was based on principles rather than on money – with his political performances being seen as recently as March’s parliamentary elections.
Hassaan, like thousands of others around the country, went through a great deal of suffering from heroin addiction for a large part of his life.
“It was around 1996 I think, back then people didn’t have a clue about what heroin really was. A friend would give you some and you would use it, a few days later you realise you absolutely have to use again and then there is no escape from it. At the time people used it to get the cannabis feel, which is not such a harmful drug compared to heroin. But we should not use it either. Human beings do not need any of these drugs. A pure and clean mind is what is best for us, now I am like that.”
Within a year of being released from prison by President Gayoom, Hassaan relapsed. He stayed in Holhudhoo to escape his addiction for a while, but eventually had to return to Malé for work.
“After feeling better I would take some money from my wife before returning to Malé, I would promise her never to use again. But by the time I reache Thulhaagiri I am already thinking about certain houses in Malé. I am thinking about it before I even reach Malé. This is the level of power heroin can have over a person. To come over this strong power, we need a stronger power. And for me that is God.”
For Hassaan, the biggest encouragement to stay away from drugs came when it cost him his marriage and his relationship with his children. Without a place to live, Hassaan realised he had to be clean for good.
Escaping heroin by turning to God is the main reason Hassaan wants to quit music, as he believes music to be drawing him closer to heroin while turning to God keeps him away from it.
“We have to question ourselves about our purpose in life, we have to be courageous and fight. God has given me courage, and I have fallen in love with God. I love God more than anything else. Merely believing in God is not enough or believing in Islam is not enough. Focusing on God is the only way.”
His turning toward religion came with certain elements of the literalist Salafi form of Islam. Hassaan no longer believes in celebrating birthdays and he no longer believes music is good for people.
“I won’t say it is forbidden in Islam. I can’t tell other people what to do, but I know it has a negative impact on my behavior. It is hard to sleep at night when I get into music, so it is best to stay away from it. As soon as I returned to music I went back to heroin. Why did he [Gayoom] have to bring me back to music?”
Hassaan doesn’t believe that using drugs makes musicians any better in performing or composing, but does feel that turning to God makes him lose interest in music.
However, his body and movements during performances suggests he still loves music. Even during practice sessions last week he still seemed intoxicated with the music, dancing as if in a trance.
Hassaan admits that he still enjoys himself and to this day feels ecstatic whenever he is performing, though he maintains that he does not want to do it anymore.
He is completely abandoning music and poetry, with the exception of patriotic and religious songs without music. When asked if there is any way that he could make music and God coexist in his life, he replied:
“Please let this performance at Raalhugandu be my last. I don’t think I have many days to live.”
Hassaan requests everyone who loves him and his music to join him tonight and stand against heroin.