Ahmed Faseeh is the Maldivian guitarist better known as ‘Fasy’. He kicked off his musical career in Malaysia while studying for an IT degree, a week after his arrival in Kuala Lumpur. He was soon performing with many famous Malaysian musicians, including Paul Ponnudorai, Amir Yussof, Rafique Rashid, and Purple Haze, and has since returned to help build the budding Maldivian music scene.
Minivan News: What were the earliest musical experiences that influenced you?
Fasy: I was four or five years old when I was introduced to music. As a young teenager, things like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and other video tapes that people brought into the country had a big effect on me. They were just amazing. But before that I was already into music because Dad used to perform. He was in a band.They were originally known as Shooting Stars and then a few members changed and it became TT Bum Blues.
That band started in the late 60s and I was born in 1973. By 1978 the band was no longer playing. Dad used to play a lot of vinyl recordings at home, like Grease.
We started a band at school when I was in Grade 6, but before that I was in the school choir. My first instrument was the tambourine, but I got the chance to be in the band because I danced like Michael Jackson. My first performance was at a youth concert held at Olympus which went on for about seven nights. One night, our band was performing and I did breakdancing. It wasn’t a Michael Jackson act then, just a breakdancing routine.
As school went on, I stayed with the same band, and when the rhythm guitar player left I got to play the guitar. I was about thirteen. Dad had given me an acoustic guitar which I used to practise at home. After I starting with the band I just kept on playing.
Minivan News: What were major musical influences then?
Fasy: It started with the Beatles, but when I began playing with the band it was the time of the Scorpions and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, those sort of people. They were the main influences.
Minivan News: You went off to Malaysia in 1996 to do an Information Technology course in Kuala Lumpur, and soon after you arrived you met musicians there like Viji, Tony Warren, Bala, Paul Ponnudorai, Amir Yusuf, Rafique Rashid, and the band Purple Haze.
Fasy: Yes, they were all well-known artists in Malaysia, working in bands. I was regularly performing with Viji. A week after I arrived in KL, I went to the pub and there was Viji playing with a drum machine and another guitar player and I went up to him during a break and said I played guitar and he invited me to come back for a jam session on Sunday when the pub was closed. And from that time on, we played together regularly until the end of 2006.
Minivan News: You completed your course in 2000 and then set up a production studio called DigitalTones with Rekha Raveenderan and your production debut album Sangkeertanam sold 50,000 copies. What happened then?
Fasy: The company produced another album in 2001, the first Tamil Hip-Hop album, Nil Gavvanee by Boomerangx. That was another hit and it followed through to India as well and created a revolution in Indian music. Which was amazing to see.
Minivan News: Why do you think Malaysia was the place where that sort of thing happened. What is it about Malaysia?
Fasy: I think it’s the mix of cultures – Chinese, Indian and Malay. And the openness they have there between the cultures. I mean we worked together with everyone, and when all cultures get together its exciting. Malaysia is a unique place.
Minivan News: You have a mixture of computer skills, production and performance abilities. How has that shaped your artistic career?
Fasy: It’s true, they’ve all had a part to play in my music, but the biggest influence has been Viji. He knows the best songs of the 60s. The music then was so alive, so real and so true. I learnt most through Viji. A couple of blues tracks that we did were just incredible… a guitar player should have to learn these things, because there is so much technique, feeling and meaning in those things.
With the digital stuff… to be honest the computer degree didn’t help that much with my music, but I can use a computer for music production. The skills came in handy when I needed to network studios and computer systems, installing different drivers and programs and hardware.
My first recording was actually done in Maldives on a spool deck, so I knew the analogue recording process before I started using digital. This gave me an understanding of the sort of sound I should get when I used digital. The analogue wave is a bit smaller, which is what we want for a recording. Digital is very wide, and to get the waved narrowed down to a nice audio level, the analogue knowledge was useful.
I did a lot of live concert sound work in Maldives as well. That helped a lot.
Minivan News: On your first album, Starrs, you do everything on it, and the same with the second solo album, Cruising.
Fasy: Yes, I programmed the drums and keyboard.
Minivan News: And then with the A Compilation album, other musicians appeared on some tracks.
Fasy: I took a couple of tracks from a live session in Maldives and another one we recorded in a studio in Malaysia with other musicians. It got to a point where I was finding that programming took me away from the feel of the music and it was turning me off. I would get an inspiration and sitting down to do the programming became so technical and tedious.. so I said to myself “I need to get a band”.
I formed a band in 2004 in Malaysia with a Maldivian bass player and an Indonesian drummer. The drummer had to go because his visa ran out and he was replaced by a Maldivian. There was more changing of bass players and drummers, and finally Ibbe became the drummer and he’s still with me now. Last year we got a UK bassist, Graham Simmonds.
Minivan News: 2006 was the year of FasyLive in Male, out of that you also made a DVD.
Fasy: Initially we weren’t thinking of a DVD. We rehearsed for that concert for a long time in Maldives after returning from Malaysia. There was a lot of anticipation around that concert. It was videoed and when we saw it, we realised it was something we should share with people so we decided to do a DVD. We were heavily involved in the editing. Then we had another concert to release the DVD… any excuse to play. That live broadcast concert was in the big studio at TV Maldives, and a ticket was the DVD. We sold about 400.
Minivan News: Do you find coming back to Maldives artistically inspirational?
Fasy: I love Maldives, I don’t see myself leaving Maldives and going away and forgetting about it. I might go and live in Malaysia for a while but Maldives will always be home for me, and coming back and doing something at home is something I treasure.
Minivan News: Are your songs inspired by what happens here?
Fasy: Lot of my songs are inspired by Maldivian experiences and what we have been going through, especially the 2007 Vengeance album.
Minivan News: In 2008 you did your first Dhivehi album, Silver, which was originally a live concert, and the first time you fused Bodu Beru drums with contemporary rock.
Fasy: Yes, the recording was mixed and mastered in Malaysia by Mohamed Faizal Ghazali at ProDG projects which I’m part of.
Minivan News: What have you been doing in Maldives lately?
Fasy: Organising a concert I’ll be engineering on 16 July – a concert sponsored by ‘Burn’, the drink made by Coca Cola.
Thermal and a Quarter from India will be playing, and Metalasia from Malaysia. From Maldives there’ll be Traphic Jam, a very revolutionary band who started to talk openly about the issues of the last regime and were banned from a lot of venues. They won the BreakOut festival competition last year and their bringing out a new album this month which has got some stuff about the current situation.
They are sort of “the voice of youth”. Also appearing on 16 July are TormentA, who had a recent album, and Sacred Legacy, who have three albums out already.
The second concert will be on 10 December, and I’ll be performing with another band from UK called Steranko.
FasyLive is keeping quiet for a while because we are too busy with BreakOut. FasyLive is still performing, we are due to play at a festival in the UK on 7 August at the Music for Life organised by Jar Music in collaboration with Sudbury council in Suffolk.
Ibbe and I are heavily involved in development of the music industry here in Maldives. There’s never been a proper music industry here, bands just play because they love it. There hasn’t been platforms to take bands through levels of development. Any new band here can find themselves playing at massive festivals, which destroys their discipline and mentality, and makes them hard to manage.
That’s why BreakOut has been set up. It provides stages of development with judges and fans deciding how they proceed. That’s what creates a band. If they are good enough, after a year they can get out of the country to perform, which is essential experience for a good band.
This year we decided to focus on BreakOut and get it running properly. Every year there’s so many people coming in, musicians and industry people. It’s been going now for three years. The first year wasn’t too bad. We paid for all bands going to and fro from UK and elswhere. We went into debt and that continued through 2009. But now we have help and good backing from Wataniya, ‘Rock’ energy drink made by an Australian company, and Coca Cola.
Venues are the main problem. We depend on the Carnival venue. Last year the toilets didn’t have a water pump, so we had to pay for that and fix it. No bulbs, power switches gone. And this year the place is even a bigger mess due to vandalism.
We had a BreakOut competition in Addu in April. The music scene changed there over just three days. At the start, most of the musicians were frightened that their parents would find out what they were doing. But when the parents saw them on TV, it was all OK. The parents were really happy. People started seeing music in a different way. When parents see their kids live on TV it changes their perspective entirely. It all becomes acceptable.
With BreakOut, we provide TV Maldives with original music and they give us TV slots. Our idea is to create enough interest in this festival that people are willing to fly in. We have trouble handling big acts at the moment. Hay Festival is coming over to this year in October – an arts literature and music festival. It attracts a lot of international interest, and important people attend these festivals.