Music in the Maldives has an important place in local culture and adds colour to the diversity of the land.
Have you ever been to the Maldives on a holiday? You must have enjoyed Bodu Beru during your visit. It is played in the night in almost all tourist resorts along with a delicious local dinner. Bodu Beru music basically originated from East Africa and is a remembrance of the Maldives’s multi-ethnical influences from Africa. The exact time of its arrival in the Maldives is still known but it is believed that the tradition was introduced by the Africans in the eleventh or twelfth century. These Africans were brought to the Maldives as slaves by the royal family. Later they were freed and settled in the country where they left a powerful musical impact. The tradition has survived for centuries.
The literal meaning of Bodu Beru is “Big Drums” in Dhivehi (local language). Bodu means big and beru means drums. Instruments used in
Bodu Beru music consist of three or four drums and few other musical instruments. The drums are made from coconut wood or goat skin. The heads are tightened to generate good beat and to enhance the quality of the sound. Every local island has its own Bodu Beru band. They regularly contest with each other and perform at festivals, religious celebrations and special events.
Bodu Beru is actually is a dance song which starts at a slow tempo and leads to an exciting wild beat. It is performed in a large group of fifteen to twenty persons and includes a singer, at least 3 drummers and dancers. The singer chants the lyrics and a chorus follows as they clap to the sound of the drums. The drum master sits in the centre and holds a big drum. The drummer plays the music and directs the rest of the musicians.
Dancers move all around an improvised stage. At the same time they turn and twist their bodies. They further shift their arms up and enter some kind of a trance. Their steps come together in response to the banging of the drums. Along with the drums, dancers slowly start to sing a slow Dhivehi song in gentle vocals that progressively rise in pitch and the speeds increases. The lyrics are generally based on stories and tales of fishermen as well as love and life moments of the Maldivians.
During the festive nights, the music groups sometimes sing ancient and folk as well as contemporary songs. There is no specific age group for the participants. However, the songs are usually presented by men. Performers are dressed up in the national dress called sarong, a white turban covering their head, a white shirt and they are barefoot. With the increase in rhythm, a crowd surrounds the performers. They clap, shout and eventually join the band in a calm and liberating dance. The songs also reflect the emotions, desires and dreams of the present generation.
The impressive Big Drums are widely played everywhere on the islands and can often be heard from far away from island to island. In the Maldivian society, music has a significant role and is mainly inspired by Indian, East African and Arab civilization. The Maldivian music is also closely linked to the country’s beliefs, tales, history and ordinary life. Bodu Beru is probably the most popular form of music and it is enjoyed by everyone.
Meaning awesome in English, “Habeys” is a well-known band playing Bodu Beru music in the Maldives. It was formed in 2011 by a group of friends. Initially, the band had seven members but it now consists of twenty seven. It has become the most popular band in the Maldives and represented Maldivian music at the World Music Day Festival in 2012 and 2013. “Jinni” was the first Bodu Beru album to be released internationally.
Other traditional and popular forms of music in the Maldives include Tharra, Gaa Odi Lava, Dhandi Jehun, Bandiyaa Jehun and many others. Thaara is semi-religious music and is performed by 22 males. The music is also played in some of the Gulf countries. Gaa Odi Lava is a special type of music performed by labourers after they finish work. It was introduced during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Imadudeen I who reigned from 1620 to 1628.
Dhandi Jehun is a popular dance form. It consists of a group of thirty men and a lead singer. The singer usually presents Thaara songs while the others sing in chorus and also dance. In this folk dance show, each performer holds three sticks called dhandi.
Bandiyaa Jehun is done by women. The Maldivians feel some closeness with the Northern Indians through their language. Most of the people in the Maldives watch Hindi films and listen to Indian songs. Western pop and Indian music are also becoming increasingly popular among young Maldivians.
Across the Maldives, whenever there is a special event, a wedding, a successful fishing expedition or Eid celebrations – Bodu Beru can be heard from a long distance. The music is enjoyed by every tourist who visits the Maldives.
The writer is a free-lance journalist.