Saturday, November 15, 2008

Drowning "Dhivehi Originality" In Our Music

Music. A universal language that allows people to integrate and communicate regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. But each country has their own culture, that eventually influences their music. For instance when you hear Bagpipes you know the music has roots influenced from Scotland; When you hear Tabla drums you know its got Indian influences and when you hear Bodu Beru drums you know its got influences from Maldives. Of course the composers and the musicians are the source of these influences, their background, history and culture determines the 'feel' of music they play.

Everyone says its a world without borders. This has been true in the case of music as well. Different cultures use different instruments, different instruments made from various things. This variation in textures that are used to create instruments determines the tone of the instrument, which ultimately creates their distinguished 'feel' and determines how it is played. But since it's a world without borders, it allowed the different cultures and their music to migrate along with the people. Therefore different people interacting with each other created the chance for new music to be born, new genres to be morphed and thus the evolving of the Pop Culture in music began. On this post I will try not to focus on the history of music and elaborate on the 'Survey of Pop Music'. It is a vast subject that would have a chapter of its own.

I will make it short and try to paint the picture. There are 3 main types that all musical instruments of the world can be categorized into:

1. All forms of drums. The sound is produced on such instruments by hitting or banging with a stick or hand. The principle of resonance is used to create the sound. (And again I won't go into the technical part, which I'm easy led to). Examples: Modern Drum kits, Tablas, Bodu Beru etc.

2. Wind Instruments. These include Brass instruments like Saxophones, Trumpets etc. And also Flutes and Pipes, even our own "Sangu".

3. String Instruments. The most common string instruments include the Piano, Guitars and classical instruments such as Violins, Cellos, etc etc.

And of course in this digital era we have many instruments that use MIDI and sound samples to produce sound, such as Keyboards or Drum Pads. We even have new instruments emerging in the last 10 years like the Turn Table. All these instruments evolved with time to become what it is today. The oldest form of instrument has always been the drums. They were initially used by African Tribes in their social and cultural gatherings. And if you analyze deeply, you will find the roots of those times still engraved in the modern music of today. The structure of musical compositions are still the same. I will take one simple example; those days a tribal song or a social gathering where a drum is banged and people chant, they have a 'lead' singer and group of singers who follow the lead singer. (As in the case of Boduberu, you would refer to it as 'Nagaa Kiyun'). Then one of the important elements is that they use repetition in their music, to drive the message to the listeners. The lead singer will chant something, then the rest will repeat the chant. And they would bring this element repeatedly during the song, today you would call this the "chorus" of a song. All the songs of today you would find a 'chorus', which is most of the times a catchy part of the song that repeats, eventually driving the song inside the listeners head. Thus you can see how musical roots have evolved from the beginning up to today.

Then lets look at different genres of modern music. Genre's in music is more often used by the Music Labels to categorize their artists for promotional and sales purposes. Some of the main stream genres include Pop, Hip Hop, Rock, Country, the list is endless. I was really surprised during my studies to find that there are actually countless sub-genres that are related and are unheard of. I bet some of the music lovers who listen to it would not even know the proper genre of that music. For instance many people do not know there is a difference between Rap and Hip Hop, or between Trip Hop and Quiet Storm. In case of the Rock genres, there are so many sub genres like Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Grunge, New Age Rock, its enough to give you a headache. If you would like to know more about these genres you better check it yourself on the Web. You might be surprised to find one of your favorite artists is a complete different genre than you had thought. If I was to mention examples of the artists when I state these sub genres, it could make more sense. But yet again, I will not go into that.

I would like to to just say that in a nutshell, all forms of music are related. One genre gave birth to another, or morphed into a different genre completely. A good example could be 'Rap Metal', which is an integration of Metal and Rap music heard from bands like Rage Against The Machine. When you look at Jazz, Jazz was born when the Africans brought to the United Stated learnt classical music scales and using them with their grooves that came from their roots. Blues was sang by African slaves in the Cotton fields. And became such an important form of music that actually help create Jazz as well, Blues musical roots are every where today. Blues and Jazz created the Big Band era, that led to the Golden Musical Age of the 1950's, where great composers and singers like George Gershwin and Ella Fitzgerald were heard. Then in the sixties we saw it evolve into Rock and Roll, then we saw music being taken to different levels from people like Jimi Hendrix. And ultimately now we have the Pop music of today. Pop music means 'Popular Music' of that time. It is often referred to as a genre of its own, but it actually means the most popular music of that time. So the pop music of the eighties is different from the pop music of sixties and so on. So the Pop music of that time is always considered the foundation of mainstream music of that era.

But hey! Music is fun. There's no point going into analyzing different genres, or how the roots of that particular music came from. If you like the groove or the feel of the music, you'll just want to listen and enjoy it. And you've got that right. Unless 'unfortunately' you are also an audio engineer like me, we have to understand all this technical babble of genres, textures & tone of the music, the structure of the composition and how it relates to the genre of the music being played etc etc. Not to mention the producer's goal in the whole production of that particular song, which at times you would be grateful for, other times it could be the most annoying and frustrating thing. But forget all this. Lets get to the point I have been trying to drive at all this time.

What about our Maldivian music? Where did it come from and where is it going?

We know where it came from, it came from tribal roots of Africa that traveled all over the world and reached here as well. You can see this in Bodu Beru. I do not want to make assumptions on the origins of other Maldivian cultural music like Bandiyaa Jehun or Thaara, because I have not really studied it that much yet. But I will safely say that if it weren't for the slaves of Africa, we would not have had the music we hear today. In my opinion they are the people who influenced and created the vast majority of musical genres we have today int he world. We have to thank them for giving us the "grooves' of our modern music, in all genres. Why they were such a musical race since the beginning can be deliberated upon, but I often hear a quote: "Pain Stimulates Creativity", maybe that is one of the answers to that question.

Okay. But where is our Maldivian music going? The direction it has taken with the introduction of the Indian Bollywood films in to Maldives, is very very sad and alarming indeed. Well at least to some people like me. The reason for Maldivian creativity being drowned, their originality slowly being murdered, and our musical identity being raped by Indian music are many. They lie buried within the last 30 to 35 years, where the incompetency and the repercussions of the Golhabo System brain washed even the spread of Maldivian music in our society.

Like I said before, a world without borders allowed music to also migrate from one land to another. Allowing different culture to collaborate to create different music. This sounds all good and inspiring if you take it objectively. We automatically assume that the outcome would be beneficial musically to all the cultures, but unfortunately this has not been the case in Maldives. The Hindi Bollywood music has been allowed to kill and murder the 'Dhivehi' originality in our music. I have nothing against Hindi Music, actually to the contrary I think it's a very diverse form of music with really beautiful and exotic music scales. Let it be heard! But don't let it kill us!!

Majority of 'dhivehi' songs we have heard in the last few decades are a karaoke of bullshit. They just take a Hindhi song, the whole music completely ripped off, then some "poet" will write some words in Dhivehi to fit into that song and call it a "Dhivehi" song. Well, I will not call it that!, maybe some people might. It has now gone to the extent where the substituting dhivehi words with Hindhi words, that have no relation to our Sanskrit roots. So in a song where in Hindhi it says "Ma Dar Gaya", the Maldivian "poet" writes it as "Ma Biru Gaya". Oh Common people, have we fallen so deep into Hindhi music we don't even have our own words to fill the music with??? And you cannot imagine what until very recently, any person who actually writes an original Maldivian song, has to go through so many rejections and obstacles to register their own song. The MAPA censorship have really weird ways of "passing" a song to register it. All I can say is that it has been complete bullshit, and it has only killed the possibilities of actual original poets appearing in Maldives. Well now you don't have to register your songs or poems anyway, unless you are concerned with copy rights. Which is another topic on itself in Maldives. I think a even a made-up word is better than using Hindhi words in a song and calling it a "Dhivehi" song. The Golhabo system has been telling poets what they can write and what they cannot, all in the name of promoting and the quality control of Dhivehi language. It's like telling an artist who paints what colors he can use, and what colors he cannot. Or otherwise it will not be a painting! Even when it came to the growth of music in our society, Maumoon was too paranoid to give it any freedom.

But I have hope. With the dawning of private Radio & TV stations, it gives a little light at the end of the dark tunnel. Maybe they would be a platform for original Maldivian artists to expose themselves. I have hope because many young people have started to respect and appreciate original music. People have started to become aware of supporting local artists, they know they are helping to build and let our cultural heritage thrive and survive in this orgy of musical influences. I have hope because they have started to value originality over copy music.

The only doubts that linger in my mind are the outlook taken by the "experienced" musicians in Maldives. It's sad they carry the "Hitler View" on new artists, and rather than take them into their wings and encouraging them, they are disrespected and put down. Its still the "crabs in the bucket" drama. And this is something I will write about soon.

But I have hope now. Please support your local music acts. Its your music as well.

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