Ahmed Nasheed: Voice from the Maldives

Dhaalu Raa
Assai Records 001
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No Wikipedia peeking­Where are the Maldives and what do you know about them? You’ll find them in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka, about halfway between the Horn of Africa and Sumatra—a string of 28 small islands upon which fewer than 400,000 people live. It’s also a nation under Shar’ia law with a horrifying human rights record. In all, an unlikely place to find a musician who counts among his heroes The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and tackles women’s rights, environmental stewardship, and government corruption. Ahmed Nasheed is so out of sync with the powers that be that he gets no national airplay and has to peddle his music in tourist shops and abroad.

Ahmed’s music is a pastiche of Western rock, North African guitar, and variants of a regional style known as rairvaru, a hypnotic folk style found in the Indian subcontinent. Two of the more interesting elements are the use of female backup singers whose harmonies evoke Township music and of the log drums, the latter of which are heartbeat-like in acoustic songs, but are pounded with the fury of a Western drum kit when Ahmed plugs in for crunchy power chords. The log drums reflect the album’s dual nature: quieter songs rooted in the East and Western-influenced electric sets. Close listeners will detect musical homage and lifted phrases. “Rasge,” an anti-corruption song, leaps to reworked “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” riffs and “Sihuru” has passages similar to “You Keep Me Hanging On.” If “Fihivalhu” and a few other tunes sound like they could have come from The Beatles’ White album, it’s because Ahmed openly admires (the late) George Harrison.

The rock songs sound the most familiar to Western ears, but are perhaps too familiar. I much preferred Ahmed’s tradition-based quieter material. “Dhiyssnsge Huvafen,” for instance, is a tribute to Princess Diana, but sung in a slow chant-like fashion in which Ahmed’s expressive elides structure mood shifts. “Sheyvaa” is not a raga, but it’s evocative of music one might hear in the south of India. Ahmed is a soulful singer and a skilled guitarist who tries to merge East and West. He faces an enormous challenge­—getting Western audiences to tune into Muslim folk-rock, and getting Muslim Maldivians to open their minds to ecumenical Western culture. –Rob Weir      

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