I had high expectations when I boarded the bus from Santubong to Kuching town to attend the preview of the Rainforest World Music Festival 2015, which included a performance by Maldivian group Harubee. They did not disappoint me at all!
The 16 young members of Harubee exploded with energy when they arrived on stage dressed with sarongs and sporting beautiful drums. They played songs bodu beru, one of the oldest surviving aspects of Dhivehi culture, quite pertinent to the theme of a festival that presents the cultural activities of various countries. Their tempo started slow but built up into a crescendo that included the amazing improvisation and spontaneity of the team; splendid dances accompanied their performance, and the crowd at Kuching’s Merdeka Plaza shopping mall cheered and eventually danced with them. It gave me the motivation to make a research about them and to try have a chat with some of the members. What I found was a lot, and here it is:
The word Harubee is a traditional greeting of a Sultan: during muslim Eid celebrations, people march with drums and trumpets in a ceremony called Harubee Ah Vadaigathun.
Harubee has therefore become the symbol of a group of young men who share a love for the traditional Maldivian music bodu beru. They first came together as a small group of friends at the end of the 90’s when one of them would beat a dabiya – a tin pitcher – and the others would sing. They have not stopped since, evolving over the years to reach the pinnacle of the music scene in Maldives, where they are the premier bodu beru band. They have played everywhere, in festivals, cultural events, cafés and clubs, and even on the street!
Bodu beru literally means ‘big drum’ and it is one of the oldest surviving aspects and one of the most representative facets of Dhivehi (the language of the Maldives) culture. It is one of the most popular tourist attraction for those visiting the Maldives as it gets played in every hotel. It is performed by about 20 people including a lead singer and three drummers, which makes it quite a show.
Apparently bodu beru music was brought in the Maldives islands from sailors and slaves traveling from various parts of Africa and from the Arabian Peninsula in the period between the 11th and the 18th century; these magnificent drumming beats were passed down from generation to generation in order to stay close to their African ancestry until today, when they beat out the very pulse of the islands.
These songs base is a beat hammered out on a goatskin drum having a traditional design. This has always been accepted as the music of the common people, usually played and sung as a relief after a hard day’s work. There are various styles of bodu beru: baburu, nala, kaashimajaa, hedhi-beru, taki and zamaani; most of the songs circulating around the bodu beru scene are so old that their origins are lost entirely. Harubee bank in on the ‘old voices on young faces’ concept, revamping the style, revitalizing it so much that bodu beru, once considered something ‘old’, is becoming cool again.
THE SONGS AND THE MUSIC
I wrongly thought that the lyrics had deep meanings: in fact, original bodu beru most notable point is that it is mainly noise, with mostly meaningless lyrics sung, a mixture of local, neighbouring and some African words. Today, modern groups have created meaningful songs sung to the rhythm of bodu beru written in the local language Dhivehi. The songs are about heroism, romance or satire, mainly about every day life.
Bodu beru songs usually start with a slow beat emphasizing on drumming and dancing. The performers wear a sarong and a white short sleeved shirt. As the songs gain momentum and they reach a crescendo, growing faster and louder, one or two of the dancers detach from the group and make frantic movements that can even end in some cases in a trance.
The drumming is made with bare hands on a goatskin or stingray skin drums of traditional design, and it is accompanied by a small bell and by an onugandu – a small piece of bamboo with horizontal grooves from which raspy sounds are produced by scraping. Needless to say, the dancing of the band members is usually frenetic.
All Harubee members have full time jobs and juggle their concert engagements around this factor: their line up changes depending on who can get time off work. Bodu beru is their passion and as such it has to remain so. They all believe that when someone performs full time, the music itself will feel like a job and the passion will slowly disappear.
Harubee have appeared on National Geographic Channel and the BBC, and have performed at live events, tourism expos, major events at resorts and at international festivals and fairs, sometimes alongside major artists. They have toured extensively around the world: India, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China and Germany.
Harubee performance at the main Rainforest World Music Festival concert was massive and heart-stopping. They brought out all their unique energy and virtuosic show that resonated extremely well with the audience. Thumbs up for Harubee, and if you ever get the chance to see one of their concert, do not miss it!
Hear samples of Harubee music on https://soundcloud.com/harubee
Their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/HarubeeBoduberu/
Their website: http://www.harubee.com
Their Email: firstname.lastname@example.org