No Wikipedia peeking—where are the Maldives? They’re in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka, and they’re a string of 28 small islands upon which fewer than 400,000 people live. It’s also an archipelago under Sharia law with a horrifying human rights record—an unlikely place to find a musician who loves The Beatles and Pink Floyd and tackles women’s rights, environmental stewardship and government corruption. Ahmed Nasheed is so out of sync with official power that he gets no national airplay and must peddle his music in tourist shops and abroad.
Ahmed’s sound is a pastiche of Western and African rock plus a regional hypnotic folk style known as rairvaru. Two of the more interesting elements are his use of female backup singers whose harmonies evoke Township music, and of log drum percussion. The latter embodies the album’s dual nature: heartbeat pulses for quiet songs rooted in the East, but pounded with the fury of a Western drum kit to back Ahmed’s plugged-in power chords. Close listeners will detect musical homage. “Rasge,” an anti-corruption song, leaps to reworked “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” riffs, and “Sihuru” has passages similar to “You Keep Me Hanging On.” If others sound like something from The Beatles’ White Album, it’s because Ahmed adores George Harrison.
The rock songs will sound the most familiar to Western ears, but Ahmed’s acoustic material is less derivative. “Dhiyssnsge Huvafen,” for instance, pays tribute to Princess Diana in a slow, chant-like fashion in which Ahmed’s expressive elisions structure mood shifts. “Sheyvaa” has raga-like qualities evocative of sounds from southern India.
Ahmed is a soulful singer and a skilled guitarist seeking to merge East and West. His challenge? Convert Western audiences to Muslim folk-rock and Muslim Maldivians to ecumenical Western culture.