Music in the Maldives


Harubee / Bodu Beru

Debate by day, dancing by night is the flavour of the festival.

Silhouettes of dancing bodies fall upon the sand.
The palm trees are vivid green against the inky black sky, illuminated by the stage lighting.
Some dance before the stage, others sit on the patterned mats and enjoy watching the spectacle.

HARUBEE / Bodu Beru’s expressive dancing and drum beats won the MNBC One Bodu Beru Challenge 2010. Tonight, the hypnotic beat of their drums energizes the crowd who dance for hours, in impressive twists and turns.

Such is the exuberance of entertainment that it spills out to the very end of the evening.
I catch the last ferry back to Male (the others head back to their resort islands), and the drumming, the singing, the dancing continue, all the way until the speedboat reaches land.

All in all, a most atmospheric evening.

SHOBHAA DÉ in conversation


Starry, starry night

The hugely popular Shobhaa De turned sixty around the same time that India celebrated 60 years of Independence from British rule. This intertwining of her own life and her nation’s history is a theme throughout her work, which explores multifaceted urban India, from the struggles of the young attempting to break into Bollywood, to the institution of marriage as it has evolved over generations. The versatile writer explores storytelling in many genres, from the newspaper column to the novel to memoir. She is not afraid of controversy and speaking her mind, indeed believes it is the writer’s duty to do so, and among topics she has spoken out for include taking on Shah Rukh Khan for his views on the Mumbai terror attacks.

In her latest book, “Shobhaa at Sixty”, she urges women to embrace the ageing process and shake off the shackles of neurosis and low self-esteem.

The power of the Internet is a theme throughout the Festival, since the events will be streamed as online Videos, allowing many more people access then are currently here on this island. This indeed is something Shobhaa is passionate about. “If you don’t have a presence online these days, you don’t exist”, she commented. She has embraced the blogging and Twitter revolutions, and spoke about how, through the net, she has gained an intimate connection with her readers; never censors her negative comments; and love’s blogging ability to capture the concrete details of life.

You should check out her Twitter picture – which features her with a real lion. Indeed, this image defines her character as a risk-taker and always one to approach what others would fear: she discussed the various risks she has taken over her career; and how being a women is itself a risky business.

Her books (including the bestseller “Superstar India”) tackle the theme of stardom, asking – what is it really that makes a true star?

As we walked to the event, we stopped to admire the sun setting deep red over the Indian Ocean. By the end of the conversation, the stars were gleaming amongst the palm trees, and the moon hanging bright over the Maldives.

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just the ticket


Hay Festival Maldives tickets selling out...

The impressive sight of Hay Festival Maldives banners draped on the oldest theatre in Male caught my eye as I walked along the main shopping street, Majeedee Magu, today. An arrow pointed in the direction of “Hay Festival Maldives tickets” and there the friendly group of volunteers were pleased to reveal that all tickets that they have are now sold out. At the back of the theatre, I discovered some familiar faces – the Hay Festival team from the UK busy beavering away – though in this 30 degree heat, not decked out in wellies and woolies, as is customary in rainy Hay-on-Wye.

After some staple snacks (fish, understandably popular here), I got my first taste of Male, as Razzan, who works for the Festival from out here, kindly gave me a mini-tour around Male on his motorbike. As the afternoon sun blazed down, we passed everything from government buildings to the National Museum to the popular music shop Island Records, grand mosques, cemeteries, the MNBC offices, and the country’s green and red flag fluttering in a sudden breeze. We also passed a monument to victims of the tsunami and Razzan explained how he himself was playing cricket at the time, when a huge wave swamped the area and he had to dash to a top floor to escape – the vulnerability of the islands shall be one of the topics of discussion during the Festival this weekend.

Razzan then showed me one of his favourite places in town – the chocolate shop. The site of tonight’s first festival event soon came into view – a stage is set and gleaming white against the backdrop of blue sea and palm trees – certainly a sight to whet the appetite. The Festival kicks off tonight with the Celebration Launch at the ‘Artificial Beach’ on Male:


Event 1 • Thursday 14 October 2010, 8pm • Venue: Artificial Beach, Male
Savour the melodic tones of singer songwriter Appi in an intimate acoustic set with Fa’thu. The Dinba Family, a fresh collective of talent, showcase their reggae rhythms bristling with energy. FASYLIVE goes back to his roots with his unique blend of contemporary rock and traditional ‘Bodu Beru’ drumming from the acclaimed album FASYLIVE Silver. Finish the night with a sparkling retrospective from The Olympians, bringing us the best of their acclaimed hindi-inspired pop career spanning three decades, to include the classic hits ‘Dhauruvaa Mihandhaanthah’ and ‘Reyrey Mihen Khiaalu Kollan Aadhevey’.
Free entry (donations to charity)

* * *

‘Only Connect’


A dispatch from Doha airport: What better place than an airport to reflect on the sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous connections that bind us.

Airports – those liminal places between here and there, where (if you are lucky enough to have a waiting lounge comfortable enough to allow space for thought), we pause for breath to reflect on where we have just come from and where we are going. I have a few precious moments to update this blog, before catching the final connecting flight to Male. The plane from Nairobi to Male was full of passengers of many colours and creeds heading to connecting flights, as is this waiting lounge here, too.

It is interesting that although Mombasa is geographically closer to the Maldives, separated by the Indian Ocean, there is no connecting flight (but instead I headed back to Nairobi and then via Doha). Some places in the world are indeed more cut off than others (from transport links, for example).

However, one thing that can connect, irrespective of place, is the Internet. (Ironically, this airport has one of the highest speed Internet connections I have ever used!).

This indeed shall be a strong theme throughout the Festival, for events will be collected into a huge “online festival” and online library archive. Youngsters will also learn how to connect with their own histories by interviewing their parents and grandparents – the stories will form an important archive of Maldivian life and thought throughout the years. This theme was also prevalent at the Storymoja Hay Festival in Kenya, where we discussed the impact an oral storytelling tradition has to one’s understanding of personal and cultural history.

I shall also be focusing on the theme of connection in the Workshops I will be giving to students, exploring new media journalism, writing, broadcasting, the power of the Twitter-sphere, and blogging. I hope that some of the students will be able to contribute their thoughts to this blog itself, so creating a giant web of connection.

Reflections on the Indian Ocean


I’m very excited to be heading to the Maldives today (I’m almost there, just a few hours away!), where the inaugural Hay Festival Maldives kicks off with a host of enticing events, “celebrating one of the world’s most hopeful new democracies and oldest island cultures”.

I’ve been preparing a Workshop (first photograph) to give to students (see next post for more details), and am also very much looking forward to chairing sessions with two brilliant writers: the bestselling author and social commentator Shobhaa De, and the foreign correspondent and author, Peter Godwin.

In the week of Booker Prize mania back in England, in which the grandees of literary London waft through the Guildhall and Groucho, I’m also greatly looking forward to being immersed in local literature of the Maldivian islands – just as worthy of the highest prizes but which rarely makes the radar as do Booker Prize winners.

I am en route to the Maldives from Kenya where I attended the excellent Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi. I then continued on to Mombasa. There by the sea which stretches all the way from Mombasa to the Maldives, I reflected on the fascinating life of the Indian Ocean (second photograph), its deep pleasures and its perils.

Hay Festival Maldives will be an opportunity to focus attention on the opportunities and challenges facing the Maldivian Archipelago through climate change, as well as celebrating 2000 years of the island’s history.

The Maldives is threatened by rising sea levels, which would turn the island inhabitants into environmental refugees. The President of the Maldives spoke fascinatingly on this issue at the Hay Festival earlier this year.

What can be done? What part can writers and artists – and indeed each and every one of us – play in combatting climate change? I shall chronicle the various ideas here as they arise.

Hope to see some of you there – or if you can’t make it to the Maldives, your company would be most welcome here in cyberspace.