Harubee – Young Faces, Old Voices

Mohamed Shafraz Hafiz for Maldives Promotion House – A group of young men flood the stage and take their positions. There are around twenty of them. A majority of them carry with them traditional Dhivehi goatskin drums. A flourish, a sharp tap, and a song is breathed into life. It’s sleepy at first but gains momentum like a rolling boulder. The song grows louder, faster, and the crowd sways because they can’t help it.

The beat works itself into their blood. Old voices on young faces sing the bodu beru songs and by the time the crescendo arrives, frenzy inducing, the crowd is ensnared completely. A few of them leap into the space in front of the stage to express their exultation through dance. By the time their hearts slow down it’s time for the next song. This is a typical night for Harubee, Maldives’s premier bodu beru band.

Bodu beru, literally meaning “big drum”, is one of the oldest surviving aspects of Dhivehi culture. It is a form of song based on a beat hammered out on a goatskin drum of traditional design. The tempo almost invariably starts slow and builds up into a crescendo, which is sustained for a while before reaching an abrupt end.

Though they’ve earned the right to it, Harubee shuns their status as a super-band, instead choosing to celebrate their roots and the fans that make them who they are. This warmth translates into the performance as well as the energy that comes from their passion.

Not a single member of Harubee performs full-time. They all work full-time elsewhere and come together as a band only for the passion of bodu beru. Harubee’s philosophy is that performing full-time will make the music feel like a job.

Shihan (Puchu), one of the four main members of Harubee alongside Mamdhooh (Manday), Naushad (Naube), and Shamhan (Joray), explains that the four of them first came together as a band at the end of the 90’s quite circumstantially, when one of them beat a dabiya (a tin pitcher), and the others joined in with song. They soon found themselves performing free at parties purely for the love of bodu beru.

The group officially came to be known as Harubee for their performance at the 2006 Dubai Shopping Festival. Since then, Harubee has gone onto perform at tourism expos, various major events at resorts, and have appeared on National Geographic Channel and the BBC in addition to performing alongside major local artists at live events. Harubee’s first mainstream success came when they won the MNBC Bodu Beru Challenge 2010. Since then Harubee has been performing without respite. This is no small accomplishment, considering that all members work full time, and the line up always depends on who can get time off work for a performance.

Harubee cannot be talked about without mentioning the cultural relevance of the group. The art of bodu beru is one of the most representative facets of Dhivehi culture. Many of the songs circulating around the bodu beru scene are so old that their origins are lost entirely. Harubee represents a revitalising, and more importantly, a rebranding of everything bodu beru stands for. As a bodu beru group of young people who charge their performances with a new energy that somehow falls runs parallel to the timelessness of the tradition, Harubee brings a progressiveness to the art that has not only been absent but hadn’t even been conceived of before. Bodu beru is cool again precisely because it’s not the way you remember it.

The band chooses to emphasise the continuity in this progression from tradition. Harubee humbly names Hamdun Hameed as the group’s major influence. As the founding members’ school principal and prolific torchbearer of bodu beru, Hamdun heavily involved the group in Ameer Ahmed School’s bodu beru activities, coming to teach the boys who would become Harubee most of what they know.

Modernised or traditional, bodu beru is a live art, and Harubee is a live act. The group is currently recording an album, pushing the progression further with their new songs. A major challenge will be to translate their unique personality into recorded form. Unused to the restraint and the set structure of the studio environment, Harubee has to overcome these constraints and find the best way to pack their brand of improvisation and spontaneity into an aural experience.

First an explosion onto the scene, then establishing their place, now recording an album. What could possibly be next for this group of young men, who don’t practise, who don’t plan their show, yet still project an electrifying presence? “To never stop,” says Shihan. Harubee intends to overcome the fickle nature of seasonal trends. They intend to make bodu beru bigger than it already is, and to push it further than it has ever gone.

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