The music is fading

With next to no resources spent on bolstering the nation's mediums of artistic expression, music is one of the arts that may be fading.

Facebook - Maeesha

Facebook - Maeesha

The Maldives has, for the most part and over thousands of years, had several mediums of unique artistic expression from etchings and boat building to carving and weaving — even music. For the most part, these have been largely absent from the global consciousness due to the location, and the small population, of the nation. Just as she gains more global exposure through increased connectivity however, the sun maybe setting on the Maldives’ more unique forms of artistic expression.

One cannot deny that music and the arts play a central role in daily experiences. Advertisements are created using the talents of musicians, animators and actors. Books are crafted by wordsmiths and poets, and films & videos are scored by musicians, performed by actors and worked on in a multitude of aspects, by talented artists and craftspeople.

Yet, ask any middle-aged parent regarding potential careers for their children, and the arts would rank so low it wouldn’t even be considered an option. These are the same people who would fondly profess affinity to musical greats, the likes of Jeymu Dhonkamana, Dhohokkobe, The Olympians, Zero Degree Atoll, and many more — even Amazon Jade, Quicksand, No Limit, etc.

Undoubtedly every field is different and has its own unique voice and contribution to make — which is neither higher nor lesser than any other medium. Examining the commercial, and even critical, influence of artistic expression through the lens of music, while seemingly simplistic, might offer a window into why the arts are struggling, perhaps more so in the Maldives, than in other parts of the globe.

Up until 2012, music as a part of schooling was given quite the importance. Marching bands were all the rage, especially since a revival in 2006 and 2007, with the Band Festival by the National Centre for the Arts. Children aged 10 to 16, through primary and middle-school, were given the opportunity to hone their skills under as proper a tutelage as was available, and to express their passion for music to the cheers and adoration of thousands of people.

The beginning of the yearly national holidays were considered a day of musical exhibition, where new scores were performed, choreographies displayed, and bragging rights attained for these youngsters for the efforts they were making. However, whether through causation or correlation, with politics taking centre stage, the vitality of music in its most performative glory started to wane.

Inter-school singing competitions gave children the chance to explore their untapped potential. Afterwards, the Maldivian Idol reality show shifted the focus from school children to the general public. This also meant that the attention given during schooling years to music started to dwindle, as now the school managements did not have the incentive to give more than the cursory, syllabus driven attention to musical education. The children who had had dreams of exploring their musical potential could no longer count on their schools to push them further, so private parties taped into this niche.

Over two decades ago, young, promising composers and performers were given verbal assurances and promises that they would be continuously supported. Yet those who depended solely on these promises saw falling support through 2012 onwards. While some took their own steps to establish themselves, for others it proved not as easy as music is not a zero capital venture. 

Equipment alone costs thousands of dollars. Time was a huge investment as well, as music required practice, tweaking and constant growth to achieve perfection — not un-similar to other forms of artistic expression. Those who were determined to not let it die, decided to spend their efforts in teaching.

It is nigh impossible to secure any government funds to support the building of music schools, and this meant classes were also forcibly expensive for the students who wished to follow their artistic dreams. While music schools are registered amongst Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), they failed to secure the loans and financing they deserved, from experience, rather than legislative discrimination. Each subsequent government simply brushed these concerns away.

When it comes to practice spaces, any currently performing musician would be able to count off the few the studios able to cater to their needs, and even then, due to a severe lack of subsidies and the high costs of maintenance, only a fraction of these studios would be affordable for aspiring amateurs. Over a decade ago, the government had provided much support to the youth with monitored, free studios at Alimas Carnival and Olympus, yet with the changes in priorities, all of these places have been shut down and forgotten, forcing everyone to opt for privately run studios.

There is a great advantage in opting for private studios; higher quality of equipment and technical support, and the circular flow of income as well, yet the lack of such studios meant a jostling for time and rising prices as well. Those who were running the studios constantly risked running at a loss as there was no way to secure either government or private funding, simply due to the fact that music was no longer given its previous respect nor attention.

As for opportunities to perform and earn from music, the situation could not be more unique — in the worst of ways. In other countries, musicians are given many opportunities in the local scene, at cafés and public spaces, to perform and garner attention, but in the Maldives, only the resorts provide the chance for any sort of income.

The congested living spaces meant that there was always someone to complain due to loud music, and the lack of government support now meant there were fewer and fewer events in the calendar year for performances. The resort music scene had been thriving prior to COVID-19, yet when music is not considered a profession, an individual cannot qualify for loans that other blue and white collar employees could apply for — which is the current reality.

Interestingly, post 2012, neither state owned broadcasting stations, nor the private broadcasters, stopped using music as a source of entertainment. They still used and reused old recordings, made new ones with select artists, and kept up the facade of supporting the arts. New, upcoming artists were not given either the attention or the financial benefit of contributing to these stations, and older, established artists were given a nominal revival, appealing mainly to the nostalgia factor of their audiences. This was a toxic practice, and its effects are being felt heavily.

Australia as a nation heavily invests in their artists. Newly starting out, musicians were able to apply for government grants to facilitate their development with studio time, production costs, mentoring, and so much more, and once ready, they are then given the support needed to literally fly themselves out of the country and go on tours. These tours end up giving them more acknowledgement worldwide, and then subsequently an equal footing to try for international awards as well. This has created some of the most unique, popular and experimental projects of this century, and the government earns back in terms of cultural development and flow of economy. 

The Maldives is filled to the brim with untapped talent in the creative field. Despite the constant sidelining by the administrations since 2008, musicians have been striving by the sweat of their brow to give to the world the beauty of their work — and their determination is unwavering.

However, the economy is stifling, and so many of these potential talents are forced to let go of their dreams to work other jobs just to make ends meet. In such a small community, just a year of attention and investment in the arts could give rise to much potential. One can only hope leaders notice the setting sun and take steps to avoid the long cold darkness that is surely to follow. 

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