Sunday, July 12, 2009

The National Anthem of Maldives

Until the late 1940s the state anthem of the Maldives was a melody with no lyrics. It was called the Salaamathi and was performed by the royal band on state occasions at the Etherekoilu, the official residence of the King.

In 1948 it was determined that the Salaamathi needed replacement with lyrics to accompany a new melody. The words were composed by a young poet and later a chief justice, Mohamed Jameel Didi.

Jameel Didi looked around for a tune to accompany his poem. His uncle, the chief justice Hussain Salahuddine, had just acquired a new-fangled clock that played an excellent tune at the stroke of midday, the Scottish folk song "Auld Lang Syne", and Jameel decided to use that tune for his poem.

Although the Salaamathi survived as the royal anthem until 1964, it did not occur to anyone to adopt it as the national anthem. In 1972, for the first time in history, the Maldives hosted a foreign head of state - Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The Maldive government of the time deemed it necessary to compose a different tune for the anthem instead. Hastily they commissioned the composition of a new melody. The new melody of the Maldive national anthem was composed by a distinguished Sri Lankan maestro, Pandit Wannakuwattawaduge Don Amaradeva. The original lyrics were used, with some changes to mark the fact that Maldives has been a republic since 1968.

Wannakulawattawaduge Don Albert Perera (born December 5, 1927 in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka), better known by his adopted name Amaradeva, is a Sri Lankan vocalist and musical composer. Primarily using traditional instruments like sitars, tablas and harmoniums, Amaradeva incoporates Sinhala folk music with Indian ragas in his work.

In the mid-1950s, Amaradeva in his Janagayana project consulted experts of the Kandyan dance tradition like Pani Bharata, Kiriganita, Gunamala, Ukkuva and Suramba in his path to understand what constituted Sinhala folk music. Noting that it mostly revolved around a single melody, he decided to add verses that would lead up to the central melody which would now be a chorus thus forming two parts (unseen earlier in traditional Sri Lankan music) removing restrictions that had existed earlier. In doing so, Amaradeva created a uniquely Sinhalese music style that stayed true to folk tradition while incorporating outside influences. His work was vital in the creation of the sarala gee genre practiced subsequently by artists like Victor Ratnayake, Sunil Edirisinghe and Sanath Nandasiri.

Pandit Amaradeva has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Philippine Ramon Magsaysay Award (2001), Indian Padma Sri Award and Sri Lankan "President's Award of Kala Keerthi" (1986) and Deshamanya Award (1998). He has also represented Sri Lanka in many forums including the UNESCO 1967 Manila Symposium, and composed the melody for the Maldives national anthem, Gaumii salaam, at the request of British Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.