RITTÉ – Submersed in the Art of Sound

It seemed like his friendly grin walked in through the door first, followed by the casually dressed Rishvan ‘Ritte’ Imon, who shook my hand with a good solid grip and promptly began chatting. Dressed casually in jeans and a tank-top, he proved to be a friendly person eager to share his experiences as a singer-songwriter. An apt first impression of someone who, in his own words, believes that “A smile is a shiny gem which shows the true beauty of a face, and by the reflection of its gleams, others may react in happiness and peace. Smiling is beneficial for yourself – a smile could be the simplest form of inspiration in humanity”.

He carries the legacy of a long line of admired musicians, being the son of Ibrahim Rasheed (Haaburi). Since 2003, he has been making a name for himself as a prominent singer-songwriter. After a stint with the band, ‘The Clove’, he is now a solo musician; his free spirit has left him unfettered by anyone. His love affair with music is apparent in every passionate word when he speaks of his profession (he would most likely put it as ‘his life’s work’). VIBE got an earful of Ritte, with his uncanny talent for pulling you in to his anecdotes exactly the same way that his powerful voice has enslaved the hearts of people everywhere.

Q. You come from a family with a rich background of music, so you were obviously always exposed to music… but we were wondering when you actively decided to explore and become a part of the local music scene.

When I was young I wanted to tread in the footsteps of my brother Wildhan, who was the highest scoring national football player of that time. This was a recurring issue with my dad. There were days he’d try to force me to play music with him and I’d refuse, and he’d throw me out and wouldn’t let me into the house.  I was made to participate in the interschool singing competition. I tried my hand at bodu beru with Dhivehi Sama when I was only twelve. I shied away from the dancing, sticking to only playing the bodu beru. Eventually I got the gist of it, but in truth, I actually made the decision to be a musician in my own right in 2003, while on a trip to the islands.

I met a group of friends passionate about the guitar. I jammed with them, fell in love with playing music, and decided to adopt the guitar as my instrument. My father was of course extremely thrilled and incredibly supportive.

Q. When and how do you think you gained confidence in your musical skills?

Oh, that reminds me of that first time I walked on stage at the inter-school singing competition! Let’s talk about that!

I found myself on that stage because of my father’s demanding requests, because of his tireless assertion that I was a man of music. Back then I was really unconfident. There were these bright lights in my face, and a sea of spectator’s right in front of me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them. I barely made it through. But after 2003, when I truly decided to take on music and began gigs at the resorts, I realized the insecurities were gone. The feeling that I was going through the motions of something forced on me had disappeared.

I think I got the strength for two reasons. One was that I made a decision myself to pursue music. The second was because of my father… I completely surprised him when I revealed my decision to him while he was chilling in the studio with some of his music colleagues. I walked in with the very first song I’d written when I was fourteen, “Loabivey”, and whipped out my guitar and played for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face, the tearful joy that bloomed in his eyes. It’s an image that will always stay with me. It gave me an enormous boost of confidence and a sense of phenomenal tranquility. He had always kept an eye out for talent among his children, and as you can see I was a favorite target of his… I don’t regret it one bit. Even now, “Loabivey” gives me a sense of nostalgia and transports me back to when my fourteen-year-old self was strumming a guitar and writing it, and reminds me how I have strengthened as an individual. It reminds me that no one is unlucky in life if they open their eyes and see its fortunes.

Q. You were in the line-up of The Clove… tell us a bit about your experience as a band member.

Actually, I was signed up by Apollo Enterprises as a solo artist and I proposed the idea of a band to involve my music-loving buddies. My friends knew me better and I knew it would be easy to perform with them, rather than having to struggle with complete strangers as fellow band members. And so The Clove was born. It wasn’t a new experience for me; I had worked with bands before, but not local bands. Working as a team has its appeal… those were good times. I kinda miss it.

Q. So why did you decide to go solo?

Mainly because I ran out of time to spare. Being in a band means you have to invest a lot of time into it… too many people involved, too many people to attend to, to consider. Time spent on arrangements, getting everyone together, brainstorming sessions, practice sessions… Considering all the time we invest, the payback was not gratifying enough.  I decided going solo was the best path to take, with the freedom to start gigs at the resorts where I could start generating a more satisfying income and not feel that my originality was under pressure. The Clove disbanded with a good understanding and we’re all still good friends. The Drummer, Faizan, is my best friend and my best man in music. We always understood that nothing will rise without falling.

Q. What and whom are the sources of your inspiration?

My father, first and foremost, will always be my strongest source of inspiration. Then there are my great-grandfather, grandfather, and great uncle as well. They’re all forerunners of the nascent musical era of Maldives; they were known as Kalhufuthu Alifulhu, Kuda Easa Fulhu and Nala Dhohokko, respectively. They were the masters of bodu beru. I’m sure you’re familiar with their music! You must have heard their songs on the radio early in the morning when you were having breakfast before school. Remember?

My third source of inspiration is our cultural heritage, our history of music. But as an adult, I am saddened to realize that the music history of Maldives is so vague. There are still songs from that era making rounds on modern platforms, but there are cases where the original artists aren’t given due credit simply because no one seems to know where those songs originated! We need to be more aware of our rich musical heritage; we need to respect it, expose it, and nurture it. We need to raise awareness on our own history.

Q. You have performed abroad, at Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even UK! What do you have say about those experiences?

They were all very invigorating experiences. The UK show is unforgettable. We performed at sunset, there was a cool turnout… a lot of love was received. I was twenty and fresh faced, and at the end people actually came forward to compliment us and even got our autographs! It was exciting.

However, I prefer performances at the resorts in Maldives to travelling abroad for concerts. The reception I get at the resorts is reminiscent to that UK concert; the gigs are so gratifying that I feel awesome even after a performance of three hours. And the cherry on top is that I share the stage with a very talented line-up who gets along with me so well, both in friendship and music.

Q. What’s your favorite setting to perform?

My favorite setting to perform is not restricted to a specific venue! It all depends on the crowd… hook up some lights in a tiny kitchen and invite about ten cool people who’d cheer me on, and I’m sure to play up a storm, loving every second of it. Honest! It’s all about the vibe, that feeling of appreciation in the air.

I get this atmosphere and a better income at the resorts where I play weekly, which is why I chose that path after refusing many other offers from local music businesses.

Q. What would you say is the reception to your two solo albums? Any plans for another one?

Ah, well, I don’t like referring to them as my albums. They were produced under the contract I mentioned before, and contains very little of myself… only the voice… you know what I mean? It is very felicitous when I get positive comments on those songs. But that aside, yes, I do have a work in progress that I can call entirely my own.

Q. What work in progress? Spill!

It’s a video album. No… scratch that… it’s not actually an album. It’s rather like a musical short-film. Something new in Maldivian music history. It has four original songs on it, written and performed by me; they are linked, and merge together, complementing the story that is told in the short. It’s a story that has to do with raising awareness about various social issues… the stories are all universal and connected to each of our lives; the songs are based on jealousy, hatred, unfairness, injustice, humanity, unity, peace & love. It’ll be released by the end of this year, insha allah, so wait and see what it’s all about. My fans can relate it to a saying of mine: By disrespecting others you surely cannot gain respect, and the best thing is to help each other with pure love & humanity instead of hatred & jealousy. Let’s not try to destroy each other in this sinful nature… perhaps let’s unite together as a family and make a bond of peace & love for the sake of humanity.

My entire life is interwoven with music. In every move, Every mood, and every step.

Q. Choose three of your original singles as your personal favorites.

Easy. First, I’m very happy with ‘Oagaavaashey’. Then there’s ‘Ley Kokaa’ which I performed recently at the Eid Show. It carries strong messages really good for the society and everybody… it’s truly a universal song speaking subtly of vindictiveness and hypocrisy. Here’s the chorus of the song:

Zaathy kamey dhuniyeygai vany, gaai kameh noavey,

Alimaheh fadhain vidhamun dhaa kokaa… ley bonee sirrugai

For the third song, I’d choose ‘Emmen’, which is a song of unity, harmony, peace and love.

Q. Music… what does it mean to you?

Wow, I don’t even know how to explain what music means to me! Music!  You see, music is my life. My entire life is interwoven with music. In every move, every mood, and every step – I carry music with me every second of my life. I cannot live without music.

And I’m not only talking about my music, mind you. I appreciate all good music, and there are times I break down into tears when I hear an exquisite melody. Doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad… I will get teary eyed, and I will get chills – goosebumps all over – and I will feel the music in my soul. Sometimes this happens on stage as well if there are not enough distractions. It’s hard to deal with when it gets out of control. It’s this overpowering sense of being lost in waves and waves of beautiful harmony. I just can’t live without music. Also, in my opinion music is about inspiring and expressing, not about competing or winning. Music is the art of sound, art is massive and it never ends.

I carry music with me every second of my life.

Q. Anything to say to your fans and potential musicians out there?

Of course! I want to send out a message to those talented kids who want to make music but for various reasons aren’t able to: never stop hoping, people. Hope is a powerful thing. Dream on, because dreams are a solution. If you hold on to your dreams, you will see the light. Just be strong and patient in between. It’s never too late to focus on achieving your goals and making your dreams come true. Make the change today instead of waiting for tomorrow.

And my fans! Brace yourselves for my best work so far by the end of this year, Insha Allah. It’s going to be huge, it’s going to be unique! You won’t be disappointed, I guarantee it.

~ Peace & Love ~

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