There’s a lot of stuff that get’s written by academics about Timor-Leste and although I am sure this is an important way to document Timorese culture, I do question where it all ends up and whether anyone actually reads it.
Lian Husi Klamar
This is certainly not the case with Ros Dunlop’s incredible new book, Lian Husi Klamar: Musika Tradisional Husi Timor-Leste (Sounds of the Soul: The Traditional Music of East Timor). The book, which has taken Ros ten years to create, is set to become a lasting and valuable resource on the traditional music of East Timor. And it’s more than just a book. Lian Husi Klamar comes with an accompanying CD and DVD with recordings of traditional music and performances.
“East Timor’s traditional music is a fundamental part of the cultural heritage and an integral part of its nationhood. It is vital that it be nurtured and passed on to successive generations. It is entwined in all facets of the life of its people. Sounds of the Soul takes the reader on a journey of discovery of the traditional music by way of dance, instruments, songs and stories in a presentation which is audiovisually engaging. The book puts on record a musical history which until now has only been passed on orally.” p. 25
Inside the book
It’s a beautiful looking book with East Timorese artwork and countless images of traditional musical instruments in action. There are 20 traditional songs included with text and music notation. Written in both English and Tetum, it’s a book for everyone.
“Music is part of all aspects of Timorese life and singing is their universal instrument. Fishermen sing as they row out to cast their nets. They sing to the turtles and the dolphins when they bring the catch in. Farmers sing to the buffalos and play on their kafu’i (flute) to call them home. Songs accompany dances whilst husking the rice. Singing during mundane jobs such as pounding grain and weeding the rice paddies makes physical chores seem less monotonous. Traditional music also plays an important role in the special ceremonies for the various stages of the agricultural year, for example the planting and harvesting of crops.” p.24
The book is a living and breathing record of the traditional music of East Timor and I think it should alleviate the concerns of the elderly East Timorese that Ros encountered who were worried about the future of their musical traditions.
“Despite centuries of occupation, first under the Portuguese and then under the Indonesians, the East Timorese have developed a rich and unique culture, including an exceptional musical tradition. This musical tradition was so damaged or destroyed by the repression of the occupiers, particularly under Indonesian occupation, that there are concerns from elderly Timorese for its survival.” p. 24
Questions and Answers with Ros Dunlop
Ros Dunlop with lakado
We are lucky enough to be able to include a few questions and answers with Ros about the book.
Question: Why did you make this book?
Answer: I began doing the recording of the Traditional Music of Timor in 2002 after an old man in a village I had played a concert at said “you have all this technology, can you help us, we are worried our music will die with our passing.” In 2009 I met the Ambassador of the US who asked what I wanted to do with the material, I said make a permanent record in Tetun and English so that people can know about the music, especially young Timorese, many of whom do not know the traditional music of their own country. In the first instance the book is for the Timorese, the children’s book a colouring book is designed in such a way to encourage young children to engage with their musical culture.
Question: On your first trip to East Timor back in April 2002, you noticed “an abundance of spontaneous music-making. We saw people walking along the roads, playing instruments and singing.” In your subsequent trips to East Timor you observed how much spontaneous music-making had dwindled. Why do you think there was a reduction in spontaneous music-making?
Answer: Many reasons I think contribute to this, Timor is in a hurry to catch up to the rest of the world, so malae culture is more appealing. Also in 2002 not many people had electricity let a lone TVs and radios, now you hear TV on all the time, karaoke – its all technology driven, and the acoustic music making on the side of the road seems to have suffered for that. TV in some houses is on 24 hours a day, hopefully this will change!!!
Question: Although there are some instruments that are common throughout all the districts of East Timor, there are other traditional instruments that are only found in particular areas. How did you go about researching this? Did you travel around and hold consultations in all the districts?
Answer: I researched the music in all the districts of Timor, and as a consequence pieced together where instruments came from, the history of Timor in some cases reflects this. Some places which are more isolated like Atauru have instruments like the rama not found anywhere else – the musical bow is found in other countries – the Portuguese had colonies in Africa and the musical bow of Angola bears a resemblance to the rama of Timor so one could surmise that is the connection since Angolan Prisoners were sent to Atauru in the early twentieth century.
Question: Do you have a favourite traditional instrument from East Timor?
Answer: Gee that is a hard one – there’s so many I like – the rama – the lakadou – the kakal’uta - instruments in Timor are usually not played solo like they are in Western Music – they accompany – either for dance, singing – and often the former is more important than the latter.
Question: The paintings, images, CD and DVD really bring the information in the book to life by showing traditional East Timorese music in action. How did the East Timorese people respond to your project, were they happy to be involved?
Answer: Yes! When they knew what the project was going to be about they were very enthusiastic to help and be part of it. The end result the book – last night at the launch in Dili, there were so many Timorese engrossed in the book fascinated – I am giving 1000 copies of the book to the Timorese – so that it will go into Libraries, schools and to the cultural custodians and village leaders throughout Timor.
Question: What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Answer: Trying to keep the language so that it would be understood by non-musicians, by Timorese who have not had the privileged education of western children – I was reluctant to let it go actually – some paragraphs had 20 re- writes or more before I was happy to let it go!
Question: What is your hope for the future of traditional music in East Timor?
Answer: That it flourish and becomes something that firstly Timorese know and are proud of and that the world at large learns and knows something of this fragile culture.
Anything you’d like to add?
The comments below are from the speech at the launch in Dili.
We humans don’t really own the land we live in, nor the culture which we are part of - we are custodians of both, and as such have a huge responsibility, to nurture and care for it and to keep it in tact to be able to pass it on to future generations.
The Timorese have a musical culture which is unique, but at present deeply hidden, the world is interested in it, and it deserves to be noticed and survive.
I am proud to be of service to the Timorese people through the work on this book. I hope this book will be a new inspiration for Timorese who want to study these traditions.
You can buy your own copy of Husi Klamar: Musika Tradisional Husi Timor-Leste (Sounds of the Soul: The Traditional Music of East Timor) with CD and DVD, plus Lafaek Holds a Party (a children’s colouring book) for $59.95 BUT if you pre-order a copy online before the 31st October it will cost you only $50.00! If you are in Dili, you can get a copy from Arte Moris.