Dawn songs

Sunday, day 14

During our stay on the island it became not unusual to hear people break into song. These were generally local men, walking along the beach, maybe finished work for the day, or completing some tasks. Their voices would carry on the wind and as I sat in front of our cabin or floated lazily in the sea I would hear them. Work songs are an important part of the musical traditions here.

To get back from Atauro in time for Monday morning work, we departed at 4am on the local shop boat. Every Monday, the owner of the village general store goes into Dili on his boat, and takes a small number of passengers with him.

Most of the others on the boat curled up and tried to continue sleeping on the deck of the boat. I tried this too but couldn’t – too uncomfortable! I sat up and watched the water, hoping we might see dolphins or whales – often sighted on this crossing.

There were two of the ship’s workers sitting at the front of the boat and one of them began to sing. Quite unselfconsciously, gazing out to sea as he sang. It was an intriguing sound, accompanied by the jagged percussive constancy of the fishing boat’s loud motor. The singer was sitting at the front of the boat. I scooted over, my camera in hand, and recorded the sound, holding my camera just behind his head.

Unsurprisingly, there is more motor in the recording than voice. But when he finished the song I started up a conversation with him and he invited me to sit at the front with him. He sang more songs, explaining where they were from (one from church, one traditional Atauro song, etc).  I filmed each of these, using a Flip camera.

One idea I am exploring with this residency is how I might be able to use footage that I film or record in a performance outcome of some kind. The clips I filmed on the boat – of my singer and his co-worker sitting on the prow, singing together while the boats makes its way back to Dili and the mountains of the mainland come into view – could possibly be used in this way.

So, while I didn’t get to see any dolphins or whales, I got to hear and record some beautiful music. I don’t have the bandwidth to upload one of the clips here, but this is a photograph of the two singers that morning, and some others from the morning crossing.

Two boatmen, singing

Sleeping on the deck

Dili Harbour, 7am

Christo Rei (Jesus) on the promontory at the edge of Dili Harbour

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1 comment so far

  1. […] we’d first arrived, I’d described my earlier Atauro experiences of songs and singing (by the Singing Boatman on the early morning boat back to Dili) to the manager of the place we were staying, so he was on the look-out for other musical […]


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