Singing a future

Wednesday, day 24

This afternoon I developed a second Baucau project, this time with a women’s group on the outskirts of town. Mana Lorensa introduced me to their coordinator, Mana Tereza, and we gathered as a group of five this afternoon to sing songs. I had planned that I would learn some traditional songs from them, but in fact as the afternoon unfolded we ended up writing a song together.

The group is a motivated group of three young women who have managed to establish themselves as a local NGO working to support women in rural areas. They have a building (that they have built themselves) – a small house with a large room at the front and two rooms at the back. We met there today. They are only just getting started and Mana Lorensa is helping them develop strong processes and systems, especially during these early days.

The songwriting was Lorensa’s idea. She thought it might be something they could develop as a group that could serve as a kind of ‘anthem’ for any events the group might have, such as the official opening of their building, or at key anniversaries. The three of them sing well together. Who knows, maybe in the future they could have a women’s choir, and singing together as a large group might become a hallmark of the women’s centre.

Often when I propose a songwriting project, people express a certain amount of reluctance or shyness. Not these women. We started off by looking at the structure of a typical song in a Western style, and the way that chorus content differs from verse content. I proposed a structure of 2 verses and a chorus and began asking them to tell me about their organisation and their newly-built centre. I wrote down the things they said, but before long, they had taken over the writing and were developing the song in full themselves. They bent over the page, writing words and then putting melodies to them immediate and trying them out quietly. All very matter of fact, very focused and enthusiastic.

The song that resulted was lovely. It expressed the intentions and objectives for their organisation – to gather people together, care for the land and the people, provide support for women so that they can grow stronger in the future. Then we recorded the song a few times. I developed a harmony line on the clarinet for the chorus, and our final arrangement had us humming the chorus in two parts as both the intro and the outro. There was a strong sense of satisfaction among the group at the end of our workshop, and they were laughingly talking about touring as a group to Australia, about having hit records. However, we talked quite seriously about getting the song onto a CD so that they could share it more widely and teach it to a larger group of women, and they nodded vigorously at this suggestion.

As we drove home, Mana Lorensa told me how moving it had been for her to hear them singing together, and singing a song that they had written themselves.

“Women in Timor don’t do this kind of thing,” she explained. “If they sing, they sing songs that someone else has already written or established as ‘proper’ and ‘good’. And I have known these women for a long time and know all the troubles and difficulties they have had in their lives” – one was an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) and in a camp in the most appalling conditions for ages, another has suffered the death of her husband, and been ill with cancer, etc – “When they began to sing the song together and to learn it, I had tears in my eyes and I had to leave the room. That’s why I kept my sunglasses on!”

So, as I pack up my things and prepare to move on to Lospalos tomorrow morning (Thursday, day 24), I feel like these days in Baucau have been enormously productive. There is so much work that I could develop here… and I’ve been able to make significant starts in just a few days. I’ll be aiming to spend some days here at different points in my residency, probably as a stopping point on the way to or from Lospalos.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] think I have to re-think things now! When I wrote the post Singing a Future about the songwriting workshop, I described how quickly the women wrote that song. Was that  […]


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