Sounds of the soul

Regular readers will know that in 2010-2011 I spent four months as a visiting artist in East Timor, or Timor-Leste, as it is officially known. East Timor is a fascinating, compelling, challenging place to be – each of these in turn! I loved my time there and I learned much about myself as a musician, and about music in other cultures. East Timor’s traditional music is rich and multi-layered but at the time of my visit there were very few publications or recordings that I could access to familiarise myself with it. East Timor’s complex and often violent recent history of colonisation by Portugal (until 1974) and military occupation by Indonesia (1975-1999), has meant that its musical culture was at first undermined and later forbidden, seen as an expression of resistance and nationalism. It was therefore not well-documented in formal, Western ways, but of course knowledge was retained and transmitted aurally and orally.

Therefore, the recent publication of Lian Husi Klamar (Sounds of the Soul: The traditional music of East Timor), a book with accompanying CD/DVD, is extremely significant, as it is the first comprehensive published archive of this rich musical culture. The author, musician and researcher Ros Dunlop (a colleague and friend) spent years visiting Timor, travelling to remote and almost-inaccesible parts of the country to talk with elders, meet musicians and record their performances. One of the beautiful and particularly noteworthy things about this project is collaborative involvement of many Timorese musicians and artists. These people were acutely aware of the importance of creating an archive of their musical heritage. Younger Timorese – including artists from the Arte Moris art school in Dili – helped in all sorts of ways with the project, translating, driving and guiding, advising, filming and organising the recording sessions. The book has been published in both English and Tetun (the national language of East Timor), and will be highly valued in a country where there are few books published in their own language.

I’m proud to say that some of my photographs and interactions with traditional instruments have found their way into Ros’s book – Ros was determined to include as many examples as she could find. There are many national groups and family clans in East Timor who each have their own traditions, and Ros followed up every lead she could.

It was a huge project that spanned many years, and now the book and CD/DVD of the archive, Lian Husi Klamar (Sounds of the Soul: The traditional music of East Timor) is available for purchase (here). There’s a great interview with Ros Dunlop published here if you would like to know more about the project.

Towards the end of the book, Ros describes a children’s song in an ancient form of the Fataluku language (spoken in the town of Lospalos where I was based during my residency) which ends with the children sitting in a circle and pulling each other’s ears. I realised I had footage of some Lospalos children teaching an ear-pulling song to my partner Tony. This may or may not be the same song Tupukur Ulute that is described in the book, but it may well be related in some way. Their performance of the song in this little clip is a bit rowdy, a bit chaotic – definitely authentic!

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