Finally, after 26 years of Indonesian rule, East Timor sealed its independence with peaceful democratic elections in May of this year. It’s not been without a struggle. Some 200,000 East Timorese – a staggering one-fifth of the population – died as a result of famine, disease and violence during the Indonesian occupation. This collective trauma is not to be forgotten easily.
Organized by the Melbourne Millennium Chorus and a host of musicians from both East Timor and Australia, the Concert for East Timor makes up in sheer spirit what it lacks in other departments. It’s an ambitious mix of traditional tunes, band-led songs and choral singing. Some tracks – an adaptation of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’ or Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ – are rousing classics. At other moments – for all the Chorus’s endeavours – the concert is let down by anodyne music and lyrics.
But when the Concert for East Timor gets going, it can be electrifying. La Voce Della Luna and Kavisha Mazzella’s ‘L’egualianza’ (Equality) pulse with life, and Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier’s three songs showcase a wonderfully bluesy voice which is the CD’s highlight. The Dili All Stars go for a good-time ska with ‘Liberdade’ (Liberty) that becomes all the more pertinent when you realize that prior to 1999 the Timorese were forbidden to write ‘Timorese’ songs.Louise Gray