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Art and Music


Paired with the creation of the National Library and Timor-Leste Archive, the Secretariat of State for Culture is developing, in partnership with UNESCO, the construction project of the Timor-Leste Museum and Cultural Centre. “We thought that we should take advantage of this construction phase and plan this project now”, explains Virgílio Smith.
The existence of appropriate sites for the development of cultural activities is fundamental to drive culture and consequently contribute to the assertion of national identity . In this way, the Secretariat of State for Culture intends to drive and promote new events in a dignified space with the necessary conditions to “place Culture at the service of the Nation and Timorese State’s self-assertion”, which is one of the priorities defined by the IV Constitutional Government in its programme for the 2007-2012 legislative period.
There are already some contents to exhibit permanently in the National Museum, such as the geologic collection exhibit in the Presidential Palace, with around 800 items, which is kept in the Ministry of Education. “There are patrimonial collections of high value that left Timor-Leste, but when we have a structure like de Museum and Cultural Centre, the collections can return to the country”, states the Secretary of State, adding others potentialities of the future institution: “it is a form of tourist attraction, a space for fun but also for research. A research space, not only for Timorese but also for foreigners, that can now have a proper place, in Timor-Leste, to do their studies. The Museum will be a space for inspiration”.


This blog entry will cover the music of Timor-Leste, one of the most recent countries to declare its independence. Timor-Leste, or East Timor, has been ruled by both Indonesia and Portugal in the past few centuries, and so its musical culture features a mix of influences from other cultures in addition to its own traditions. The native folk music features guitar and drums. The Indonesian influence has made the gamelan a popular instrument, and the Portuguese influence has made guitar music popular. Timorese fado music is very similar to the Portuguese fado, with lots of emotional singing and acoustic instrumentation. 
Pop music is also becoming popular in Timor-Leste, but many people are surprised at how popular Indonesian pop music still is in this country, even with young people who grew up in the past few years speaking the native language of Tetum since the nation’s independence. Community activist Annie Sloman has written about East Timorese pop music. She writes, “At times the prevalence of popular Indonesian music and images in East Timor makes it easy to think that you are in Indonesia.” She has observed that many Indonesian musicians and TV stars are as popular in East Timor as in their native country.
Some Timorese bands, such as Galaxy (seen below), Cedalia, Gembel, Cinco de Oriente, and Rai Nain are beginning to become as popular as Indonesian artists in Timor-Leste, playing concerts and gaining airplay on the radio in the country. Sloman notes that it is hard for local artists to distribute their work effectively in their country, but they have begun to gain in popularity. The country’s lack of copyright laws presents a challenge for musicians trying to mass produce their work, but many bands make money from touring both in Timor-Leste and in some provinces in Indonesia.
The presence of multiple cultures has a lot of influence on East Timorese pop music. I’m fascinated by the multilingual nature of the music, as songs can be in Tetum, Indonesian, and Portuguese, even though most young people are taught largely in Tetum. I have yet to read anything in my research about the influence of Australian music on the music of Timor-Leste, but Australia is near East Timor, so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Australian music influences Timorese music also.
The project still predicts that the Museum and Cultural Centre shelter the future Art and Music Schools, where the respective viability studies were predicted in the IV Constitutional Government’s program. Just as the National Library and the Archive, the Timor-Leste Museum and the Cultural Centre should be located in Aitarak Laran, Díli.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.