This is the text of the second group email I sent while doing fieldwork in Timor-Leste in 2015. I’m not sure I’ll put the pics up yet, but maybe at some point.
Botardi kolega! Good afternoon, friends! (Or I guess it’s more like bonoiti there, at least for most of you). It’s a month now I’ve been in the field, so here’s another little update from my travels in Timor-Leste.
When I last wrote I think we hadn’t started any of our actual field recording yet. Well we’ve been in full-swing now for the last few weeks: we’ve met with a million people, enjoyed gallons of sweet coffee, and documented 16 musical events (about one every 2 days) and a handful of non-musical ones too. Most of our gigs are all-night funeral singing sessions. We arrive around 8pm, set up our gear, and record audio and video until everyone stops singing at 6am. It’s amazing and exhausting and fantastically interesting. Most of the funeral singers are very old, and they stay up all night singing the same three melodies for hours on end while younger folks gamble nearby. Around 3am things quiet down, the kids fall asleep, and the music gets really good and sometimes really sad. People tear up and their voices fall apart, and we try our best to disappear.
Last week I met some new friends. I was hanging about the house drinking from a coconut and organizing our mountains of media—which is pretty much what I do when we’re not recording—when I heard the sound of drums nearby. I had a little chat with myself and decided to be brave and I took a little walk to see what I could see. I found a group of high school kids practicing on the neighbour’s lawn for an upcoming likurai competition. I explained what I’m doing here, and they let me hang out and ask questions and shoot some pictures and video, and now we see each other every few days when they rehearse nearby. They’re really good! I went with them to their performance last week (they won), and they’ve got two more shows this weekend. They showed me a few of the rhythms they play, and I’m going to meet a drum-maker tomorrow to see about having a drum made. So far I’m a hopeless student, but I bring snacks and I smile a lot so I guess that’s OK.
And yesterday we had a few other friends over to our house/office for dinner. They cooked a really wonderful meal for us & we even had a dance party. Our pals put on a little show, using empty water bottles and pitchers as likurai drums and dancing around the living room. It was great until the dancers realized they’d gathered a little crowd of onlookers outside & they ran away laughing. Fun!
I’ve attached a few pictures. There’s one of us at our dinner party, one of me and my likurai friends, and a few of us at work to give you a sense of what it looks like. The one with the people holding sticks is a group of folks in Suai Loro singing Beluk while they pound rice. The circle dance is a Tebe Tebe at a wedding in Bonuc 1, the prettiest village on the planet. There are two pictures of singers at metisere, the funeral ceremonies I mentioned before, and there’s a shot of the kitchen where someone brews the coffee all night. There’s a picture of me deep into a night of recording, one of Tinuk taking pictures, and one of Philip with our colleague Guntur, an indispensable wheeler-dealer who’s become a good pal. Then there’s a picture of a little kid in a blue shirt. I don’t know him, but last week when I was waiting with the truck in Holbelis a huge pile of kids gathered round for photos. After striking a few funny poses this kid levelled his eyes at me and said “Hey malai, ita hakarak baku malu?” – “Hey malai, you wanna fight me?” I shook my head and put up my hands and made a big deal of saying “Lae, Lakohi!” — “No, no way!” He sort of squinted and lowered his voice and said “Ita tauk.”—“You’re scared.” Ha! Timorese kids say the darnedest things.
Anyway, some pictures for your viewing pleasure. I miss you all terribly, and I’m happy and healthy here and the work is going well. I’m email-able if you’re into it, I’m occasionally facebook-able (though no more than usual), and I’m What’sApp-able, too. Drop me a line if you want and I’ll send you a selfie from whatever strange and wonderful place I’m in at the time. I’ll be back in early October, but I plan to hug my wife and child without letting go for two solid weeks, so let’s talk in November. I have lots of pictures and sounds to share.
Lots of love,