Lian Husi Klamar: Musika Tradisional Husi Timor-Leste (Sounds of the Soul: The Traditional Music of East Timor)

Roslyn Dunlop
Books, Ethnomusicology
Sydney: Tekee Media, 2012, 160pp, with CD and DVD (
ISBN: 978-0-646-58183-5
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2014

Literature on and research into the music and dance of East Timor are rare; public consciousness of this newly independent nation, if there is any, centres around its colonial history and the atrocities committed against it during and after its fight for independence from the Republic of Indonesia. For Australians, the 1975 murder by Indonesian military forces of five journalists from the Australian press near the village of Balibo is perhaps the strongest factor that reminds them of the presence of East Timor, its situation, and links between it and various Australians who have worked in its support. One of these is clarinettist, educator and researcher, Ros Dunlop, whose decade of study of and involvement with music and dance in East Timor and the people who perform, teach and hope to maintain it has resulted in publication of the first book on the traditional music and dance of East Timor, Lian husi klamar: musika tradisional husi Timor-Leste.

Dunlop makes it clear, both within the book and in her publicity statements about it, that while Lian husi klamar has an audience among ethnomusicologists, students, teachers and others outside East Timor interested in the music and dance of this region, it is intended for the people of East Timor, particularly young people, to help preserve traditional music and dance, to alleviate the fears of older East Timorese that their music and dance would die with them, and to give her a way to ‘give something in return’ to these people (her words) for the enrichment she has felt through her visits there.

Written in parallel text, in both Tetun and English, with a CD and a DVD of examples, and including transcriptions of songs into both number and Western notation, Lian husi klamar is divided into five sections: traditional music of dance; traditional music of Oekusi (an East Timorese enclave within West Timor); traditional music of ritual; traditional music of daily life; traditional song. Each covers genres, texts and instruments, alongside detailed, interpretative discussion of the roles, uses and aesthetic relevances of music and dance in East Timorese culture. Text is lavishly supported by reproductions of paintings by East Timorese artists, by photographs of instruments, costumes and performances, and by photographs of distinctive East Timorese woven textiles.

There are so many aspects of this book to recommend it, that it is difficult to know where to start. It is based on ongoing, dedicated and well carried out research; it makes a valuable contribution to an ethnomusicology of East Timor, that hopefully will lead others to research music and dance there; it provides an educational resource suitable across all levels of education, from primary schools to university courses; it demonstrates how music and dance, and their practitioners, can be sensitively shown in the practice of performative culture; it shows perseverance for and belief in traditional culture from both practitioners and a non-East Timorese researcher; it provides a model of how to present a little known culture through recorded and filmed examples; it respects its sources of information by privileging their language as the primary one throughout the book; it raises consciousness about East Timor, the condition of the East Timorese, and threats to East Timorese traditional music and dance.  As Dunlop notes in her Introduction, the book is about the importance of a ‘permanent record being made’, and about the contributions of various East Timorese that she was able to work with in achieving this. Whether it is read in educational, research, political or historical ways, Lian husi klamar is a valuable book.

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