Ego Lemos


On the eve of his performance with Gurrumul Yunupingu at the Perth Concert Hall, Ego Lemos walked into the house he was staying at and discovered his permaculture-loving hosts planting out their verge. In an instant he had joined them, thrusting his hands into the dirt.
It’s a hard call for Lemos to say which is more important – his love of land or music. Both have etched themselves upon his heart and soul, and are so intrinsic to his being that the lines become blurred. Above all, Lemos has faith in the healing power of both – for people and for nations – a characteristic he attributes to his mother and the traditional knowledge of his people. ‘The Timorese people have so much traditional knowledge … of land, of music, art and everything,’ says Lemos.

Unfortunately, most of that knowledge, Lemos believes, has been lost to the younger generations through the long history of occupation, trauma and depression. In 1975, while Australians were reeling from the death of five journalists in Balibo, Lemos’ parents were attempting to smuggle the then-infant Ego out of East Timor. The invasion by the Indonesian army, and the long and violent occupation that ensued, cost Lemos the lives of his father, brother and sister.

But while others answered violence with violence Lemos says that, as a musician, the experience taught him about healing. ‘My mother lost her husband and most of her children, and used music to comfort herself. In my lifetime I have observed music and art play a huge role in the development of the nation.’ If Lemos can realise his dreams for East Timor, creativity will also provide the means of healing the people and the country, and moving forward as a nation that is built on a strong, traditional knowledge base.

‘It’s about sustainability, not about going back to primitive ways,’ says Lemos. ‘We have to protect traditional culture so that younger generations can have access to the knowledge and use this as well as modern ideas to move forward.’

Eighty percent of Timor’s population relies on agriculture for its livelihood and many farmers have already felt the impact of colonial and neo-colonial rule on their traditional culture and agricultural practices. Lemos is determined that East Timor has government agricultural policies that benefit small farmers and encourage sustainability.

To achieve this he became involved in environmental studies in the mid-1990s and is currently completing a Masters degree in International Community Development at Victoria College in Melbourne. He is also the co-ordinator of the Permaculture Tomor Lorosae (PTL) organisation, which teaches permaculture techniques to traditional farmers, and he has established the Perma Scouts, a youth group that encourages young people to become involved in land use and sustainability. ‘You have to encourage and motivate the younger generation coming through so that the anger and trauma of occupation can be dealt with in positive and creative ways, rather than just picking up stones to throw,’ says Lemos.

Despite a serious future in the music industry in Australia, and potentially internationally, Lemos will return to East Timor immediately after finishing his studies to begin using his knowledge to benefit his nation. He plans to concentrate on permaculture education and the development of a vibrant arts community.

It’s this sort of integrity that had him signed to Skinnyfish Music, [the same label as Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s], as the first non-Australian indigenous artist on its roster. Skinnyfish Music founders Michael Hohnen and Mark T Grose chose to sign him ‘because of the purity of his music and his ability to transcend language, and the mutually shared vision of the power of music in community development.’ It’s a vision that Lemos holds steadfastly in his mind and his heart.

‘Music has played a big part in the struggle for independence in East Timor and continues to play an important role in healing and nation building. It is instrumental in shaping the character of East Timor’s youth to enable them to meet the future with creativity, intelligence and positivity.’

This article appeared in Vol 1 Issue 30 of The Art of Healing


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