Review of Ego Lemos concert by Fasterlouder.
Amazing review, particularly for those of us who missed the concert –
will done Ego & Paulie.
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Jimi Hendrix famously said: “If there is something to be changed in this
world, then it can only happen through music.” But after enduring a
million celebrity singfests for charitable self-gratification, while the
cappuccino furrower from Ethiopia seems to have seen little more than
several surplus compilation discs and the traumatic memory of impromptu
pop choirs singing butchered ballads.
Given the current climate, it surprised me that so many people turned up
to see an evening of protest music from Timor-Leste. Or that they felt
confident enough to venture out the door without fear of getting bashed
up by ethnic minorities wanting to beat up other more newly-arrived
ethnic minorities. Nevertheless, over 300 brave souls had gathered in
the somewhat formal setting of the Fairfax Studio – close to a full
Dubbed – East Timor’s Bob Dylan,’ Ego Lemos is the real deal. First
receiving his break in 1997 with controversial Timorese band Cinco do
Oriente, his link to the Timorese struggle is enduring.
The ARIA-award winner, on vocals, guitar and harmonica, was joined by a
four-piece acoustic band, involving two guitars, percussion and a
multi-instrumentalist on violin, mandolin and piccolo.
The band were tight as they calmly breezed their way through lush guitar
arrangements and four-part vocal harmonies, with a neo-Nashville lilt
and touches of bluegrass. Lemos’ early Dylan influence is strong, and
this is tempered with dashes of Portugese fado and indigenous rhythms.
Lemos is a realist songwriter. His songs paint a picture of ordinary
life under extraordinary circumstances, with a central, timeless theme
of human spirit overcoming seemingly insurmountable adversity. Tracks
like Water, a drought song which many Aussie farmers could identify
with, Farmers, depicting the daily grind of subsistence farming, Trees,
an environmental song, all allow the lives and aspirations of ordinary
Timorese to shine through the usual precipitation of police actions and
unstable government which cloud our view of the country. This is real
The songs are almost entirely sung in Tetun, the national language of
Timor-Leste, but their musicality transcends any language barrier. Lemos
introduced each song with a synopsis of its contents, but his smooth
baritone voice, finished with a slightly raspy, marbled texture, more
than transmitted the emotion of each song. During the ballad Peace in
East Timor, where he hit his upper register for the only time, the raw
power of his voice was heartfelt, convincing and aurally absorbing.
Perhaps the only complaint of Lemos’ set was its lack of musical
diversity. Lemos is very good at creating ballads, but unfortunately
that was all we heard, bar a couple of mildly uptempo numbers. As Miles
Davis once said: “You know why I quit playing ballads? Cause I love
playing ballads.” Lemos could well take his advice.
The Fairfax Studio ended up being a fine choice for the concert, because
its good acoustics and intimate setting were ideal for Lemos. His quiet,
conversational rapport with the audience gave us a window into Lemos as
a person – a warm, affable character, with an innocent sense of humour.
The concert was a refreshing experience. Suddenly I’d been transported
to another time, when folk musicians like Woodie Gutherie and Pete
Seegar were using their calm crooning to emit messages of hope and real
change – and people responded. The political and social change which
music has brought about in the world didn’t come from carefully
stage-managed A&R creations, cobbled together with some political spin
and good PR, it came from ordinary people. People taking on the world,
armed with nothing but guitars and the desires of others just like them.
And like that time, to see such change in motion you just had to look
around you. The world of ethnic riots and race-based bashing seemed a
million miles away. Musicians from many different backgrounds, black and
white, on stage together making inspiring music. People sang, danced and
several even spontaneously joined the performers on stage without
incident. And there wasn’t a security guard in sight.
The music of the evening was a virtual soundtrack of the Timorese
struggle. Aside from the fact Lemos’ hit Balibo was featured on the
feature film of the same name, he was joined by support acts The Dili
All Stars and community choir The Sweet Monas, both of whom made key
contributions to the Timor solidarity effort. The Dili All Stars went as
far as to smuggle tapes of their music into Timor during its most
volatile period, ensuring they hold a special place in Timorese hearts.
The bright future of the world’s newest nation was represented by
capable young opera soprano Jessica Maliana, whose success would surely
make her a national treasure.
So many social problems are caused by a clash of cultures, a symptom of
a lack of understanding between peoples. Music has proven itself to be
one of the great mediums to bridge this gap, to build enduring
relationships between former enemies, and to initiate the fight against
those who resist positive change. Tonight was more proof of that.
Maybe Jimi was right