August 25, 2003 3:50pm

by Sonny Inbaraj

DILI, Aug. 25 (IPS/GIN) -- As the frustrations of young East Timorese grow in the days after the world's newest nation became independent last year, their restiveness is finding release in a new form of rock music, peppered with socially-conscious lyrics.

Most of the songs of these rock bands, with a huge following among the Timorese youth, carry political and social messages and are strongly critical of political leaders in the newly elected government.

One band that is dominating the charts in the capital Dili is Vi-Almaa X with its hit single 'Rona Ba', which in East Timor's national language Tetum means 'Please Listen'.

"That song is aimed at our political leaders who we feel are not listening to our young people," said Vitorino Cardoso dos Santos, leader of Vi-Almaa X.

"What 'Rona Ba' is saying to the leaders is please accept different opinions, listen to all, and stop creating conflicts. Work together for the sake of the new country's unity," added Cardoso dos Santos.

For 25 years, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia. In a United Nations-sponsored referendum, the Timorese opted for independence in late August 1999.

When the ballot results were announced in September 1999, Indonesian military-sponsored militias went on an orgy of terror. The United Nations estimates more than 1,000 East Timorese were killed in the rampage that also left most basic infrastructure destroyed.

This is still being rehabilitated today, and social infrastructure like educational and health services - heavily dependent on Indonesians in the past - are also being reconstructed.

East Timor gained independence in May 2002 after a two-year interim administration led by the United Nations. The current government is led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin Party won 75 percent of the seats in Parliament in the country's first democratically-held elections in September 2001

But over a year later, there is disappointment on the streets of Dili. East Timor is long past the independence euphoria as the new Timorese government grapples with bread-and-butter issues in this fledgling nation.

International donor support for East Timor is fast trickling away. Many young East Timorese are out of jobs and feel left out of the country's development.

For that reason, according to Cardoso dos Santos, they can relate to Vi-Almaa's socially-conscious songs.

"Here in East Timor there are a lot of problems faced by Timorese youth. In our new country, new nation, there are many economic problems," said Cardoso dos Santos.

"Many youths are out of jobs and so there's a lot of frustration. So that's why they sometimes express their problems through music," he added.

Cardoso dos Santos said that Vi-Almaa X combined their socially conscious lyrics with popular music genre to appeal to their fans. "Vi-Almaa X always tries new styles like rock and roll, funky, pop, blues, everything. We have a lot of fans, from youth to adults."

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its latest assessment, indicates that the newly independent East Timor will be one of the poorest countries in the world, falling behind Bangladesh and Nepal.

According to UNDP, youth unemployment in East Timor is at a staggering 75 percent.

Anito Matos, a prominent social critic and host of the popular 'Good Morning East Timor' breakfast show on Radio Falintil, said music by rock groups like Vi-Almaa X are popular because the government is failing to address the problems of the East Timorese youth.

"They need an avenue to express themselves," he said.

Added Matos: "In my programme 'Good Morning East Timor', I've been criticising the government strongly. They have to give more attention to our young people, especially people in the villages."

The social critic warned that the country's struggle for independence would be questioned if the government failed to listen to the Timorese youth.

"Many of the youths are asking why we have to be an independent country when our life is still so very hard. Some of them are asking why we have to choose these politicians as our leaders when they give no attention to us," added Matos.

But Nuno Rodrigues, coordinator of the Sahe Institute of Liberation, a community development group, argued that the newly elected government should be given a chance to prove itself and urged the country's youth to be more patient.

"This is the first experience of the Timorese people in running their own country, so the new government has to be given a chance," said Rodrigues.

"Under the Indonesian occupation we were under the brutality of the Indonesian military, so there was no opportunity to express ourselves. Even for the Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, this is his first experience in running a country," he added.

Explained Rodrigues: "The hope for youth after the (Indonesian) occupation is that everything will be fine and all the country's problems will disappear. But that's not the case."

"We have to tackle the country's teething problems together on all fronts. There has to be patience," he added. "For me this is my country, it is a new nation and we have to work hard with the limited resources we have."

Meantime, the new urban rock heard in Dili is here to stay, according to Yohan York, leader of the Bibi Bulak band and music facilitator in the Arte Moris Free Art School.

"There is an interest in the young generation in new rock music, hip-hop style music. It's very popular and here's to stay," said York. "A lot of youngsters are tired of the traditional love song format, 'My darling, my darling, I miss you, when are you coming back'," he added.

Said Yohan: "More and more Timorese are becoming interested in music with a message with daring lyrics questioning the government and the country's social values -- and I think some very positive developments can happen in this realm."

see also: ABC: Young and restless turn to rock (includes audio)


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