TIMOR-LESTE: Jina Ko Jina Ana - Tonny Pareira & Elder D. Araujo
Updated: 5 days ago
A joyful album born out of trying times, Pareira and Araujo show that entertainment for entertainment's sake can have meaning
The small nation of East Timor (also known as Timor-Leste, but Wikipedia goes for East Timor and therefore so shall I) shares a border on its Pacific island of Timor with Indonesia, a country that has caused this tiny nation much sufferance. East Timor was previously a colony of Portugal, and when the Portuguese overseas empire collapsed in 1975 due to the democratic Carnation Revolution that overthrew the Estado Novo regime in 1974, the Portuguese promptly fled. This led to a power vacuum that ultimately culminated in a declaration of Timorese independence, before occupation by Indonesia, which lasted until 1999. The reasons for invasion ranged from a fear of Timorese independence sparking other independence movements in Indonesian provinces, to a fear of a Communist state being established on its border. Whatever the reason, the Indonesian invasion and subsequent occupation led to massacres of Timorese civilians, sexual slavery of Timorese women, and the forced adoption and resettlement of Timorese children, and the eradication of traditional animist beliefs which led to the majority of the population converting to Christianity.
“Music can also provide much needed distraction and escape from the difficulties of life, and it is certainly possible that this is what was in Pareira and Araujo’s minds when recording this joyful piece of music.”
You might be asking yourself as you read this, “that’s all very interesting, Joel, but this is an album review site, not National Geographic – what does any of this have to do with the record at hand?” and it would certainly be an astute and appropriate question. The answer, of course, is nothing. The album is a collection of 12 perfectly fun pop tunes that are never bad nor outstanding. But I pose to you, considering the brutal occupation and struggle for independence, isn’t it unusual that the album seems to be collection of light-hearted ballads and love songs? Music is usually a forefront of protest and politics, and there is no evidence of that here. To that assertion you may well retort “Isn’t that a huge assumption based solely on the light tone of the album and might be contradicted by satirical, sly, or otherwise subversive lyrics? After all, if you listened to Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon and you didn’t speak English, you would assume the same thing.” And you would once again be right.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t speak Tetum, the main language of East Timor, or indeed any of the other 20+ languages spoken in East Timor alone. The best I could try and do was find a Tetum translator online, which wasn’t very helpful. I can say with reasonable certainly that the opening song O Rai Timor means ‘the land of Timor’, which could definitely fit in with this hypothesis that there is some subversion going on, yet Angelina, complete with its beautiful vocals by a female vocalist whose name is listed on the front cover as Ria Angelina, would certainly seem to be a love song, on the face of things. So, there’s no conclusive evidence either way. However, one piece of information that can be verified is that Tonny Pareira and Elder D. Araujo’s album was released on an Indonesian record label called JK Records, which would certainly imply that any people able to release music would have to at the very minimum have to ingratiate themselves into the Indonesian culture imposed upon them, and in turn that could explain why the album seems so inoffensive and bubble-gum.
The album itself is good fun. It isn’t brilliant or fantastic, but it gets the job done. There are some good tunes, namely O Rai Timor, Jina Ko Jina Ana, and Angelina, which all have a smooth, Pacific island vibe to them. If you were hosting a party in Dili in the 1990s, you could have done a lot worse than to stick this on and let the good times flow. Perhaps this shows another side to music. it doesn’t always have to reflect the hardness of the times that created it. Music can also provide much needed distraction and escape from the difficulties of life, and it is certainly possible that this is what was in Pareira and Araujo’s minds when recording this joyful piece of music, and while I can’t be certain, (if anyone from East Timor is reading this, do get in touch and confirm my suspicions!) it seems like a noble ambition all the same.