Bega Valley and Timor Leste connect through song

The simple act of singing can evoke joy and connection. It bridges the differences between people and creates a sense of unity. 

This is the core idea behind the Timor Leste Belun Malu Choirs Project, a musical cultural exchange program between the Bega Valley and the Natarbora region of Timor Leste.

Dave Crowden and Tim Holt visited Natarbora in July this year, to sow the seeds of the project and create music with schoolchildren in the area in association with the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste.

The BVATL signed a Friendship Agreement with the Natarbora in 2004. Since then, BVATL has provided the region with building and agricultural materials, water and sewerage infrastructure, teacher training and educational materials .

But within this partnership they also wanted to build friendship and creativity. To do this, over 100 musical instruments have been gifted to the people of Natarbora and cultural events have been held. 

This was Mr Crowden’s fourth visit to Timor Leste, who has delivered instruments to the region over the last six years. 

Mr Holt joined him for the eight day tour of Timor Leste. The pair worked with the community to begin forming and organising a choir of Natarbora locals to visit Australia and tour the country in 2020. 

The Belun Malu Choirs Project also intends to send a choir from South East NSW to Timor next year.

“We are building a cultural exchange between the two locations,” Mr Holt said. 

“It’s in the name, Belun Malu translates to friendship in English, so it’s the core of what we are doing.”

The pair visited children at Uma Boco Kindergarten and Natarbora Senior Secondary College.

“They truly are a people that love to sing, in all the schools we visit, it felt like the children were singing all of the time,” Mr Holt said. 

The Belun Malu Choirs Project is a continuation of previous musical exchanges between the Bega Valley and Natarbora. 

In 2012, the Koro Loriko choir from Timor Leste toured Australia with the support of BVATL.

The choir project coordinator in Timor Leste is musician and educator Ego Lemos, who Mr Cowden and Mr Holt worked closely with on their trip. 

Mr Lemos also travelled to Australia in 2012, playing a show in Candelo. 

The BVATL is now fundraising for the project, beginning with a show from The Stumblin’ Wilburys at Club Sapphire on October 20.

Money will be raised with similar events over the next three years until the Timor Leste choir can perform in Australia.