Legend has it that the island of Timor formed from an ancient crocodile. The peoples of East Timor have been as resilient as this founding reptile, surviving colonization by the Portuguese and Indonesians to become one of the planet’s newest independent countries in 2002. These five bands and musicians carry on that brave spirit through song.
Singing about “the people’s hope and salvation” on the bubbly ska track “Liberdade,” this East Timor-Australian collective rose to fame by touring with Kylie Minogue in 1999. Their raucous brass, gang vocals and politically bold lyrics made the Dili Allstars one of the most crucial acts on the island. They continue to play gigs in Australia and throughout Asia today.
Dishing out dreamy area rock a la 30 Seconds to Mars, NYX 15 consists of Zefon, Agus, Juju, Baino and Elton. This quintet is signed to Damfuo Music Record, a company specializing in the East Timor youth culture. Their polished, radio-ready tunes transcend language and will make hearts flutter. And you gotta love some of their sweet guitar licks. We haven’t heard solos these moving since the ’90s.
Though Filipina by birth and Californian by current locale, renowned scholar Jacqueline Siapno is synonymous with East Timor. She and her late husband, Fernando La Sama, helped build that country’s educational infrastructure during his tenure as president of the national parliament. Their son, Hadomi, is carrying on the family legacy as an accomplished cellist, alongside his multi-instrumentalist mother. Siapno is also the author of The Accompanists, a 2016 memoir commemorating her life with La Sama.
“A day without laughter is a day wasted,” says the artwork on Je Brother’s YouTube banner. This spritely rapper embodies that spirit in his classically influenced tracks—lush pieces that emphasize his conversational, approachable rhymes. The above tune, “Belun,” translates to “friend” or “partner,” and with it this fresh talent proves that the genre doesn’t have to be gritty or violent to get its point across.
In the same determined vein, chanteuse Dalia proclaims “Through Music everything is Possible.” Born in East Timor and nurtured in Portugal, the angelic-voiced artist now lives in the U.K. and regularly pens songs for peace campaigns. She writes in English, Portuguese and the East Timor language of Tetum and reminds us of a more grounded Ariana Grande.
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