Subject: The man has soil and soul (Ego Lemos)

Courier Mail

The man has soil and soul

By <,23829,5000555-5003421,00.html> Kathleen Noonan

November 27, 2009 11:00pm

A MUSICIAN is usually pretty particular about his hands. Unless he's a permaculturist. "I can't wait to go back to Timor and put my hands on the earth," Ego Lemos says.

He is not just speaking as a patriotic songwriter homesick for his country, the young and troubled nation of East Timor, but as a man of the land who has had his hands out of the soil for too long.

"I miss it," he says, speaking on his mobile phone in a busy street, air fat with car horns, in Melbourne, where he has finished his masters degree in international community development.

"I'm someone who has to be doing something with my hands."

Lemos has had them full receiving accolades for his debut solo album O Hele Le and its haunting track Balibo, which recently won the award for best original song composed for the screen at this year's Screen Music Awards.

It was the soundtrack to the Balibo film about the killing of five Australian newsmen in 1975.

How this 37-year-old permaculturist came to be the global face of East Timorese music is a story of fate and tenacity.

Musical heroes John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley played a part.

Indigenous singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu played a part.

The Irish Government played a part.

The Dreaming Festival at Woodford played a part.

Lemos's musical education began at a young age while listening to his mother play harmonica and his father play violin and was moulded by years of sorrow as his nation struggled for independence.

As a boy, three of Lemos's siblings died from disease and malnutrition and his father and grandfather died in the chaos of war in the wake of Indonesia's takeover of his country.

"The people of East Timor are so traumatised and need to heal," he says.

Lemos, who speaks Indonesian and Portuguese as well as English, fitted his music in around his community involvement. In 1995, he started an organic farming movement at university and then worked with women's groups and human rights organisations.

Unlike his name, Ego (pronounced Eggo) comes across as humble.

In the past, time spent on stage was more likely speaking at international conferences on sustainable agriculture and East Timorese independence than performing.

His debut album came about after a random intersection of fate backstage at The Dreaming Festival at Woodford back in 2007.

Waiting to play was Gurrumul, the award-winning indigenous musician, and his friend and producer Michael Hohnen. They were taken by Lemos's passion and sweet melodies of unity and healing and talked to him about recording an album.

"Michael contacted me back in Timor to record an album and wanted me to play with Gurrumul. At the same time I had got a scholarship to do post-graduate studies but it meant going to Ireland as it was an Irish Government scholarship," he says.

Lemos somehow convinced the Irish to let him study in Australia and got together with Darwin-based Skinnyfish Music and Hohnen to record. Now he is at the forefront of an East Timorese renewal of indigenous culture and music.

His album has started to connect with English-speaking audiences, although he sings in his native tongue, Tetum.

Lemos says his musical heroes of Lennon, Marley and Dylan hooked him before he could even understand English.

There are many who want Lemos to enter politics.

"I have been approached many times but I think I can change things other ways," he says.

"And when people go into politics, they can lose their independence, the system can control them.

"That's not for me."

O Hele Le is out now on SkinnyFish Music.

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