Fifteen-year-old Maria Vitoria has become a sensation in the small half-island nation of Timor Leste, or East Timor.
A dangdut star in the making, the young singer has become something of a role model for young Timorese, receiving a heroes welcome on her return home.
Teodosia dos Reis has her story.
Maria Vitoria, or ‘Marvi’ for short, has recently become famous in Timor-Leste.
Two months ago she traveled to Indonesia for the Dangdut Academy Asia competition. And she won fourth place out of 36 international contenders.
Dangdut is an Indonesian music style that blends folk and pop, and also Malay, Hindu, and Arab music.
Most people in Timor don’t sing dangdut that well, but Marvi can, and she only just started.
“I started dangdut about two months before I joined the competition, but I always made an effort to listen to my trainer,” said Marvi.
“Before, when I was with my friends, and helping my father sell vegetables in the market, I would always sing pop music, songs like ‘You Rise Me Up’ and also, ‘Don’t You Remember’. They are my favourite songs.”
When Marvi arrived home from Jakarta, about one thousand Timorese, even elderly people and children, gathered on the hot day at the airport to welcome and congratulate her.
Marvi’s father, Antonio Borges, said his daughter’s talent, and the crowds, was like a gift from God.
“When we were landing I saw through the window, in the airport there were many people. I was very surprised to see a crowd like that.”
Borges continued, “My daughter, who is very young, suddenly welcomed like an official. It was almost embarrassing. I give thanks to God for this miracle.”
Marvi too, was very surprised the crowds at Nicolau Lobato airport in Dili, had come for her.
“Never in my mind could I have imagined a welcome like this. It was a shock, like a dream,” she said.
During the competition in Jakarta, Marvi chose some of the most difficult songs to perform.
Although she can’t speak Indonesian fluently, Marvi did manage to memorize the words in the songs, some in Malay, others in Indonesian and even Javanese.
The judges at the competition from six countries, all praised Marvi’s natural talent.
One even described her as ‘magical’.
And her success has not gone unnoticed by the government.
The Secretary of State for Youth and Sports (SEDJ), Leovigildo Hornai, helped organize Marvi’s welcome, as a well as a march, and special concert, in the capital.
“She is a good singer and also representing our country in the Asian competition, which means that Timor-Leste also established good relationships with the countries in Asia that joined the competition. Maria is the first step for us and now we need to create the conditions for other singers too,” commented Hornai.
The government is trying to find ways to support the artistic community of Timor Leste.
Even though Marvi is still finishing school, she is leading the way for young Timorese singers in the future.