Insights: Beamish – Awuya

Our harpist, Anne, reflects on her relationship with Sally Beamish’s Awuya:

Awuya was commissioned by Glasgow University to celebrate the groundbreaking work of Professor Keith Vickerman in the field of African Sleeping Sickness. There are three main themes at the root of the work; firstly, the changing forms of the deadly pathogens of the disease – trypanosomes. You’ll hear repeated, slightly varying, pitch and rhythmic patterns within the dense substance of the music. Secondly, the sounds of African drums are incorporated into the work via a vocabulary of percussive effects using different parts of the hands (yes, it hurts to practise!). The third key feature is the central lullaby that originated in a central African tribe decimated by sleeping sickness during the 1940s. ‘Awuya’ is the name of the young girl to which this lullaby was sung, and the original words are as follows:

Awuya, eh, your mother does nothing
She crushes no ground nuts and draws no water
Awuya, eh, your mother goes nowhere
Neither to catch fish nor to look for snails.

I have been working on and performing this piece since 2009, and last year had the honour of working with Sally Beamish on a film project of the work. Awuya is one of the pieces in my repertoire that calls me to think about how we as performers build relationships with pieces that we engage with, especially if we work on them over months and years. I see and hear different patterns and shapes each time I return to the work, and in each performance there is a different balance of speeds, sounds and atmospheres. When I walk on stage to perform Awuya, I feel that I go on with a long-standing, much respected friend, with whom I have a living, developing relationship.


For Anne’s recent film project of Awuya, see: