Awuya [shorter version] (1998 / 2005)
Commissioned by Glasgow University for the retirement of Prof. Keith Vickerman.
First performance: Louise Vickerman, Glasgow University, 01 Jan 1998
Location: ref library
Science expands our understanding of the world we live in, and is thereby rich in images and concepts of great significance to contemporary society. Despite this, the expression of scientific ideas in the creative arts is rare, and few scientists harness artistic media to engage the public in an appreciation of the importance of scientific discoveries. This piece uses the powerful emotive language of music to express the tragedy of sleeping sickness and the hope provided by scientific endeavour.
The piece is inspired by African drumming rhythms, by a pentatonic harp used by a central African tribe and by the tune of a lullaby from another central African tribe decimated by sleeping sickness in the 1940's. The original words of the lullaby, sung to a little girl called Awuya, are hauntingly reminiscent of the symptoms of the disease.
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.
The music begins with African drumming rhythms, followed by musical 'colour changes', expressing the changing coat of the trypanosomes. This is followed by the lullaby tune, then again the 'colour' music. The music changes less obviously after the first statement of the lullaby, and when the lullaby returns it is more positive. The piece ends on an optimistic note with the suggestion that the changing trypanosomes may be controlled, and the disease conquered. These changes in the music were reflected in a video produced to accompany the first performance.
Professor Pat Monaghan.