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A Bee Song – Bath Spa University

Saving the Bees with Music and Culture

Friday, 31 May, 2024

Imagine the delicate humming of bees mixed with a traditional Namibian song and a beat you can’t help but get swept up in – that is ‘A Bee Song’.

The single ‘A Bee Song’, which can be listened to on YouTube, is a work of collaboration between Somerset-based recording artist Banco de Gaia (Toby Marks) and Future Pasts led by Sian Sullivan, Professor of Environment and Culture at Bath Spa University. Future Pasts researches cultural and conservation landscapes in north-west Namibia.

 A aerial image of a part of Namibia in south Africa, this is overlayed with the words 'Banco de Gaia and Future Pasts, A Bee Song'

This single began as an experimental commission by Future Pasts to explore the possibilities of recomposing an archived audio recording. Based on a traditional Namibian song that praises the honey bee, A Bee Song is an uplifting and vibrant track full of life and humanity. With an infectious groove and a buzzing bassline, we aim with this track to get heads and feet moving. 

The motivation for this recomposition was to bring an Indigenous Damara/ǂNūkhoe praise song (|gais) that praises honey bees to a contemporary audience. The original track was recorded by German linguists in 1954 and is archived at the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in Switzerland. 

When they first listened to the song it reminded Future Pasts researchers Sian Sullivan and Welhemina Suro Ganuses of being taken honey-harvesting by the late Nathan ǂÛina Taurob of Sesfontein in north-west Namibia. As he lit a fire to calm the bees, the bees began to hum loudly inside the mountain where his hive was located. We've tried to recreate this sound of the mountain humming with bees in A Bee Song. 

Professor Sullivan first travelled to Namibia in 1989 whilst living in southern Africa. During her time there she developed collaborative relationships with the NGO Save the Rhino Trust, Gobabeb Namib Research Institute and the University of Namibia, with whom she remains connected. 

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Future Pasts research continues to enable new avenues for research, such as oral history and memory mapping. Professor Sullivan says: 

“With my main Namibian research collaborator Welhemina Suro Ganuses we’ve been taking older people back to places where they used to live, but from which they were displaced for various reasons. It’s been very powerful to document and map these past dwelling places and to learn about peoples’ histories.” 

She continues:

“It is this research that ultimately led to the creation of ‘A Bee Song’ and the video that accompanies it. This video made by Somerset-based video artist Patrick Dunn,  incorporates footage filmed by my collaborator Oliver Halsey from Future Pasts films The Music Returns to Kai-as and Lands That History Forgot.” 

Working closely with Namibian organisations is an important part of Professor Sullivan’s research. Building these connections has allowed for an important message to be brought to a contemporary audience. 

“Through this research, I’ve become concerned about environmental and polluting impacts affecting bees, which are so essential for pollination. It seemed pertinent to bring to contemporary audiences a song that praises bees.” 

With support from the Bath Spa University research office in the complexities of remote research, Professor Sullivan uses ‘A Bee Song’ to inspire the students she teaches at BSU. Her aim is to raise awareness about cultural stories regarding the natural world, and the importance of sustainability and the protection of bees. 

To read more about ‘A Bee Song’ and Future Pasts research, visit this blog post. To find out more about studying humanities at BSU, visit the School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities page

A Bee Song is available on Spotify, Apple, Amazon and other platforms
Proceeds from the track will support Nami-Daman heritage activities via the Future Pasts Trust, a legal entity in Namibia. Visit the Nami-Daman Heritage House web page for more details.

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