Hard Workin’ Woman

for soprano and doublebass
[2011] dur. 6′ ca.

HeLa cells

Hard Workin’ Woman is first of all a song; it’s inspired by other two songs and it’s dedicated to three women. The first one is a woman from Cameroon (Tikar ethnicity); we don’t know her name but a recording of 1964 has allowed us to hear her voice. The woman sings with the accompaniment of the rhythm of a stone on which she is grinding the corn. This chant is connected to another one: Hard working woman, a blues by Mississippi Matilda, an African American singer who died in 1978. The similar melodic contour, the theme of the hard work and despair for the future and the timbre of the two singers, make the two chants connected and parallel. The story of another Afro-American woman overlaps in these process of rediscovery: her name is Henrietta Lacks and she is the subject of the text of the piece. Henrietta is suffering from a serious form of cancer and in the hospital in which she died in 1951, are taken her cells – without her knowledge – for the purpose of research and study. The HeLa cells [from (He(nrietta) La(cks)] turns out to be very special because they can reproduce indefinitely. They are still sold for billions of dollars for the benefit of medical and scientific research, but not for the benefit of the family who did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death. I was fascinated by these two chants and the idea of an original which is lost without being forgotten as in the case of the endless duplication of the HeLa cells where the original one no longer exists but survives in its copies. (And in the meanwhile the doublebass grinds…)
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