Heir of the Cursed – 'I'm just trying to tell the most honest stories and leave myself open to receive them'
- Arusa Qureshi
- 11 June 2018
We chat to Beldina Odenyo Onassis, one of eight Starter Artists taking part in the National Theatre of Scotland's funded residency programme
Beldina Odenyo Onassis has been captivating audiences in Glasgow for a few years now. Having grown up in Dumfries in a predominantly white environment, the singer-songwriter took early inspiration from her surroundings to pen music that spoke of her experience and dual Kenyan and Scottish identity. 'It totally impacted my writing and music, not just from a wholly racial perspective.' She says when asked about her upbringing. 'The landscape, the language and adapting to that. I was always "othered" and thus reflective but despite the hardship, covert and overt racism, I'm very lucky to have grown up where and when I did.'
To come across the kind of raw talent that is utterly transfixing, transporting you between different time periods and places in an instant, is a rarity. But under her other-worldly moniker Heir of the Cursed, Onassis does exactly that, with her intricate guitar work and soulful, dreamy vocals traversing somewhere across the realms of jazz, blues and folk.
'I'm a stoic member of the church of Nina Simone and my sisters and will always be.' She explains. 'I also love Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba, Ella Fitzgerald and Joan Armatrading but I'm not sure whether you can hear that in the music. Maybe feel it?'
Her early musical inspirations may have followed her in terms of her current creative output but Onassis' writing process remains unique to her.
'There's no formula,' she says, 'I just feel compelled when the muses assemble something for me, be it words or music and then I sit down, press record and feel out the story. Some make it into the set, some I just keep for myself and that moment.'
Despite there being no set formula, the stark guitar-and-voice arrangements prevalent in the music of Heir of the Cursed is slowly becoming recognisable across the Scottish music scene, with Onassis keen to highlight Glasgow's place in all of this. 'I think I'm very lucky in that I feel I'm exactly where I need to be. I've been trying to find my place for years in the Glasgow scene but it was only when I decided to not look for but make it that things started moving. I've been supported so generously by so many people in Glasgow and I hope that I can continue making music that sets this city apart from the world.'
Most recently, Onassis was announced as one of eight recipients of a funded residency as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's starter programme, which helps artists develop their skills, networks, and explore a new idea for a piece of theatre. Not only does this signal the next step in her growth as a musician and artist, but it points to a strong future in the arts as a creative practitioner. 'It feels surreal, scary and affirming all at the same time. I'm so pleased to have this development time and hope to explore what will hopefully become a full theatre/gig piece in a couple of years.'
As well as writing and regularly playing shows, Onassis has set herself a deadline to get an album recorded, currently assembling players to help, as she puts it, 'put flesh on the bones.' Certainly, she's got an exciting and eventful year ahead of her thanks to the news of the residency alongside her growing reputation as one of Glasgow's must-see musicians. But don't expect her goals to have shifted; as Heir of the Cursed, her motivation remains a constant.
'I'm just trying to tell the most honest stories and leave myself open to receive them. I'm ultimately a conduit, a griotte and I want to share songs that reflect our time and comfort in any way I can.'