Songs of Colonial Labour

Songs of Colonial Labour

In the framework of Sonsbeek 2020>2024, “Force Times Distance On Labour and its Sonic Ecologies”, I got invited by curator Aude Christel Mgba to be part of their educational and public program with this project about unconscious values of labour in children- en folksongs, especially focusing on the old Dutch folksong ‘Daar was eens een meisje loos’.  That song is referring back to the common practice of women dressing up in men’s clothes to get work at ships, as soldiers, sailors of even pirate captains. 

By the project ‘Songs of Colonial Labour” I am focusing on European children’s songs and the labour values that are propagated by these songs, hidden between the lines of their lyrics – values that communicate gendered, classist and/or racist notions of labour on the one hand, or that resist or even empower on the other.

How can we commonly start to uncover these values hidden within well-known lyrics, to critically examine and understand their entangled value systems; strengthening values aimed to empower, whilst overcoming values that aim to oppress?

Title: Songs of colonial Labour

Date: 2021

Seizes: Various


Between May and August 2021 I had conducted several workshops for people between 15-99 years where we were producing new lyrics, thinking together what those words could mean to us and what it could mean to re-script lyrics. Look at this padlet to get a glimpse of that proces and the new lyrics: 

Resecripted lyrics from the workshop

New Lyrics For A Maiden Song

In the audio I have used comments, the voices and new lyrics of the participants of creative writing workshops, as Hans Marcelis, Jan Meijering, Frauke De Gruyter, Ineke Mol and Piet Bakker, Jan Provoos, Han Doornebosch, Janine Lenting, Yvonne Smeenk, Anna Cohen Stuart, and the musician Kate Christina Buah Donkor.

Grandmothers Singing Songs

This stop motion animation focuses on the song “Daar was eens een meisje loos”, a well-known Dutch folk song first mentioned in 1775 and looks at the gender inequality when it comes to women and work. Musician Kate Christina Buah Donkor had arranged the audio, using the voice of her grandmother singin that same song and Jan Meijering had written the story during the workshops about his grandmother.


In the framework of the public program of Sonsbeek20<24 on 27th of August 2021 musician Kate Donkor and I took the audience on a journey guided by the Old Dutch folk song “Daar was eens een meisje loos”, inviting the audience to look, listen and speculate about the meaning of collectively transcribing the lyrics of songs. Which associations and memories does this kind of songs trigger around the notion of labour?

First, I was presenting my research about a collection of folk-children songs communicating unequal  labour relations and social discrimination and sharing the animation films.

Second, some of participants of the workshops, Hans Marcelis, Jan Meijering, Frauke De Gruyter, Ineke Mol and Piet Bakker were reciting new texts, based on the original lyrics.

The Maiden Choir Singing

In this first version various women, all now based in the Netherlands, were singing the song “Daar was eens een meisje loos”. Some knew the song before, some not. A formation of female voices.

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