Beldina Odenyo Onassis: A Tribute

Following the heartbreaking news of her passing on 5 November, we've brought together a collection of tributes to remember the iconic Beldina Odenyo Onassis, aka Heir of the Cursed

Feature by Eliza Gearty | 29 Nov 2021
  • Beldina Odenyo Onassis

A fellow Govanhill resident, Beldina Odenyo Onassis was a familiar friendly face. I danced with her a few times and met her in passing (Beldina lived in the neighbourhood for years before moving to Paisley). Long before I saw her play or listened to her music, I knew of her as just another person making art in the Southside. 

When I did eventually see her perform as Heir of the Cursed, I was knocked flat – by Beldina's obvious talent and stage presence, but also by the compassion in her voice, the care she seemed to take with every word, as if each song were a letter addressed to whoever needed to hear it. 'Ignore the chatter that crowds your head / It's just a symptom of the way that you were bred', she sings on Hold the Mirror. 'It’s not easy to love yourself / But I see you / And I'm patient'. 

In recent years, Beldina was also making a name for herself in theatre. She worked with Hannah Lavery and the National Theatre of Scotland on Lament for Sheku Bayoh. She was working with Lavery again this year on a show called Blood Salt Spring. In July, she revealed to Greater Govanhill magazine that she was writing her own play. An artist with still so much ahead of her, Beldina was possibly not yet aware of the deep impact her work could have on people. But for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed one of her live performances, there can be no doubt. Beldina’s power as an artist wasn’t just because of her formidable talent as a singer and guitar player. It also came from the profound humanity that radiated from her music. 

She had the ability to speak to the lonely, the lost, the people who felt a little out of place, with a voice that was as vulnerable as it was defiant. It's a voice that will live on in her music. In 2017, when she was named one of YWCA Scotland’s 30 Under 30, Beldina was asked what her message would be for girls and young women in Scotland. “There is a place for you in the world,” she responded. “If you can’t find it, make it.” Beldina's place in the world will never be filled. But we are all so thankful she made it. 

In honour of Beldina, we've reached out to a number of her friends and peers to bring together a collection of tributes. We hope these warm memories can pay homage and provide some comfort. 

Hannah Lavery (Playwright) 
I remember the first time I saw Beldina perform, she was headlining a night I was also performing in, but I was tired and was sneaking off when she came on stage. Jacket on and half out the door, I became rooted to the spot, transfixed by her voice, her words, her music, her performance. I missed my train.

When I was making Lament for Sheku Bayoh, I knew I wanted Beldina involved and what she brought to the production cannot be underestimated. The absolute beauty of her score and her incredible performance, full of such vulnerability and rage, was courageous and unforgettable. One night after a performance we had the great privilege to spend some time with Sheku's family and hear their beautiful memories of their beloved brother. She told me later, she wanted to get a tattoo of a line from the play, 'It was a heart full day' to remind her to live her life surrounded by love, like Sheku, she said.

Jim Monaghan (Poet and Arts Editor, Bella Caledonia)
I can't even remember how long ago it was that I first met Beldina but I feel like I always knew her. We were such close buddies because we had great respect and love for each other. When Bel lived in Govanhill we had wonderful times together, she was wise and funny, the perfect partner for a night in McNeill's. She loved that pub so much as it had that traditional working-class pub music, people singing songs together, and to each other.

I remember her singing a country song in McNeill's. I was watching her, thinking she was at her happiest, guitar in hand, people joining in with the chorus. Beldina had an amazing effect on people, she lit up the company. She always made me feel happier than I was when I wasn't with her. I am going to miss her terribly. 

Chris Bainbridge (Man of Moon)
Anyone that knew Beldina, or saw her perform as Heir of the Cursed, knows how truly special she was and what an incredibly beautiful soul she had. Her performances were like no other. She really was one of life’s special people. Rest in power, Beldina. 

Love Music Hate Racism Glasgow 
We're absolutely heartbroken about our friend Beldina. She was truly unique; with an absolutely incredible voice that could bring you to tears in an instant and was the kindest, most beautiful person. One of the most memorable gigs we've ever had was our closing act at Doune the Rabbit Hole, with Rise Kagona taking the stage.

Bel was down the front wearing a facesplitting grin and dancing away, radiating joy. She could at once break your heart with her swooping, gut-wrenching voice, and grab your hand on the dancefloor and dance away with such warmth, such joy. Rest in power, Bel.

Kathryn Joseph
Beldina was the most. The kindest most ferocious of lion heart, and maker of beauty in all ways. I honestly thought the world was about to get to see it, that she would be the most known of all. And no one deserved it more. I never felt I deserved how beautiful she was to me and and about my songs. But I know I shouted all the love and more back into her beautiful heart every time we spoke. And I know she knew how much she was loved by everyone. She was an actual goddess. We were all so lucky to have had her and we will miss her forever.

Kwame Barfour-Osei (Kobi Onyame)
My sweet dearest sister, my homie, gangster, I’m still processing you not being here. Rest. Through your talent, through your selflessness, through the love you showed, you have cheated death. Now rest. Everyone who loved you and everyone you loved holds a piece of your best to pass on. May that continue. Your work is done. Your race was run. Now rest. It was an honour sharing stages with you. I keep close to my heart the music we made, the music we never got to make, the discussions, the laughs, your smile and the rants. Thank you for your words of encouragement and your selflessness. Now rest. I love you homie. May God grant you tranquility while you sleep and comfort to all who loved you. Be at peace Beldina. Rest.

Gráinne Vedamanikam (Synergy Concerts)
Beldina had magic in her. She was a sincerely magical human being, no other way to describe it. Even people who didn’t know her well would comment that she had a certain something that they couldn’t put their finger on, and that they just liked her so much. I think it's that she simply radiated love and warmth, and it was so easy and felt so nice to connect with that. Every person who knew her or met her, felt it. Being her friend and colleague was a true privilege, and I will always remember and cherish her beautiful and glowing energy. 

Robert Kilpatrick (SMIA)
Beldina truly was one of a kind. She captivated audiences with every performance, and I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced her magic. It’s rare to witness such a talent, and on top of this, for it to come from someone so innately humble and truly authentic to their art. Her last performance at this year’s SAY Award Ceremony – celebrating former winner Kathryn Joseph – is something that I and every single person who attended will remember forever. On stage in that cape – belting, swaying and commanding every single eye and ear in the room. The definition of power, and of beauty. She’ll be sorely and deeply missed by many. 

Arusa Qureshi (music journalist)
The first time I saw Beldina on stage, she was performing with the brilliant Kobi Onyame. Despite providing accompanying vocals during his set, she was utterly mesmerising and Kobi was quick to give her the spotlight, pointing out that she was undeniably one to watch. We had met once before when I hosted a panel that she took part in and even then, I was in awe of her intelligence and the sincerity in everything she said.

Shortly after, I interviewed Beldina for an article and she told me: “I’m just trying to tell the most honest stories and leave myself open to receive them [...] I want to share songs that reflect our time and comfort in any way I can.” We became friends and in the years following, she wowed me time and time again with the beauty and pure, raw emotion of her music and performance as Heir of the Cursed. But she was also a generous and kind soul; someone that always made you feel comfortable in her presence and I was so lucky to be able to call her a friend. I wish we had been able to spend more time together but I’m grateful to have seen and hugged her tight not too long ago.

Brian Reynolds (432 Presents)
I met Beldina at The Flying Duck in 2015. She was working the bar and I had found myself in the midst of a bad music video shoot that I did not want to be part of. She shared my pain and suggested hiding in the cellar, where we stood and shared a cider. She told me how she was a musician from Dumfries, that she had ended up performing with The Milk Carton Kids at Celtic Connections [...], that her old boss had B.O.S.S. tattooed on his knuckles and shouted 'MAKE WAY FOR THE BOSS' anytime he passed his subordinates in the corridor. She was very funny and endearing, I was immediately drawn to her and wanted to bring her into our team. 

I told her about The Hug and Pint and that she should meet Joe Rattray. Joe quickly booked her in for a show. I came down and was, like everybody else who saw her perform, astounded. From there we worked on tonnes of shows together and became firm friends. It was no surprise to any of us when she emerged as the highlight of The SAY Award 2021. [...] She was a wonderful person to be around – a proud fire-breathing Kenyan-Scot, a genius poet full of passion and love and anger and disappointment and hope. If she loved you, she let you know. She is sorely missed.

If you are affected by the news of Beldina's passing, or are struggling with your mental health, if you can’t speak to someone you know about it there are organisations out there who can help, SAMH, Help Musicians UK and Samaritans being three

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Beldina's family and loved ones at this difficult time. Those in Scotland's arts community who knew Beldina – who met her, worked with her or simply saw one of her mesmerising performances – will never forget her.