In Guyana (previously British Guiana), the "kwe-kwe" songs form a large repertoire, which are sung in the evenings by a concourse of villagers around the house of a newly betrothed girl; some songs tell of the joys, others warn of the many surprises and disappointments of the married state.
Written in 1972, this toccata is based upon an African song, which commemorates the abolition of slavery in Guyana in 1842. The two-bar melody has a rhythm of unequal beats; the first bar contains five beats, divided 3 and 2, the second bar four, divided equally. "Janey Girl", a true kwe-kwe song, appears first as one of the second group of themes in triple time and then in its authentic duple time in the substantial code. The predominant mood of the piece is that of a fighting optimism.
Alan Bush first encountered the "kwe-kwe" songs, while researching in British Guiana for his third opera, The Sugar Reapers
(or Guyana Johnny) in 1959. He incorporated a "kwe-kwe" song in Act I, Scene 3 of the opera.
The first performance was given by William Langford (piano) at the Wigmore Hall, London, 11 January 1976.
The work was dedicated "To the people of Guyana".