When visiting the opera in London, Nigerian-born singer-songwriter, composer and performance artist Helen Isibor-Epega had an epiphany. ‘I went to the opera wearing my ankara,’ she told The Guardian, referring to her traditional Nigerian clothing that stood out from the black-tie wearing opera regulars, ‘and I thought, actually, I’m going to pidgin this entire situation up!’
This flash of inspiration marked the birth of the world’s first opera in pidgin English, the lingua franca spoken by 50 million people in Nigeria, alongside variants in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia. ‘Song Queen: A Pidgin Opera’, inspired by traditional African folk tales about Mami Wata, the goddess of the sea, is a wondrous blend of classical western and African musical instruments, including the rare UFO-shaped hang Isibor-Epega plays as one of the few people in the world. Moreover, visually the opera is a mesmerizing experience induced by the costumes and background projections of African origin.
The Venus Bushfires
The Venus Bushfires is a creative collective of one and many, of which Nigerian-born singer-songwriter composer and performance artist Helen Isibor-Epega is the only constant member. Isibor-Epega created music for Christian Dior, Sony PlayStation, Disney, Oxfam and the Prince of Wales, and her songs have featured on French television and documentary films. In 2008 she orchestrated the world’s first ever ‘hang flash gig’. In 2013 her debut EP and fashion line The Venus Bushfires was released.
‘As a composer and performance artist I’m quite experimental with sounds and visuals, so the opera has been an extension and development of that,’ Isibor-Epega says. The positive support has really been overwhelming and demonstrates that audiences are hungry for art that brings people together and inclusively celebrates the various facets of our human experience.’
The opera premiered in London, has been performed in Cape Town, and will be performed in Nigeria too.