Get to Know Helen Epega, the Nigerian-British Who is Behind the World’s First Pidgin Opera

Normally, pidgin, a creole language or just a vernacular spoken throughout West Africa, would not be found in the architecture of opera. Helen Epega, a Nigerian-British opera performer, has challenged the status quo by incorporating Nigerian pidgin and other languages.

Her style is known as Pidgin Opera. Epega, also known as “The Venus Bushfires” (symbolizing the birth of possibilities), presented the world to pidgin opera in 2015.

Epega’s ardent devotion to cultural unity resulted in the pidgin opera. According to Okay Africa, her purpose is to share the dynamic Nigerian and African cultural heritage with the diaspora, and she is the driving force behind her creative pidgin opera initiative.

Epega not only lives her African identity on stage, but also in her daily life. This is reflected in the vivid Ankara cloth she wears as well as her haircut, which is a statement of her deep connection to her African roots.

Epega and her family moved from Nigeria to London when she was seven years old, ushering in a new chapter in their life. However, this positive change was coupled by a bittersweet revelation as she faced discrimination because of her African origin.

She recalled those lonely days, as well as her confusion and hurt at the disparate treatment she experienced in London. Despite her African heritage, she couldn’t understand why she was treated differently.

This early experience inspired her to work toward creating a venue where Africa would be acknowledged and Africans in the diaspora could be proud of their origin. Her aha moment, however, came during a trip to Nigeria in 2008. It was not just transformational, but it also had a significant impact on Epega’s viewpoint. She stated that she had fresh hope and a great desire to share Nigerian culture with the diaspora.

Her visit encouraged her to strike up a conversation by donning traditional haircuts and attire. She proudly displayed several objects from Benin in her London house to create an environment that portrayed Africa as bold, lively, and deserving of love and respect.

Epega recounted getting a remarkable invitation to the Royal House Opera in 2013, which marked her first opera attendance and a watershed moment in her career. She arrived at the opera house decked up in vivid traditional clothes, including a big gele, inspired by her desire to publicly display her African heritage.

Her participation in the event, as well as her contacts with attendees, fueled her desire to develop a classical-style movement that supports African culture. She opted to incorporate a “pidgin” style into her work in order to make African culture more accessible and relatable to a wider audience. She is currently working on “Song Queen,” the world’s first Pidgin opera.

There is no stopping her now that she has established her beat. Epega is actively molding the opera she directs’s future. She hopes to reach a wider audience by releasing a live recorded album of the performance. Her aspirations include making the opera as popular as well-known shows such as “The Lion King” and “Hamilton.” She aspires to find a dedicated theater for the performance in order to extend its runtime and anticipates a global tour.

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