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Helen Epega: The Lady Who Performed The World’s First Opera In Pidgin English

Helen Isibor-Epega (Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor), also The Venus Bushfires, (born 1981) is a Nigerian opera singer, songwriter, composer and performance artist, who has written the world’s first opera in Pidgin English. Inspired by Wagner’s Parsifal, her Song Queen: A Pidgin Opera was presented in London in July 2015.

Biography

Born in Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria into a family with five children, Isibor is the daughter of a medical consultant and a storybook writer, both of whom were interested in music. She lived in Benin City until she moved to London in the 1980s when she was seven. After attending an all-girls convent school, she graduated in Communications and Media at Brunel University London. She was initially a rapper but became interested in more politically aware singers such as Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba. When she was in Ibiza in 2007, she discovered the hang drum which has since become her favourite instrument.

Thanks to funding from the Arts Council, Isibor composed the Song Queen along more or less traditional opera lines but while she kept the strings, she introduced traditional African instruments such as the kora and included talking drums and djembes for percussion. The version premiered at the Palace Theatre in London in 2015 was an hour long but Isibor is working on an extension to bring it to an hour and a half or two hours. It has also been performed at the Artspace in Cape Town and is to be performed in Lagos in late 2016.

In May 2015, Isibor married the EMC3 chairman Baba Epega.

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Written by BJ

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