“Song Queen”: Helen Epega’s Pidgin Opera Connects Audiences To Africa; Here Is How

BY Dora Abena Dzaka October 20, 2023 2:03 PM EDT
Photo Credit: Fcaebook @Helen Isibor Epega

Helen Epega, a Nigerian-British performance artiste, vocalist, and composer, wrote the first pidgin English (an African language spoken in Nigeria and other parts of the region) opera in history.

In 2008, she coordinated the first-ever “hang flash gig” at the Lovebox event in London, which was broadcast on UK’s Channel 4.

Helen Epega’s avant-garde opera, The Venus Bushfires, had its world premiere in 2015 and was the first production of its kind.

The first “pidgin opera” created by Helen Epega, was inspired by her pride in her African heritage. She wrote and starred in the movie “Song Queen,” which is about a fabled place where music has the power to unite people and promote peace.

The opera, which is performed in several diasporan languages and pidgin English, strives to provide a window onto the African continent.

Epega claims that the opera’s goal is to bring people together and teach them something they already know but were previously unaware of, something that can foster harmony among them all. She wants the people of African heritage in the audience to feel motivated and proud.

Helen draws influence from psychedelic, tribal, and meditative arts as well as musical and artistic pioneers like Fela Kuti and Kate Bush to produce music and stories that explore the sensual and the spiritual – this kiind of music has come to be described as “Afro-sonic” music.

She became well-known for her hypnotic and trance-inducing live performances, compelling performance-art installations, and impromptu sound journey performances in unexpected settings.

Her songs have aired on documentaries and international television, and she has produced music for companies such as Christian Dior, Sony Play Station, Disney, Oxfam, and the British Asian Trust (one of HRH King Charles’ favorite charities).

Helen has since developed a unique experience that transports the audience into a world where music has the power to inspire, heal, and bring people together at a time when the world seems to be so divided.

The recently revised production incorporates Nigerian Pidgin English, Patois, Creole, Cockney, Hip Hop Vernacular, and Multicultural London Slang in addition to the rich African narrative legacy and Western Classical music presented via an Afro-Futuristic lens.

A few of the cities where this musical phenomenon has already been performed include London, Lagos, Turin, Bodrum, and Cape Town. Due to high demand, the pidgin opera will make a comeback in the spring or summer of 2023 in the United Kingdom.