Helen Epega performs world’s first opera in lingua franca. The Nigerian lady performed excerpts of her opera in pidgin at a festival in southwestern Nigeria.
The type of music played may be unusual in this part of the world, but people can relate with it. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with different ethnic groups and hundreds of languages under its jurisdiction. But a universal language that reigns and is understood by all is lingua franca, sometimes referred to as ‘Broken English’.
“The feedback has been overwhelming”, said Epega, 37, who performs under the stage name ‘The Venus Bushfires’ and hails from the southern Nigerian city of Benin.
Speaking on the reaction of the audience, she said, “People are really happy about it. Perhaps it’s because they feel they have not heard a voice or had a chance to express themselves in this way”.
Written by Epega herself, the opera is yet to be staged in its entirety. But it will involve various singers and an orchestra.
But she has performed long excerpts with various drums and guitar in Europe, Cape Town and Lagos, amongst other places.
Epega has performed excerpts with different drums and guitar in Cape Town, Europe and Lagos among other places. She was also on the list of performance at the recent African Drum Festival in the southwestern city of Abeokuta, where the audience danced along, breaking with tradition for an opera.
The opera titled ‘Song Queen’s, is about a warrior queen and people who ‘sing a peaceful reality into the world’ through music.
The use of Pidgin, which is understood across Nigeria, gives unaccustomed access to opera.
“It’s not the music I think of when you referring to African drumming. But she is promoting our language, and that is special to hear”, said a student at the festival.
According to Epega, Pidgin is more than just serving as lingua franca. It can also help bring people together. “It shows that it’s not only OK to break barriers, but it’s also a must”.
“If we are to have a dialogue about peace, unity, and love, we must endeavor to find ways to build bridges between ourselves”, said the lady who has also lived in Britain.
The widely accepted language today had once been mocked by some as a language of the street. But it has now grown a powerful and cultural influence across all classes.
Various institutions and professional bodies have legalized the use of Pidgin. The latest, BBC, has started a Pidgin radio and news website. Even stand-up comedians are entertaining packed audiences and novels are written in the language.
A Nigerian author, Richard Ali, said he had recently helped translate an 11th-century Arabic story of Al-Hariri of Basra into Pidgin.
The renowned author also praised Pidgin as a bridge-building tongue that allows rival groups who cannot understand each other to speak to one another and laugh, thereby turning ‘competitors into comrades’.