The Venus Bushfires: Two worlds collide in a Pidgin English opera

Nigerian-born Helen Isibor-Epega, otherwise known as The Venus Bushfires, is a singer-songwriter who explains why she likes to tick the "other" box.

Helen Isibor-Epega is a diaspora African: born in Nigeria and raised in London, she has been influenced by different styles, cultures and languages. She is also one of very few young, female, African composers and claims to be proud to be at the spearhead of musical talent from the continent.

“I like to always tick the ‘other’ box – I love that coming from two worlds enables me to tick the other box. It gives me a lot of freedom I think,” says Isibor-Epega.

Isibor-Epega explains that the name she performs under, The Venus Bushfires, means a celebration of mother nature and the essence of the earth. Her Pidgin English opera, which debuted in London in 2015 and is the world’s first and only opera in the Nigerian vernacular language, is about Mami Wata, the goddess of the sea. The legend of this fish-tailed woman exists in many cultures across the world, and in many African countries the Mami Wata is a spirit to be feared. 

“For me it’s always something to celebrate – it is the essence of femininity, Mami Wata is,” says Isibor-Epega, “so I love to sing about it in songs.” 

The element of water I try to approach quite spiritually: for me water is the birth of possibilities, water is the cleanser, water is the balance, water is neither sacred or profane, water is neither masculine or feminine. For me water is the clear ground that allows the possibilities of creativity to flourish and flow.

Isibor-Epega also talks about her song, “Last Winter Sparrow”, which she performed on stage during her Design Indaba Conference talk. The song is about a sparrow a the end of its life that realises that it never had the opportunity to be an eagle. It is about the human desire to be greater.

“In honesty, I looked at myself and thought maybe I am a little bit of that sparrow too. Wanting to be an eagle, wanting to make the most out of life,” she says.