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In Nigeria, pidgin opera is bridging cultures and breaking grounds

The musical genre may be unusual in this part of the world but people understand it

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In Nigeria, pidgin opera is bridging cultures and breaking grounds

The cheering crowd in southwestern Nigeria is thousands strong but when the performer on stage in a yellow catsuit and glittering cape beats out eerie rhythms on a steel drum, they hush.

Then as Helen Epega begins to sing, her powerful voice filling the air at the outdoor auditorium, the crowd roars.

The musical genre may be unusual in this part of the world but people understand it — Epega is singing what she and organisers of the festival in which she is participating say is the world’s first opera in Pidgin.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, with many ethnic groups and hundreds of languages.

But Nigerian Pidgin — a lingua franca sometimes referred to as  “Broken English” — is understood by almost all.

“The reaction has been overwhelming,” said 37-year old Epega, who performs under the stage name The Venus Bushfires and comes from the southern Nigerian city of Benin.

In Nigeria, pidgin opera is bridging cultures and breaking grounds
Nigerian opera singer and performance artist Helen Epega, performs during the world’s first opera in Pidgin, popularly called “broken English”, during the African Drum Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, on April 25, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

“People are really excited about it,” she told AFP. “Perhaps it is because they feel they haven’t had a voice, or had a chance to express themselves in this way.”

Written by Epega herself, the opera has yet to be staged in its entirety but it will involve several singers and an orchestra. 

But she has performed long excerpts with various drums and guitar, in Europe, Cape Town and Lagos, among other places.

And as Epega performed at the recent African Drum Festival in the southwestern city of Abeokuta, the audience danced along, breaking with tradition for an opera.

Titled “Song Queen”, it is about a warrior queen and people who “sing a peaceful reality into the world” through music, she said.

The crowd loved it.

Bridging cultures

The use of Pidgin, which is understood across Nigeria, provides unaccustomed access to opera.

“It is not the music I think of when you talk of African drumming,” said student David Ikeolu at the festival. 

“But she is singing our language, and that is special to hear,” he added.

More than just serving as a lingua franca, Pidgin can also help to bring people together, Epega said.

“It shows that it is not only OK to break barriers — in fact, we must,” said the singer, who has also lived in Britain.

“If we are going to have a dialogue about unity and peace and love, we must find ways to build bridges between ourselves.”

Pidgin power

Pidgin, which is endlessly changing, was once scorned by some as a language of the street.

But it has a powerful and growing cultural influence across all classes.

The BBC has started a Pidgin radio and news website, stand-up comedians are entertaining packed audiences and novels are being written in the language, noted Nigerian author Richard Ali.

In Nigeria, pidgin opera is bridging cultures and breaking grounds
Nigerian opera singer and performance artist Helen Epega (R), flanked by her husband and manager Baba Jallah Epega, arrives to perform during the world’s first opera in Pidgin, popularly called “broken English”, at the African Drum Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, on April 25, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

He said he had recently helped translate an 11th-century Arabic story of Al-Hariri of Basra into Pidgin.

“Adaptable, jazz-like and subversive,” the writer said of Pidgin in a recent article.

Ali also praised Pidgin as a bridge-building tongue that enables even rival groups who cannot understand each other to speak to one another and laugh, turning “competitors into comrades”.

‘Afro-futuristic’

With her hair in long tresses dramatically looped up in curls around a horizontal baton, Epega beats out rhythms on a “Hang”, a Swiss-made percussion instrument.

Two steel shells, one upon the other, resonate when she taps the Hang with her palms, creating a ghostly sound like that produced by Caribbean steel pan drums.

Like Nigeria’s forever changing Afro-pop music, Epega’s sound fuses very different musical styles together for something she describes as “Afro-futuristic”. 

It is a mix of old and new, bringing together “a blend of the rich African tradition of storytelling, using Nigerian Pidgin English, with Western classical opera,” she said.

In Nigeria, pidgin opera is bridging cultures and breaking grounds
Nigerian opera singer and performance artist Helen Epega, performs during the world’s first opera in Pidgin, popularly called “broken English”, during the African Drum Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, on April 25, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Epega’s inspirations — from Nigeria’s late Afro-beat icon Fela Kuti to British singer Kate Bush and Mozart — reflect her upbringing in both Nigeria and Britain.

“I think I’m finding a way to marry them all together,” she said, grinning.

Unity in diversity

Celebrating the strength of unity in diversity was another key theme of the festival.

Wole Soyinka, the 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature who comes from Abeokuta, acted as an advisor to its organisers.

“When you watch a performance of drumming, you are listening to poetry too,” Soyinka said, addressing the opening ceremony.

“If you listen to a recital, it is all about rhythm.”

For Epega, mixing the beat of traditional drums with the sounds and rhythms of modern instruments conveys a powerful message about inclusion.

“I’m saying that no matter where you’re coming from, and where you are on the musical, cultural and social spectrum, I believe we all meet when we speak the same language,” she said: “Music”.

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Moroccan TV show suspended for celebrity guest’s boast of “beating his wife”

No legal action has been taken against Miloudi, despite waves of outrage on social media

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TV show banned in Morocco for promoting violence against women
Courtesy: Chada TV, Morocco.

A Moroccan television show has been suspended for allowing a celebrity guest to boast on air of “beating his wife”, the country media authority said Wednesday.

“Whoever doesn’t beat his wife is not a man,” popular singer Adil El Miloudi said in June on a Chada TV show, Kotbi Tonight, drawing laughter from a fellow guest, actor Samy Naceri, and host Imad Kotbi.

“In Morocco, this is normal, anyone can do what he wants with his wife, hit her, kill her,” he insisted after  Kotbi jokingly said: “It’s forbidden to hit one’s wife all over the world.” 

Miloudi’s remarks amounted to “justification for violence against women, an express incitement to violence, presented in a positive way as a sign of virility… or even recommended behaviour”, the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA) said in a statement.

In response to this “explicitly violent speech”, the host adopted a “playful tone” and allowed his guest to repeat his call for violence against women”, it added. The media authority said Kotbi Tonight was to be suspended for three weeks.

So far, no legal action has been taken against Miloudi, despite waves of outrage on social media in reaction to his comments. Misogynistic and sexist attitudes are commonplace in Morocco and rarely condemned by authorities.

Last year, HACA penalised a Chada FM radio show after a commentator said on air that “women who are the most exposed to uterine cancer are those who resort to prostitution or adultery”.

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Ake festival 2019: A festival of arts and books

The preservation of African culture gave birth to the Aké Arts and Book Festival

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Ake Festival 2019 partners News Central
A panel session with speakers discussing at the Ake Festival

What happens when two Afro-optimist giants and pioneers of African cultural advancement form a partnership to host the biggest cultural and artsy event on the continent?

You guessed right. An invitation to an authentic African experience. From October 24-27, the 7th edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival will take place in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. News Central will, this time, bring you all the action live from the venue.

Themed “Black Bodies: Grey Matter”, this year’s edition will feature book chats, readings, panel discussions, art exhibitions, films, music, theatre and many more creative expressions through black bodies that genuinely tell the African story.

The Ake Festival –  News Central Story

In the royal town of Ake, Ogun State, South-Western Nigeria, the birthplace of Professor Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a passion for the preservation of African culture gave birth to the Aké Arts and Book Festival.

For 6 years, the festival, founded in 2013 by renowned Nigerian writer, Lola Shoneyin has converged Africa’s brightest and most artistically creative minds to engage in pro-African discourse.

And this year, News Central hopes to infuse the “Africa. First.” narrative, an important piece in the Ake Festival puzzle for a successful celebration of Africa in all of her uniqueness.

What does Africa. First. mean for Ake Festival?

In a recent interview, Lola Shoneyin revealed her delight in partnering with News Central, a frontier media platform that puts Africa and Africans in the driver’s seat of our stories.

“I love Africa. First…and I love it because it really resonates with me.”

Lola Shoneyin

Africa. First. is a movement by Africans and for Africa! It seeks to put the conversation on African culture and power back on the front burner.  The African culture is vibrantly expressive, uniquely diverse, progressively modern and enviably embodied in Black Bodies and Grey Matter.

Our boldness and power are sourced from the blood of great inventors, mighty rulers and pioneers of civilisations that courses through our veins. African power is rooted in this transfer and it is our responsibility to protect and prolong it.

News Central is proud to pioneer this movement and shared vision to promote the African culture and power at events such as the Aké Fest, using our balanced and Afro-optimist media platform in making these stories accessible to Africans.

As our Director of Content and Programmes, Becky Muikia puts it:

“We give them a voice on a pan-African scale.”

Becky Muikia

Africa, now is your time!

Promoting, amplifying and celebrating the African experience is at the heart of the Aké Festival and News Central partnership.

For four days, come witness a full blend of Afro cultural immersion and untold stories told by hundreds of writers, poets, dancers, artists, film-makers, and other creatives. Join us on this shared journey by registering to attend here Aké Festival.

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Iddris Sandu, the 21-year-old expert behind Instagram, Snapchat and Uber

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library

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Iddris Sandu speaks onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp

During his days in high school, 16-year-old Iddris Sandu created a mobile software that caught the attention of the U.S Former President Barack Obama. This got him an invitation to the White House where the honorary Presidential scholar award was bestowed upon him. The 21-year-old talented guru who is currently based in Los Angeles has completed many phenomenal feats, one of which includes building algorithms for Uber, Instagram and Snapchat which has given them the repute they have today.

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library for a period of two years. It was there he got an internship offer from a designer who worked at Google at the company’s headquarters. He had his first encounter with programming at the age of 13, alongside the first-ever Google Blogger, Google Plus and a host of others. Sandu was still determined to affect the world around him positively and at age 15, he built an app that students at his high school used to get directions to their classrooms.

He considers himself a cultural architect and aims to create a level playing ground between Silicon Valley and the younger generation of colour. He was given birth to and raised in Harbor City, California by his Ghanaian parents. He recalls an unforgettable and mortifying experience he had at the age of 8, while on a trip to Ghana with his dad during an interview with Oxford University’s Music and Style Magazine.

Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles
Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles 2019 at Los Angeles Convention Center on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Beautycon/AFP

He revealed that on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned him in a village, took his passport and came back to the States. He further added how he was abandoned and was only able to get in contact with an NGO after almost nine months, it was with the help of this NGO that he was able to travel back home. It was on his return to the U.S that the first-ever iPhone was unveiled and this propelled his journey into the world of technology.

According to him, he was greatly inspired and thought – this device is going to change the world. The iPhone was so highly regarded because for the first-time regular consumers developed for other consumers. He explained that in earlier times, you had to have work experience for a few years at a tech company for your offer or input to tech or creation of an app to be regarded at all. Apple conquered that problem and he knew that was the future.

Sandu gained recognition far and wide inadvertently from this. It led to him being invited to a meeting with former President Obama. During this period, he wrote an algorithm that he sold to Instagram and later became a consultant to Snapchat and Uber respectively. He created for Uber, an Autonomous Collision Detection Interface software for self-driving cars. He left big companies in the tech industry with the purpose of bridging the gap between the ignorant and knowledgeable. He further went on to the need for invention and creativity among youngsters like himself.

Sandu believes that information is one of the various things that keep people divided. You must think on a more advanced level in order to become a creator rather than a consumer. He posits that people of colour, in particular, are more likely to be consumers than creators; he further went on to say it is hard to make a difference in the society when you are a consumer rather than a creator. 

Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp
Honoree Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp; Leaders Awards Brunc.h Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Culture Creators/AFP

Sandu says he has been trying to change the narrative and he has experienced some success doing this. Upon meeting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle at a local Starbucks in 2017, Sandu and Nipsey were able to transform an abandoned store into the Marathon Clothing Store. All these happened while Sandu encouraged the study of STEM subjects in schools and at higher levels. According to The New York Times, the smart store offers exclusive music and other content to customers who have downloaded an app. The store drew its overall makeup from Nipsey’s cultural influences and Sandu’s solid background of tech and design. It attracted many big cultural icons such as Russell Westbrook, Vegas Jones of Roc Nation, among others along with many journalists.

In an interview with CNBC, Sandu said the store has helped him bridge the gap between culture and technology, and would love others to do the same. During the interview, Sandu expressed that we are in the digital age and we are constantly exposed to content instantaneously. He also said that more focus and attention should be placed on the more pressing issues affecting society and capitalize on that.

CNBC gathered the information that the genius is set to partner with Kanye West and Jaden Smith on some future businesses, clothing lines and disaster relief projects in 2019. Sandu has also partnered with Kanye West after he succeeded at creating his own music album whose sonics and instrumentals were created in just 3 days. Sandu is also working on a book that will discuss innovators such as Kanye West; Robi Reed, a casting director; and Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue.

Sandu is undoubtedly on his way to becoming a leader for the next generation of influencers and entrepreneurs; considering his passion to use all his connections to empower young people in America and to make a positive impact on the community around him.

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