Every Sunday as a child, Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor would compete with her four siblings to win Isibor Superstar Of The Universe For Eternity. This family talent show has since become a way of life for the performance artist who now mesmerizes audiences with her otherworldly music as The Venus Bushfires. “I call it cinematic tribal beat,” she explains. “Sparse, melodic, meditative music rooted in storytelling. The Venus Bushfires represents mother nature, spirituality and the birth of possibilities.”
Born in Ibadan, Nigeria and raised in London, her mother’s folk tales and her father’s highlife records were early influences. She has mastered several percussive instruments but what gives her sound its magical powers is the hang, a large UFO-shaped steel drum with a hypnotic resonance. Either performing solo or with musicians, dancers, DJs and even therapists and psychologists, The Venus Bushfires is a “multi modal sensory experience” incorporating colors, smells and physical stimulation.
She became The Venus Bushfires in 2008, the name stemming from a song she wrote about an imagined star populated with “pure people” who came to exist “as the result of a shared galactic experience.” Since then Isibor has toured extensively with stand out moments including jamming with Sir Paul McCartney at Africa Express in 2012, and two shows in Lagos in February this year. “I felt like a prodigal daughter, welcomed back with open arms both on stage and off,” she says. “I played The Boat Club, which serves up beef suya that makes the world a better place, and at Bogobiri House, where the pina coladas will end all wars, I’m sure of it!”
She released her debut self-titled EP last year and is now working on Song Queen (A Pidgin Opera), a cross-cultural project combining classical opera with colloquial communication to create an entirely new art form. She hopes to debut it later this year. And outside of music she runs the Just A Day initiative encouraging artists to take part in expressive workshops in schools and hospitals.
She’s also launched a range of detachable African print collars, a reflection of her interest in African fashion. “Africa is seen as a new frontier financially, culturally and artistically. Fashion in Africa has reflected this and helped to create the optimistic landscape where other ideas have been able to flourish,” says Isibor, whose stage costumes often fuse Geisha aesthetics with African ones. “On the KISUA shoot I loved the Kiki Kamanu maxi dress and Kanga Kulture pencil dress. I felt beautiful in them and that is a very lovely state to be in.”
Images: : Lakin Ogunbanwo
Words: Helen Jennings
Location: Bogobiri House