Beans and violins – orchestra blends classical roots with modern Nigeria

LAGOS (Reuters) – At a Lagos cultural centre, a rapt audience listened to baritone John Onosolease perform an operatic song in the Yoruba language about a hapless soldier being admonished for his failure to cook a flavoursome dish of beans.

It was the latest show staged by the Vesta Orchestra, founded in 2017 by violinist Rosalyn Aninyei, which has enlivened the classical music scene in Lagos by performing new works by contemporary Nigerian and African composers.

“He cooks and there’s no pepper, no oil, no salt, no onions. It is bland. What sort of food is this?” sang Onosolease, drawing laughter and cheers from an audience accustomed to fiery Nigerian staples such as pepper soup.

The scene was part of the opera “Kitchen Pictures at a Military Camp”, composed by Seun Owoaje.

The music had clear connections with the classical repertoire rooted in Europe, but the choice of the Yoruba language and the story anchored the performance in Nigeria.

“I am so happy that there are events like this in Nigeria,” said Kayode Oshundun, who was attending his first performance by Vesta. “I had no idea.”

Aninyei said she came up with the idea of the orchestra while she was living in Vienna.

“My flat was actually behind the opera house and it was always a dream of mine to come home … and discover our own classical music,” she said.

(Reporting by Seun Sanni and Vining Ogu; Additional reporting and writing by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Andrew Heavens)