Elvina Ibru…….Cajoling with Mellow Magic
Minutes after she sits in the lounge of a popular hotel on Ahmadu Bello Victoria Island, Elvina Esewvre Baby Ibru stutters into apologies for coming late.
“No vex, my brother,” she says, a little shyly.
First surprise. How come she speaks pidgin?
“Ol’ boy, make I switch. In fact, I no dey talk English again,” she pipes up in flawless pidgin. “When I was growing up, that was what I used to speak. My mother was even scared at one point that I couldn’t speak English.”
She adds, “she never realised I could speak proper English, because at home, it was always pidgin. I can’t remember as a child why I was into pidgin. And you know what, my pidgin was original.”
She says in awe, “what always surprised her was that I would come home with good grade in English language.”
Elvina feels unsure as to whether to continue in pidgin, but jokingly adds, “I be proper Urhobo girl, why I no go fit speak pidgin.”
Born on May 22, 1972, in Lagos, Esewvre’s, which means ‘kindness never dies’, love for the arts started as far back as she can remember, due to the fact that her late mother, Mrs. Elsie Nelly Michael Ibru, was an avid fan of the arts, as a whole, and introduced her child to the magical world of musical theater at a very early age.
Her artistic credentials came to the fore when she acted in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, which was put on Nigerian stage for the International Women’s Day of 2007.
“I was in the original Vagina Monologues. The very first one, and then, I couldn’t do it again for about two or three years until Ifeoma Fafunwa called me last year for Hear Word. The play was on stage last year and this,” she squeals.
Does her role in the two plays have a correlation with her person?
“I’m an actress, so, I don’t think any of the roles I perform have anything to do with me, character-wise,” she dithers. “The only connection I can tell you I have is the fact that I’m pro-woman, obviously, I’m pro-progress. Those two plays are just a way of getting the message out.”
She grins naughtily, “I remember when they called me for Vagina Monologues, they were a bit scared, because of my name… you know, how would Elvina Ibru do a play like that, but I’ve always been independent, have my own mindset about things. In fact, that was what interested me. They were happy that I was open-minded and liberal enough to do it. That’s the only thing that I will say is connection between me and my character.”
Elvina realised she had a flair for acting when she was 8 years old, while in boarding school in England. She was assigned by her dramatic arts teacher to take her grade one speech and drama examination (an examination that is normally taken by 11yr olds!).
She passed the examination with distinction (the only student to have ever achieved that at her school) and her teacher realised that she had a prodigy in her hands.
“My mum loved music and this had a great influence on me. Her era was the time of old musical films, and we had a large collection from that period. It was almost natural for me to love the arts.”
IPITOMBI was the first production she ever watched. From that time till the end of her secondary school career she participated and excelled in all areas of the arts, she succeeded in attaining her grades 1 to 8 and teacher’s certificate in speech and drama; grades 1 to 5 in piano and was the chairman of her school’s public speaking team which eventually became the National public speaking team.
She won several competitions locally and nationally and became quite a celebrity in Kent County where her school was situated. As much as she denied her craving to enter the world of musical theater fully (she claimed that she wanted to become a barrister,) she could no longer deny her love for the theater when in 1989 she auditioned to get into the largest and most prestigious theater youth group in England called The National Youth Music Theater). Over 19,000 youths auditioned, 24 got in and Elvina was one of them.
Elvina was hooked and finally gave into her heart and at the age of 18 after her Advanced level studies, she auditioned and bagged a place at the famous London Academy of Performing Arts (LAPA) where, after three years, she graduated with honours and the classical prize in her pocket. She was fortunate to have a very successful career in the West-End of London, performing at theaters such as the ‘The Old Vic’, ‘The Lyric’ and the ‘Lyceum Theatre’.
She ended her career in radio, with the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), when she decided to go back to the university.
“My dad kept pressurizing me to go back to school to do a proper degree. Three years later, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations, with economics as my minor, from Webster University, London. I immediately came back home and started trying to make a difference in the world of the arts here” Elvina nods.
Throughout her career in Nigeria, she has been involved in broadcasting, performance in music, theater and film and eventually she opened her own production house called 2wice As Nice limited.
The company specialises in producing documentaries, concerts, events and television shows including the highly successful first ever series of Idols West Africa, alongside Freemantle Media (the owners of the product) and MNET (Africa’s top cable television network). Elvina has also starred in Letters to a Stranger and Theo’s Dora.
“We have just finished making a movie called Cajoling. I acted in it. The director insisted that the part was for me,” she says. It would make a whole lot of difference in terms of quality product. Also, in the next few weeks, I would be shooting a 10-minute movie, that’s my next project.”
What’s her take on the acting space in Nigeria?
“The culture of theatre is embedded in Nigeria, we are talented, but no opportunity” she says.
Elvina says Nigerians should change their mindset, especially, towards theater making. “ Nigerians lack certain things. Though, some are through no fault of ours. However, in Nigeria, we do not know the importance of time. We rush productions here. More so, if you don’t have the right funding, don’t do the play, because you cannot expect to build a house that hurricane will not blow with wood.”
She’s love on radio. Since she started presenting Mellow Magic, many youths have taken to her. She is entirely their kind of woman: Bold, intelligent, forthright and unapologetically ‘pro-woman’.
She says, “before I started at Classic FM, I had a little bit of radio experience, but not in this form. I worked with BBC in England but it was a different style of work, it was not being a radio presenter. It was more like radio actor. We had a script, it was a show for children, and everything was scripted for us. I would go in with another fellow and we do a little act together. We were teaching children instruments and listening to music from all over the world. So, it was a different kind of experience, but I enjoyed it. Now the M.D of Megalectrics; Megaletrics owns Classic FM and Beat FM, has been telling me for years; “Elvina, come and do radio” and for some reason I had thought I would not be able to do it, I had seen OAP in action, and it’s not easy. I’m very afraid of the modern technology, anything that is more than texting and receiving text on a phone is problem for me. So, when he kept on telling me, come and do this thing, I know you would be able to do it, I was reluctant. One day I went to see him because he’s an old friend of mine. I had gone to see him for a different reason, I was doing a project and I wanted to partner with Classic FM. While I was there, he was like I don catch you today. He called someone from production department to go and put down my voice so they could listen to it. They took me upstairs, they asked me to say a few things and after everything when I was back down stairs, he said Elvina, this voice is a radio voice. Come and work for Classic FM. I asked him if he felt I was good enough, then he said, I would ask head of programs to listen to you, take you through a few things and if you go through the proper interviews and they feel it’s your world, go for it. And I went through series of interviews, they wrote a letter, saying we like you to come and work for us and I trained for about three weeks or so, and officially August 1, 2013.”
For her, the job is more like opportunity to relax. “ I love it, and I look forward to going to work everyday. Generally, the profession I am in, entertainment, is something I love and I think to be able to do it well, you really need to love it because it’s not an easy sector, even though the people outside think you just have fun everyday.”
Elvina, a mother of a beautiful baby boy called Elisha, has an individual style that she carries with flair. “ I love accessories a lot. I like hoops. I have all the sizes; small, big, whichever works for the outfit I’m putting on.”
Her hobbies include, swimming, reading and of course, going to the theater. She also loves cooking, but don’t expect her to cook Ovwho for you.
- She’s on air at 9pm on weekdays (from Monday to Thursday) for Mellow Magic.