In Conversation with Helen Ibe: Philanthropy, Creativity, and Individuality

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Photo by @tobi_skillful
       

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 15 – Spring 2021 – Electrified!

Helen Ibe is a Nigerian guitarist, performer, songwriter, guitar teacher, and humanitarian. She has established herself as one of Nigeria’s top classical guitarists and regularly performs at Lagos venues. She writes original songs, sits in with other performers, and has her own online guitar teaching platform.


As a philanthropist, she’s been working through the Helen Ibe Hope outreach programs and recently started an online organization to help widows deal with depression. She uses her music as a tool to connect and promote healing. We recently caught up with Ibe to learn more about her background, music, and what she has coming up for the new year.

What inspired you to start playing guitar?
I started playing the guitar in the church, so a major part of my inspiration and influence came from gospel music. I did not start playing the guitar initially. I was singing in the choir, and there was a need for choir members to learn to play an instrument because a lot of the instrumentalists we had on the ground were leaving one after another. I chose the guitar and fell in love with it immediately! I loved how it looked and how it sounded. Then I started to explore other genres like smooth jazz, blues, reggae, plus other styles, and I knew there was no going back.
Do you feel you are treated any differently as a female musician? How do you feel attitudes towards female musicians have changed over the years?
I used to feel like people would patronize me even when I didn’t play well because I am a lady and they think I am fragile, so they let me “get away with it,” but if a guy played the exact same thing, he would be shamed for it. I have mixed feelings concerning this, but maybe that was all in my head—LOL. The attitude towards female musicians is changing drastically; there is a lot more recognition as so many amazing female players are springing up and redefining things! Nowadays, regardless of your style, if you’re not a good musician, you won’t get away with it because you are a woman. Female guitarists are being a lot more respected and appreciated, as well as featured in more music than they used to be. That is a very good thing; we certainly make the guitar industry a lot more colorful.
I see that you also teach guitar.

Can you tell me more about what you offer? Do you provide lessons online only? Are there any specific styles or levels you teach?
Yes, I do teach guitar, and I love to teach! My focus is mostly on beginners and intermediates. I also offer private lessons, but that usually has limited slots. I’m currently working on my beginner guitar course; I have tried to study the things that I think beginners struggle with and the tools that would help them start their journey right. I’m trying hard to put out content that would benefit people that want to start their guitar-playing journey. I also have free lessons on my YouTube channel.

As a teacher, what tips would you give students working on their guitar skills?
There is always so much to learn! I think it is important to take it one step at a time rather than overwhelm yourself trying to learn everything at once. Start things slowly and build up speed, Do not underestimate the importance of consistency. Practice! It builds your confidence.

I see you describe yourself as a humanitarian. What causes do you feel most strongly about?
My father died when I was a young child; it was a very tough time for me, my siblings, and my mom. I feel very strongly pulled to fatherless children, orphans, and widows. When the man of the home passes away, there is a void and destabilization in the family, most times financially. That is why a big part of my heart always goes towards helping this cause. I have been there; I’ve experienced it firsthand, and trust me, it is not a good place.

In your bio, you describe your live performances as being unique. What elements do you add that sets them apart?
My live performance is quite different from performing in front of my camera or performing at home. When you perform live, you’re more expressive (after overcoming the stage-fright) because you are inspired by the audience’s energy. When they resonate with the music, it excites me knowing how happy I’m making people (which is one of the big reasons why I make music). I like to make my live performances as engaging as possible and make it a win-win situation by making myself happy as much as I’m making my audience happy. I think a lot of musicians also feel this way; you want your live performance to be an unforgettable experience for your audience.

How do you feel your Nigerian background has inspired your style and creativity?
My Nigerian background does influence my style and the way I make music, especially my original compositions. The kind of music we listen to influences our creative ideas as musicians, and it’s important to me that I showcase my roots in my sound by incorporating local instruments. African music is generally rhythmic; this makes me have quite a good feel for time and rhythm, and I am very thankful for that.

Your bio states you are also a commercial model. We all know fashion and music go hand in hand. How do you feel your work as a model has influenced or helped your music career?
Yes, I do model sometimes, face modeling especially. It is such a fun thing for me. I think fashion and music have always gone hand in hand because they represent expression, creativity, and individuality and showcases your uniqueness—core elements that I try to include in my creative process.

What’s coming up for Helen Ibe? New music? Any performances planned post-COVID?

Besides putting out more video content on YouTube and other social platforms, I am working on putting out some cool singles this year and working on completing my beginner’s course. I’m really excited about all the great things this year has to offer. I am looking forward to playing and going to watch live shows when we can do that again in full.