Sunday, 22 March 2020

Prince Nico Mbarga and his Sweet Mother

A few years back  someone did a "life satisfaction" survey and Nigeria came out tops. Despite the poverty and disorder !  People chase material wealth but where do real values come from ?  Back in 1976 Price Nico Mbarga wrote Aki Special, an instant hit fusing  West African music from the time with traditional styles. His introduction expresses things which might explain how some people retain good values despite the chaos of  the world around them.

"This life is wonderful, but don't be proud because you have it, it comes from God" (ie fate)  "Almighty" he sings after a short pause "Pickin-o good-o, if you get, if you no gettem.... . "Money is good-o, money good-o, we know, if you get, but don't laugh, many people no get's...but if you no gets, make you no cry, first time is the best. Opportunity comes but once in this world. Who knows tomorrow, my friend? Nobody knows tomorrow...."

Prince Nico Mbarga (1950-1997) didn't make any money from his hits, not even from his Sweet Mother the all-time iconic African classic because the business model there is different.  Though records sell, they;re often pirated copies and artists don't necessaruily get royalties. Sweet Mother was played everywhere and adapted naturally into many cultures, since it captures the spirit of women who keep society going, no matter what. Strong women suffer, but they aren't selfish.  For sure women are oppressed and don't have equal opportunities, but their values keep the world going. In Africa, women do everytrhing - farming,  business, child care etc  and still somehow they carry on.  Prince Nico didn't live cocooned in luxury. Born in Ikom in Nigeria, he lived in Cameroon, where his father came from, at 17 was forced to leave start all over again in Nigeria, where his mother came from.  He stayed in Ikom more  or less permannetly, not being a model husband or father, but middle class western values do not apply to everyone.  At the age of 47, he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Sweet Mother begins with a swanky guitar riff - very 70's ! - but the words are down home  traditional.  "Sweet Mother, I never forget you, the way you suffer for me - yeah, yeah. When I get get cry, my mother go carry me, she says, my pickin-o, stop, stop, so you no cry again-o".  "You can get another wife, you can get another husband, you cannot get another Mother, so "

A friend said. "Pickin-o means child in West African pidgin, and may come from the Portuguese pequeno. Prince Nico was very family oriented, so to him having children was maybe more valuable than having money."

Please read Sami Kent's article HERE,which is by far the best researched and informative of all, written by someone whose perspective is not western but African, which makes all the difference. 

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