Prince Nico Mbarga as he was fondly called made a living by playing music every Sunday night at Onitsha plaza hotel, though not many knew this story.
There is probably no street or building named after him. And when Nigerians list the legends of this country, Nico’s name doesn’t make the cùt. But on the board of the most sold singles in the world (1998) – where Elton John’s Candle In The Wind, Celine Dion’s My Heart Goes On, etc., were captured – only one African, with over 13 million copies sold, made the list. And that was Nico Mbarga.

You see, Nico was the child of a Cameroonian father and a Nigerian woman from Mbembe (Obubra LGA, Cross Rivers State.)

He was born and raised in Ikom – present-day Cross River State. He started fishing as a boy, and his father, who sawed timber, was a nice man. He bought his boy a secondhand Philip Radio, and the boy became addicted to highlife music. He couldn’t stop listening to Bobby Benson’s ‘Taxi Driver.’ But the of his father when he was still too tender made his mother, a peasant farmer, the sole breadwinner.

The mother suffèred a lot, but the boy wasn’t a prodigal. He moved from one bar to the other doing what he loved – singing.

Sometimes he got a little pay, others didn’t pay at all. At his 17th year, the Nigerian – Biàfra broke out. And while his mother stayed back in Nigeria, Nico found his way to Mamfe – Cameroon. That’s where he met Lucy. Both lovers were so p00r they couldn’t afford a pot of boiling water. But Lucy married Nico anyways.

In 1970, the Biafran Nigeria Wàr come to an end, and Nico and Lucy without a penny to their names, or passports travels “the bush way” to make it back to Nigeria, settling in Onitsha, a trading town on the Niger River. And why the choice of the town Onitsha?

Onitsha was booming, literally. And it was there that God blessed Nico. He became a darling of the town. He built a band named Rocafil Jazz. There, EMI – a record company, signed Nico and Rocafil Jazz. In 1971, Nico released his first song, ‘I No Go Marry My Papa’ – inspired by his wife, Lucy. The song helped him to build his brand, and he remembered that there was one song that was in his memory. The words were: ‘Sweet Mother, I no go forget you, for this suffèr you sùffer for me…’

But EMI record that liked the song initially later thought that it was childish and didn’t produce it. But Sweet Mother wasn’t just a song to Nico; it was his life, his autobiography. So, wherever he went with his band, he sang the song. It was while he was singing the song at a joint that an Onitsha Independent Record owner, Romanus Okonkwo of Rogers All Star, heard the song, and that encounter led to Nico breaking off from EMI.

Romanus Okonkwo would produce ‘Sweet Mother’ and release it through his fledging label. It was an instant hit. The story had it that the song became an anthem. It got every Nigerian to their feet, belting ‘Sweet Mother’ at the top of their lungs.

The song took them to Ghana, Togo, Kenya. Nico became larger than the Nigerian Market. They even went on a London Tour. But you see, the fame and money as recorded came too fast for Rocafil Jazz. The band fell apàrt, made up, then folded up and never made any music together again.

But in Rocafil’s prime and the years thereafter “Sweet Mother” , with the bite of piratéd copies sold more than 13 million copīes. Yes, Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother” has sold more c0pies than “Macarena.” And even The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

But the story have not ended of what became of Prince Nico Mbarga and his sweet Mother. According to David Zabinsky in his articles on the life and time of Prince Nico Mbargas noted that that Nico on his way to Ikom probably to see ‘Sweet Mother,’ his biological mother, Nico’s car ran out of petrol So he hailed down an okada, a local motorbike.
But while on top, an acci.dent sent Nico flying
He hit his head ba.dly. Nico di.ed two weeks later in the hospital. Never able to play “Sweet Mother” one last time. Or say goodbye to his mother.

Back in Ikom, when Nico’s mother now elderly heard the news, she fell in sh0ck. She’d never get back up, either. She di.ed shortly after.

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