Nigerian-Cameroonian musician “Prince” Nico Mbarga created an international hit bigger than the Beatles’ bestseller “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
So why couldn’t record label executives recognize they had a global sensation on their hands?
Nico Mbarga grew up in rural Ikom, Nigeria struggling to explore his passion for music while helping provide for his widowed mother and siblings.
When the Biafran Civil War broke out in 1967, the conflict offered Mbarga his first opening to dream bigger.
The highlife music scene was still flourishing in Onitsha, Nigeria.
After several forced migrations and deportations between Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Mbarga worked the hotel circuit with his band Rocafill Jazz until EMI Records took an interest in his jazzy melodies.
Mbarga produced one modest hit until he was dropped from EMI’s roster.
Mbarga offered “Sweet Mother,” a tender tribute to the sacrifice and care of African mothers before his departure but EMI rejected the demo as “too childish.”
That turned out to be a HUGE mistake.
Mbarga and his band recorded his anthem in 1976 and radio requests poured in for months!
“Sweet Mother” would go on to sell over 13 MILLION copies in a time when waves of African independence movements craved music that made listeners dance and hope - beyond the usual politically-charged and more aggressive African music that reached foreign airways.