His Biggest Hit Sold More Copies Than Any of the Beatles’. So Why Haven’t You Heard of Him?
In a life bookended by tragedy, Prince Nico Mbarga poured joy into music, including the most popular song in African history. But his own story has never been told — until now.
Photos by Sami Kent | Edited by Brendan Spiegel
Twenty years ago the man who recorded one of the most successful songs of all time was thrown off a motorbike by a car in Calabar, Nigeria. He hit his head on the road and was rushed to the hospital, where he lay for two weeks, in and out of consciousness, but deteriorating all the time. On June 24, 1997, Prince Nico Mbarga was pronounced dead. “Sweet Mother,” his 1976 one-hit wonder, had sold at least thirteen million copies across the African continent – more than The Beatles’ bestseller “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But no global media outlet thought to cover the life and death of the artist behind Africa’s most popular song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mecNrIaWOA Today, the only internet accounts of his life reach around four paragraphs and bookend Mbarga’s career with two big political events of the time: the Biafran War in 1967 that saw him, at 17, flee across the border to Cameroon, where he mastered the guitar; and the expuls…
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