All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

273

Prince Nico Mbarga: Aki Special

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
You wouldn't guess by his diminutive stature, but Prince Nico Mbarga was one of the greatest giants of Nigerian music ever. Nico's record Aki Special marked the high point in his career: it featured the tune "Sweet Mother," which sold over 15 million copies and stands as the most popular African pop song ever.

Nico came from Nigerian and Camerounian roots, a polyglot who spent enough time in both countries to absorb a monster share of music and culture. For an extended period, he performed with a group called Rokafil Jazz, but he was unquestionably its star. Aki Special features seven tunes all about 8-9 minutes in length, drawing from the musical traditions of Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, New World centers like Cuba and Jamaica, and the great beyond. In 1977, this emerging mix made a great recipe for popular music.

Certain hallmarks of the West African highlife sound surface regularly on Aki Special. The interlocking guitars and drums, especially the congas, present a rhythmic foundation upon which Nico's vocals glide. On "Sweet Mother," the pulse turns toward calypso for a carefree, lilting dance rhythm. The words to the song formalize the deep respect African cultures have for their family: "If you forget your mother, you have lost your life." With lyrics like these and a light, refreshing groove, "Sweet Mother" transmutes a deep tribute into a joyous celebration. Maybe that's why it's the best-recognized song on the continent.

And if there's one thing that marks Aki Special, it's the upbeat frolicking spirit that runs throughout. There's nothing particularly complex or dense about these pieces, though they draw from so many styles and somehow integrate them into a seamless whole. Nico's septet makes it seem easy to assemble a tight, coherent unit from all these beats and patterns. But in the end, it's pure dance music. And in Africa, where the best music drives the shuffle of feet and the sway of hips, Prince Nico was King.

Visit Rounder on the web.

For more African music reviews, visit our special review page.


Track Listing: Aki Special; Christiana; Sweet Mother; Wayo In-Law; Free Education in Nigeria; Onye Ori Obi; Nature.

Personnel: Prince Nico: vocals, lead guitar; Jean Chachua: rhythm guitar; Morris: bass guitar; Ashagasha: drums; Thommysco Kumm: vocals; Pirol: vocals; Franco Okolo: congas.

Title: Aki Special | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Rounder Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Aki Special

Aki Special

Rounder Records
2002

buy
Aki Special

Aki Special

Rounder Records
1977

buy

Related Articles

Read 9 CD/LP/Track Review
9
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 19, 2018
Read For Gyumri CD/LP/Track Review
For Gyumri
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: February 19, 2018
Read Sextet (Parker) 1993 CD/LP/Track Review
Sextet (Parker) 1993
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 19, 2018
Read Esperanto/Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim CD/LP/Track Review
Esperanto/Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim
by Kevin Press
Published: February 19, 2018
Read Orientation CD/LP/Track Review
Orientation
by Troy Dostert
Published: February 18, 2018
Read Romaria CD/LP/Track Review
Romaria
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 18, 2018
Read "Then and Now" CD/LP/Track Review Then and Now
by Duncan Heining
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Lessons Lyrical" CD/LP/Track Review Lessons Lyrical
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: January 12, 2018
Read "Holiday On Fire" CD/LP/Track Review Holiday On Fire
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 27, 2017
Read "JK's Kamer +50.92509° +03.84800°" CD/LP/Track Review JK's Kamer +50.92509° +03.84800°
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 28, 2017
Read "Color Tones" CD/LP/Track Review Color Tones
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 2, 2017
Read "Tangofied III" CD/LP/Track Review Tangofied III
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 13, 2017