Prince Nico Mbarga & Rocafil Jazz International – Sweet Mother

 Highlife; 1976


You have to hear this. I’m gonna stick it in the Folk section because it’s traditional music, which (and people tend to forget this) is what Folk is. It’s music of the people for the people. Not Iron & Wine. Not DeVotchKa. Not Mumford & Sons. They play a genre. Folk has become one, but this is it in its purest form. Nationalist, unique, positive, it is a labor of love dedicated to a people and their ways of life, their beliefs, and all the other quirks that make up a culture. This is a paradigm of music f0r a culture – a paradigm of Folk. It is Nigerian and you’ve probably never heard anything from this genre before (I’m kind of a hipster. I bet you didn’t know Highlife was a genre). This is the music Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon and whatever Afropop-inspired Western stuff you can think of ripped off. The guitars are driving and they’re a number of them playing harmoniously at any given time. Not to mention most of the vocals are harmonized, in a way that’s different and better than most of the harmonizing we hear in our every day Rock & Pop. The songs are long, joyous (even the sad ones, which I’m not sure if there are any on this one but as an example listen to Lake Nyos on their Sweet Family album), and cover topics from respect for one’s mother to the fact that nobody knows what tomorrow may bring. Each song is sung in very broken English, except for Christiana which is sung in some native language I haven’t looked up the name of. Is Nigerian a language? Honestly, his apparent lack of competence with the English language and the tone of some of the songs makes a few of these tracks mildly comical. But this is feel-good music. Laugh during it, laugh at it, it doesn’t take away from the quality.

I’m quite interested in the music theory behind these compositions. This is a VERY unique genre. Even Folk music from various regions of the world can tend to sound similar. For instance the heavy brass instrument focus in both Mexican and Balkan Folk leaves them sounding similar on occasion and yet they’re culturally very different. But African Folk is like nothing else, in other traditional music or in any modern music, except for the stuff that blatantly steals ideas from it. Instrumentally, the guitar players seem to be talented. These long songs have several guitar solos, and the trumpet solo in Shakara School Girl is the first instrument solo that comes to mind that’s not guitar. There might be more.

Sweet Mother is one of Africa’s most popular songs.

1. Sweet Mother
2. Wayo Inlaw
3. Peace Movement Social Club of Nigeria
4. Aki Special
5. Christiana
6. Shakara School Girl
7. Olu Ugbo (Operation Feed the Nation)

Stand-out tracks:
Sweet Mother
Aki Special


2 Responses to “Prince Nico Mbarga & Rocafil Jazz International – Sweet Mother”

  1. You? A hipster? No waaayyyy.

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