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On plastic chairs in the shadow of his mausoleum, they told me about Nico Mbarga and the place he called home.
The son of a Cameroonian father and a Nigerian mother, Nico Mbarga was born in nearby Abakaliki on April 8, 1950, but grew up in Ikom.
In the 1950s it was little more than a series of administrative buildings, houses and farms clumped around Cross River, surrounded by tropical rainforest, right on Nigeria’s eastern border with Cameroon.
With its staccato guitar, spontaneous spoken asides and high-pitched harmonies, it had the whole continent dancing the Mbarga, always dedicated, taught himself the conga, the drums, the bass and, most importantly, the finger-picking style of Congolese electric guitar.
It was a genre well-suited to a country preparing for independence, and its optimistic sound was to suffuse all the music young Nico would go on to create.