By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Almost from the beginning, American music has had an African influence, coming out of the passionate voices brought to this continent 350 years ago in slave ships.
These days, says Patrick Ezeadichie, that influence often runs in the opposite direction. “The hip hop,” he says, gesturing to a wall full of compact discs, many featuring African artists offering their own interpretation of that American musical genre.
Such music is a key element in Ezeadichie’s unique, new shop, African Bargains, on Main Street in Peabody. The store also features traditional African music. And there’s more here than music, including wonderfully worked African carvings made from rare woods, African art and clothing as well as beauty products.
A native of Nigeria, now an American citizen, Ezeadichie, 43, was born into a middle-class family — of 10 children. He moved to the United States 12 years ago and has lived in Peabody for the past decade. Seven years ago he saw a market for African music and began selling it online.
“I built the business from scratch,” he says. “I want to better my life and take care of my family.”
In March he took the financial gamble, along with wife Caroline, 35 and also from Nigeria, by opening his own store. “It’s a family business,” he says, nodding to two sleeping babies on the floor behind the counter. The couple have three children: Clem, who attends the Welch School; Chris and Beatrice.
The online sales continue. Ezeadichie waves a package addressed to someone across the country. Making the store work represents a challenge. “It is tough, but we are managing. ... We always knew it would be tough to start.”
He hopes to attract African immigrants to his wares, adding that it would surprise people how many Africans live in the area. Some can be found in Lynn, and he hopes to draw them in as they head through Peabody on the way to the Northshore Mall.
Afro-Americans come to the store as well.
“They want to come in and ask about their roots,” he says, “which is good. But our customers are actually from all races. They’re white, black. They’re from the Carribbean, Haiti. And we like it that way. We want to be able to carry things that all people will like.”
Not all of his products, he notes, are African made.
Some of the African goods are obtained through agents in countries like Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya. At times, Ezeadichie makes trips back home where he assesses the ever-changing music scene and hunts for new sounds as well as art treasures to display in his shop.
“I came back from a trip about two weeks ago,” he says. “I got the latest CDs and I brought them here.”
His father also made his living as a “trader,” says Ezeadichie. “He taught us this business. And now I’ve taken over for him.”