Exploring Zamrock: The ultimate guide to the sound of 1970s Zambia
It’s 1972 in the central-southern African country of Zambia, it’s eight years since president Kenneth Kaunda presided over independence from the British Empire in 1964 and optimism is high.
Profits from the mines in the countries ‘Copper Belt’, a mineral-rich province of Zambia which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, continue to bring prosperity, for now, and as the radio is tuned into ZBS (Zambian Broadcasting Service) it’s alive with the sound of rhythmic, fuzzy, psychedelic guitar riffs, driving drum beats and wailing melodic vocals.
The music playing came to be categorised as ‘Zamrock’, a distinctive style of psychedelic rock written, performed and recorded by bands based in the country’s Copper Belt. Their influences came from artists they were exposed to by British settlers such as James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Claptonas well as bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who, all of whom are clearly heard when you tune in to the sounds of the Zamrock scene.
What can’t be measured is the character that is contained within these recordings. These aren’t just regurgitations of some of the worlds most imitated artists, but a whole genre on its own, one that takes influence from traditional Zambian instruments, occasionally uses local dialects (Nyanja, Bemba) and tackles social issues.
We take a look at, arguably, Zamrock’s three biggest bands by way of introduction to this rich and deeply interesting scene.
Sit back and enjoy.
Also known as ‘We Intend To Cause Havoc’ if you’re not into that whole brevity shit, this band could be considered the fathers of Zamrock. Formed in 1971 in Zambia’s second-largest city of Kitwe, under a different name, Witch were the first band to release an EP, triggering a number of Zambian labels such as Teal Records, Zambia Music Parlour to start signing up local bands.
The Witch line up changed frequently in the early days and featured and number of musicians who went on to record with other bands, building on the idea that the Zamrock scene was really a creative collective reflecting a time in the countries history.
Witch’s records have an amazing raw, honest ‘surf rock’ style, with shredding guitar riffs, rich, melodic guitar solos and rhythmic keyboard lines all backed by simple but fitting driving drum beats. Records like Introduction’ showed off lead singer Emmanuel Jagari’s distinctive voice and vamp influence from the king himself James Brown.
One of Zamrock’s more psychedelic bands, The Peace, as the name would suggest possessed a free, 1960s, ‘summer of love’ influence which they match with poignant lyrics often commenting on the issues of the time.
Formed in the early 1970s in Kitwe with ex-members of Witch and The Boyfriends, their only record, Black Power, was released in 1975 during a time when Zambia’s copper trade had suffered as a result of the global commodity price falling and reflects some of the unrest in the country at the time as a result.
The final track, which you’ll find below on the accompanying mixtape, ‘I Have Got No Money’, wouldn’t feel out of place coming from any British or American band in the mid-60s. It’s a gorgeous long and lingering track which, despite this, still seems to end too soon.
With an incredible melodic vocal hook, it tells the story of a broken love, likely reflecting the countries hard times, whilst the much faster-paced second track on the mixtape and title track from the album Black Power demonstrates much more energy and vigour but without losing any of the band’s beautiful musicality.
Ngozi Family, ‘Ngozi’ meaning danger, is again comprised of a number musicians who crop up in other bands or solo projects, bandleader, singer and lead guitarist Paul Ngozi, who would later go on to record his own solo project, Chrissy Zebby Tembo, whose name sometimes features in the band name on some recordings, on drums, Peter Bwalya on rhythm guitar and Tommy Mwale on bass.
Ngozi Family have a frantic, lo-fi, abrupt and almost Punk quality to their records. Paul Ngozi sings in both local dialects, like the fourth track on the accompanying mix ‘Bwanawe‘, and ‘Kumanda Kwa Bambo Wanga’ as well as English.
Their musicality is somewhat simplistic with basic, fuzzy and repetitive guitar riffs, uncomplicated drum beats and catchy vocals, almost embodying the danger reference in their name. There is an honesty to all the recordings on their album Judgement Day that you would expect coming from a scene with a history like that of the Zamrockers which we instantly fell in love with.
But, we could go on for hours about the ins and outs of what could be one of the most underrated sub-genres of music but it’s best to just plug in and listen to the sound of Zambia from the 1970s.