Zamrock: An Introduction to Zambia’s 1970s Rich & Psychedelic Rock Scene

The sto­ry of pop­u­lar music in the late 20th cen­tu­ry is nev­er com­plete with­out an account of the explo­sive psy­che­del­ic rock, funk, Afrobeat, and oth­er hybrid styles that pro­lif­er­at­ed on the African con­ti­nent and across Latin Amer­i­can and the Caribbean in the 1960s and 70s. It’s only late­ly, how­ev­er, that large audi­ences are dis­cov­er­ing how much pio­neer­ing music came out of Kenya, Ghana, Nige­ria, and oth­er post­colo­nial coun­tries, thanks to UK labels like Strut and Sound­way (named by The Guardian as “one of the 10 British Labels defin­ing the sound of 2014” and named “Label of the Year” in 2017).

Germany’s Ana­logue Africa, a label that reis­sues clas­sic albums from the era, puts it this way: “the future of music hap­pened decades ago.” Only most West­ern audi­ences weren’t pay­ing attention—with notable excep­tions, of course: super­star drum­mer Gin­ger Bak­er appren­ticed him­self to Fela Kuti and became an evan­ge­list for African drum­ming; Bri­an Eno and Talk­ing Heads’ David Byrne (who also intro­duced thou­sands to “world music”) import­ed the sound of African rock to New Wave in the 80s, as did post-punk bands like Orange Juice and oth­ers in Britain, where music from Africa gen­er­al­ly had a big­ger impact.

But the fusion of African polyrhythms with rock instru­ments and song struc­tures had been done, and done incred­i­bly well, already by dozens of bands, includ­ing sev­er­al in the East African coun­try of Zam­bia, which had been British-con­trolled North­ern Rhode­sia until its inde­pen­dence in 1964. In the decade after, bands formed around the coun­try to cre­ate a unique form of music known as “Zam­rock,” as it came to be called, “forged by a par­tic­u­lar set of nation­al cir­cum­stances,” writes Calum Mac­Naughton at Music in Africa.

Zam­rock bands were influ­enced by the funk and soul of James Brown and the heavy rock of Hen­drix, Deep Pur­ple, Led Zep­pelin, The Who, and Cream—the same music every­one else was lis­ten­ing to. As Rik­ki Ili­lon­ga from the band Musi-O-Tun­ya says in the Vinyl Me, Please mini-doc­u­men­tary above, says, “the hip­pie time, the flow­ers, love and every­thing, Wood­stock. We were a part of that cul­ture too. If the record was in the Top 10 in the UK, it was in the Top 10 here.” But Zam­bia had its own con­cerns, and its own pow­er­ful musi­cal tra­di­tions.

“As much as we want­ed to play rock from the West­ern world, we are Africans,” says Jagari Chan­da, vocal­ist for a band called WITCH (“we intend to cause hav­oc”), “so the oth­er part is from Africa—Zambia. So it’s Zam­bian type of rock—Zamrock.” The term was coined by Zam­bian DJ Man­asseh Phiri. The music itself “was the sound­track of Ken­neth Kaunda’s social­ist ide­ol­o­gy of Zam­bian Human­ism,” Mac­Naughton notes. “In fact, Zam­rock owed much of its exis­tence to the nation’s first pres­i­dent and found­ing father. A gui­tar-pick­er who took great plea­sure in song” and who pro­mot­ed local music “via a quo­ta sys­tem” imposed on the new­ly-formed Zam­bia Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice (ZBS).

Vinyl Me, Please has col­lab­o­rat­ed with Mac­Naughton and oth­ers from Now-Again Records to release 8 Zam­rock albums, “7 of which have nev­er been reis­sued in their orig­i­nal form.” The video above, “The Sto­ry of Zam­rock,” reflects their decade-long jour­ney to redis­cov­er the 70s scene and its pio­neers. In the video at the top from Band­splain­ing, you can learn more about Zam­rock, which has been gain­ing promi­nence in album reis­sues for the last sev­er­al years, and which “deserves to be a part of the musi­cal his­to­ry of Africa in a much big­ger way than it has been up to now,” Hen­ning Goran­son Sand­berg writes at The Guardian. See all of the music fea­tured in the video at the top in the track­list below.

0:00 WITCH — “Liv­ing In The Past”

0:40 Kei­th Mlevhu — “Love and Free­dom”

1:05 Paul Ngozi — “Bamayo”

3:11 WITCH — “Intro­duc­tion”

4:19 Musi-O-Tun­ya — “Mpon­do­lo”

4:32 Musi-O-Tun­ya — “Dark Sun­rise”

5:28 Rik­ki Ili­lon­ga — “Shee­been Queen”

5:37 WITCH — “Lazy Bones”

6:00 Paul Ngozi — “Ana­soni”

6:16 The Peace — “Black Pow­er”

6:46 Kei­th Mlevhu — “Ubun­tung­wa”

7:06 Amanaz — “Kha­la my Friend”

7:24 WITCH — “Liv­ing In The Past”

8:19 The Black­foot — “When I Need­ed You”

8:39 Salty Dog — “See The Storm”

9:30 Salty Dog — “Fast”

10:42 Rik­ki Ili­lon­ga & Der­ick Mbao — “Madzi A Moyo”

10:54 Paul Ngozi — “Nshaup­wa Bwino”

11:43 Amanaz — “Sun­day Morn­ing”

12:38 The Black­foot — “Lon­ley High­way”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne Cre­ates a Playlist of Cre­ative Music From Africa & the Caribbean—or What One Name­less Pres­i­dent Has Called “Shit­hole Coun­tries”

An Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Music of Fela Kuti: Rad­i­cal Niger­ian Band­leader, Polit­i­cal Hero, and Cre­ator of Afrobeat

Stream 8,000 Vin­tage Afropop Record­ings Dig­i­tized & Made Avail­able by The British Library

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • L. Mooijman says:

    Dear mr. Josh Jones,

    Thank you for the music, not only this edi­tion but also the oth­er ones in open­cul­ture.

    But I miss the Spo­ti­fy wich has the pos­si­bil­i­ty for mul­ti­task­ing: lis­ten­ing to the music and read­ing anoth­er page of the O.C.

    Sin­cere­ly yours,

    Ruud Mooi­j­man

  • George Chaka says:

    An inter­est­ing read. How­ev­er, I grew up in the 70s know­ing that Pres­i­dent Kaun­da killed Zam­rock and pro­mot­ed Kalin­du­la. This is what was to be ori­gian­l­ly Zam­bian music. Zam­rock was seen as music of thugs and copied from the weatern world. When an order was giv­en to the nation­al broad­cast­er to play 90% Zam­bian music, it was Kalin­du­la and folk music that was pro­mot­ed and not Zam­rock.

  • Patrick Tembo says:

    You can’t talk about Zam­rock with­out men­tion­ing Osi­bisa a UK based Afro­rock group made up of West Africans and Caribbean nation­als who influ­enced the Zam­rock sound. Osi­bisa played per­cus­sion instru­ments such as the xylophone,African drums,bongos,conga,timpani, cow bells etc. The real Zam­rock sound was played by Mosi Oa Tun­ya with albums such as Wings of Africa and Give Love to Your Chil­dren. Dereck Mbao, Rik­ki Illi­lon­ga and oth­ers.
    These guys pro­duced what I’d call Zam­rock which was influ­enced by Afro­rock pop­u­larised by Osi­bisa

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