DAY OF JUDGEMENT
Zamrock couldn't have been predicted at midnight on October the 24th, 1964. In the Zambian capital Lusaka, at the Independence Stadium, at 12.01 am, the silence was deafening. The drummers stopped drumming. The dancers stopped dancing. Everything went dark. The Union Jack was finally lowered as the Zambian flag rose. Fireworks. Later that day Kenneth Kaunda, ex-teacher and socialist leader of the Zambian African National Congress, who'd canvassed support for the independence struggle by playing 'freedom songs' on his guitar (perhaps influenced by his 1960 meeting with Martin Luther King), was sworn in as president. Speaking to a crowd of 200,000 he admitted how bloody a struggle it had been - security forces had shot, tortured and imprisoned hundreds of freedom fighters. He urged Zambia to 'rise and march forward to peace, progress and human development and dignity'. He then set about, through free education policies, and planned economic policies that tried to drag Zambian business out of foreign hands and nationalise it, to attempt to make Zambia an African powerhouse. Soon, as is so often the case, the freedom fighter became an autocrat and a tyrant, and Zambia never really gained the power or wealth independence had promised. But in 64, with copper profits now rolling into Zambian rather than British coffers, in the cities at least it seemed a boom was on the way, a growing professional middle-class reaping the benefits even as rural Zambians saw next to no change.
Miners bought suits, new cars, Western-style houses. In 63 the first black Africans had been allowed to move into previously all-white neighbourhoods. Post-independence, Zambia's cities rode a wave of euphoria and modernisation, and a whole generation of Zambians started growing up more urban than rural, whether born in the copperbelt or moving to it from the sticks. In a part of the country where the outside world flowed in, not just in an economic sense but crucially in a political and cultural sense, young Zambians started hearing the Hollies and the Beatles and the Stones and the Kinks and the Yardbirds and Cream and The Who and started seeing Western music as the sound of the modern era. They wanted Stratocasters, amps, drum kits, fuzz-pedals and by the late 60s there were dozens of rock groups scattered throughout Lusaka and the Copperbelt. Alot of the bands just imitated their Western idols but some bands mixed things up, taking on Beatles-style pop, Hendrix-style fuzz-rock and crushing them against the indigenous Kalindula rhythms and instrumentation of Zambia, creating in the process music that couldn't have been made anywhere else on earth. Yes there were love songs, sappy songs, songs that mirrored Western motifs sung in English but there were also profoundly non-Western songs too, songs about slavery, independence, songs sung in any one of Zambia's seventy-two different languages. Amanaz came from the mines, and its members had been anti-colonial freedom fighters and subversives, just like Paul Ngozi, a huge star in Zambia whose solo LP 'The Ghetto' is one of Zamrock's great lost meisterwerks and whose debut LP under the Ngozi Family banner, 76's 'Day Of Judgement' is also now getting a re-release from Now-Again, alongside Amanaz' masterpiece 'Africa'.
Listening, you can't help thinking that Zamrock bands wouldn't get booked in the West now, were they to arrive new, untainted by the glow of retroism. They simply don't fit with the narrow notions of what constitutes 'world' music, or the way the West thinks music from that part of the world 'should' sound. Of course, the bands involved in Zamrock, the explosion in guitar rock that followed Zambia's independence in 1964 were well within their rights to legitimately not give a fuck about Western acceptance, be happy to be big fishes in small ponds and not make the moves that, say, Ghanaian Afro-rockers Osibisa made in taking their act to Western stages and cracking those lucrative territories.
Zamrock bands kept things local, enacted their version of the sex, drugs & rock'n'roll myths entirely within Zambia's borders. Just as in Jamaica, independence proved the spur to create a new national musical identity, an identity that like Jamaica's would prove to be a mix between that which was reclaimed by that new nation, but that also revealed the lines of cultural domination that had pre-dated independence. So just as ska needed mento AND American r'n'b to come into being the way it did, so Zamrock relied on a unique mix of the aged and the current, the old music of Zambia and the new music coming out of America and the UK at the time. Amanaz, alongside the unforgettable Witch (We Intend To Cause Havoc, fronted by Zamrock legend Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda, the 'Jagari' an Africanisation of 'Jagger' - check out their awesome 'Lazy Bones' album also from 75) were perhaps Zamrock's most forceful, visible and controversial figures and 'Africa' is their classic album, salvaged from the cleanest copies Now-Again could find (all masters have been lost and the album originally came out in two mixes, one dry, one slathered in reverb, both versions collated by Now-Again with this reissue). According to those in the know, 'Africa' is perhaps the most cohesive statement of Zamrock belief and attitudes.
In the case of both of these albums, the fresh-flush of independence is a long-passed echo, dying in the distance of Zambian colonial memory. They're records that attempt escape, but can't help revealing the walls closing in, the whispers and lies behind those walls. Upon independence Kaunda declared a state of emergency in Zambia that lasted until 1991. It took Kaunda just four years from independence (1968) to ban all opposition parties, and his UNIP party exerted horrific revenge on dissidents from across the board in Zambia, always protective of its core supporters, the middle-class civil servants. Like Nkrumah in Ghana, Nyerere in Tanzania and Mobutu in Zaire/DRC Kaunda built a personality cult around himself, replete with his own self-christened ideology ('Zambian Humanism') mixing socialism with older African traditions. By the mid 70s, post-OPEC-crisis & with the economy in free fall and optimism fading fast, all opposition to UNIP was effectively eradicated by a rewritten constitution. Liberation is no longer what Zambia is about.
These records are made in the mid-70s, in the first years of effectively what would be Kaunda's two decades of dictatorship. Zambia becomes a place full of informers, its prisons stuffed with dissidents, naysayers, anyone not willing to buy into Kaunda's myths of progress. 'Africa' and 'Day Of Judgement' are albums that emerge in this new politically-dread ambience. Confidence and independence don't come into it, and you can hear the true circumstances Zamrock finds itself in locked in the grooves of both of these discs. In a country where even by 1975 nearly all the record companies and recording studios were still owned by whites, these are not records of liberation. They are joyful records though, proud, bands being themselves. In a sense, they're records of happiness, happiness at the indulgence they're afforded, that these musicians and their families can afford. But between the lines and beneath the surface you can hear dreadful presentiments in both records, the dawning apprehension that the dawn and new day are over for Zambia, that all that lies ahead is a darkening, a blinding, a night of terrors.
Both records are stoned to the bone, fogged up with smoke, and so both records can't be simplified as protest records or statements. It's more like wandering in on a rehearsal, moods pass, change, egoistic control of proceedings seems to have absconded in favour of a mutual noodling, a collective stumble towards form. Both records seem almost half-aware that the Zamrock phenomenon will soon be destroyed. What's so beautifully moving about both records is how relaxed they seem about it. How they sound like bands trying to find their own voice through their influences. How they both, in their own ways, find that voice. For all the vaunted 'suprise' that exotica promises, the process of Western understanding often lazily reasserts the most basic musicological tropes and cliches about place, time and the art that can emerge from that meeting . But 'Africa', and 'Day Of Judgement' simply won't fit. They're records that reveal a deep truth about music - People are not just where they're from, what they've heard, a set of abilities. Music isn't always merely what can be executed by the skill of its protagonists. People can just as easily be shells their times blow through, as well as entirely resist their times, retreat from those times into a druggy bubble.
'Africa' doesn't sound like street music. It sounds like studio music, bedroom music, music that's hiding. For all its vaunted social conscience, it's precisely the wastage and wantonness of Zamrock that's thrilling, the middle-class spoiledness of it. The stuff excessive to requirements, that superfluously goes beyond the narrow Musician + Circumstance = Honest Expression formulations that 'world' music is so oft reduced to. Amanaz are rather snootily disdained in what little you can read about them in world music books, derided as 'internationalist' and overly 'western'. There's no high-life style here, no juju, nothing that can really be tied in with anything else that's going on musically in the entire continent. Precisely what makes 'Africa' so fascinating and enjoyable.
AMANAZ (Ask Me About Nice Artists From Zambia) formed in 73, playing Country Clubs and Hindu Halls and building a fanbase and fame by the mid 70s. Keith Kabwe (working as dispatch clerk at Caltex Oil Terminal in Ndola) was the band leader who recruited John Kanyepa on guitar and vocals, Watson Lungu on drums, Isaac Mpofu on rhythm guitar and Jerry Mausala on bass. All of them had been robbed from other fledgling Zamrock outfits like Black Souls, Klasters and Macbeth. They rehearsed at the Copperbelt University, then called the Zambia Institute Of Technology in Kitwe, sealed a deal with Teal and ZMPL, recorded 'Africa' at Malachite studios in Chingola, released it to massive success in Zambia and general international obliviousness, then fell apart soon after.
First thing you notice with 'Africa' is that though you've been told it 'rocks hard', it doesn't, thank fuck. The opening instrumental 'Amanaz' is like a little tour around their sound, tight psyche beats, nimble bass & rhythm guitar, some gloriously fuzzed-up soloing strafing round the stereoscape. 'I Am Not Far' really unlocks the heart of what Amanaz do over the course of 'Africa'. It's 1975 but the production of the album is firmly rooted in a late 60s, early 70s sensibility and soundworld. It's a gentler kind of rock than you've been led to believe, more like the Velvets circa 'Loaded' than the blatant Hendrix/Sabbath influences that only sporadically reveal themselves. 'Sunday Morning' almost seems sonically and in its title to make that connection explicit although it's difficult to imagine that Amanaz were big Velvets fans, more that through an opportune similarity of cheap recording, naturalism and simple beautiful guitar parts both Amanaz and VU ended up at the same place, a kind of 'Oh Sweet Nuthin' vibe that's uncanny, unmistakable and utterly ravishing. 'Khala My Friend' is just lovely, a ripple of sun-kissed folk-soul redolent of Fairport or the Byrds circa 'Notorious Byrd Brothers', a song about pulling a friend back from the brink in a world that's 'full of misery', as he goes too far down a road 'with no end'.
Crucial to what makes AMANAZ so great is the searing lead of Kanyepa, the brilliant Richard Thompson-like rhythm work of Mpofu and you can really hear that on 'Khala' and the blistering 'History Of Man' that follows, a fuzzy stomper with a heavy Sabbath influence where the beats are as funky as Bill Ward but the production pushes the percussion to an equivalent loudness so the beat emerges as this weird, hissing, fizzy, almost motorik pulse. This is all to agglomerate western reference points to explain something that's beyond them though (force of habit)- crucially, Amanaz don't really sound like any other band you've heard, while sounding like every band that they've heard. Their difference, their uniqueness really comes to the fore the further from traditional rock they get - the bewitching 'Nsunku Lwendo' is the first real leap-off point in that direction and is unlike any other guitar rock I've heard this side of the Raincoats, Robert Wyatt, Eno - pure kalindula rhythms and gorgeously ornate guitar lines that then give way to a freaky proggy coda worthy of Goblin. That oddity remains whenever AMANAZ sing in their own Bembe language - the title track 'Africa' is similarly skippy and sinuous rhythmically, as if to reflect the increased ease the band feel lyrically when singing in their mother tongue. Another instrumental, 'Green Apple', seems to hint at another unlikely influence, Captain Beefheart, opening with a sequence of chords and lines so strange as to be some 30-year advance on math-rock.
One of the most enjoyable things you start noticing about Zamrock is that although the instrumentation, and some of the musical ideas can be traced to Western sources, how these bands go about putting that music together on an album is entirely careless of the strictures and habits of Western pop, noticeably the usual rules of sequencing. Albums aren't really laced together to tell a linear narrative or 'fit'. You get the feeling not that the order's been decided, rather that the tapes started running and this, in this order, is what occurred. It makes both these records sing way more sweetly, work more engagingly on you than more finely honed & upholstered western rock of the time. At first you might not notice exactly how under your skin these records are getting. After a few days, when you find yourself singing motifs and riffs to yourself on an almost constant basis you'll be in no doubt. 'Making The Scene' is as close as 'Africa' gets to an anthem, a blazing celebration of the Zamrock scene, a proud declaration of AMANAZ' purpose and pose. 'Easy Street' is a funky little slice of Beefheartian-boogie and 'Big Enough' is strangely New York Dolls-like in its blatant Stonesiness and stridency. 'Africa' winds up, rather wonderfully (it's that whacked-out sequencing again) on the sublime 'Kale' (pronounce Kah-lay), a broken up and battered downer of a song you just wish Big Star had heard. You know by now you've never heard anything like it. You go back to the beginning. Far more competent albums than 'Africa' were made in 1975. None of them were quite as acutely compelling. Hear it.
Ngozi Family are clearly not as able as Amanaz. The drums give the game away as much as the fake crowd-noise wonderfully smeared over the opening title-track 'Day Of Judgement' ("All the sinners will go to hell/Some of the Christians will go to paradise/What d'you think about it people/I'm gonna show you people that I'm a HEAVY Christian/I'm gonna blow everything up") , and often you're reminded of The Shaggs rhythmically. Despite/because of this though I prefer it to Amanaz, because it's often far closer to falling apart completely and because when Ngozi himself steps on his pedal and starts covering you in fuzzy honey you damn well KNOW about it - this is an album produced like a demo, played often with a simplicity that sounds like a band's first rehearsal.
Simple but never slapdash or careless. They sound like they're trying to overcome their lack of sophistication through sheer bloody-minded desire and noise and volume and you instantly want to hear them try. As with AMANAZ you get hints that Zambia's rock audience and artists had been nourished and raised on entirely different bands than the official Western cannon would decree as significant in 75/76. Obviously, Sabbath are important to them (just check out the blatant and totally ace 'War Pigs' rip-off 'Kumanda Kwa Bambo Wanda') but the songwriting on 'Day Of Judgement' recalls garage-psyche from the mid 60s, sloganeering lyrics, dutty dutty blues primitivism a la Electric Prunes, Chocolate Watch Band and The Troggs. Because of this similarity of influence, even though they were mutually unaware of each other, the bands Ngozi Family most closely resemble are proto-punkas like Rocket From The Tombs, New York Dolls, Radio Birdman, Death, even The Damned. Every track has a killer riff, repeated until the band are bored and just start jamming on one chord, or one beat. Every track has guitars that are fuzzed to fuck, and a moment when Paul Ngozi jumps on his pedals and unleashes a howling firestorm of wah and phase that's utterly contact-high-addictive. Check out the brutal fuzz-funk drive of 'Hi Babe' ('I get to town/I meet some LADS/I got to say/ HI BROTHER'), 'I Want To Know' and 'Tinkondane' arriving uncannily at similar places to the Velvets 'What Goes On' and The Modern Lovers respectively. There's less of the difference between the songs sung in English and the songs sung in a Zambian dialect on 'Day Of Judgement' - all the songs are propelled by Ngozi's titanic confidence and irresistible force of will and I cannot stress enough what a thrilling moment it is when he starts soloing - you haven't heard such coruscatingly harsh ac(r)id-rock noise this side of Chrome.
|The irresistable Paul Ngozi|
That future never arrived for Ngozi, AMANAZ, Zamrock or Zambia. Instead the country was devastated by a series of crises, external and internal, economic and epidemic, that would render it a basket case of the international community by the 1980s. Zamrock, like many of its players and figureheads, died, never to return. We're lucky that before that happened, albums like 'Africa' and 'Day Of Judgement' were made, and even luckier that thanks to Now-Again we get to hear them again. Both these reissues come stuffed with extra goodies and information but it's the albums themselves that you'll keep returning to. Uniquely odd, uniquely spirited transmissions from a lost moment of hope. Acquaint yourself immediately.
You can buy AMANAZ here , and pre-order Ngozi Family here
You can buy AMANAZ here , and pre-order Ngozi Family here