Zambian rock music of the 1970’s, or Zamrock, has generated some interest among music nerds of the West in recent years. Re-issues of Amanaz, WITCH and Chrissy “Zebby” Tembo among others along with two excellent Welcome to Zamrock! compilations makes it pretty easy to hear what we missed over four decades ago.
During Zambia’s post-independence copper boom, the rock scene there thrived until copper collapsed and AIDS wreaked havoc on the country’s population. Other bands were more prolific and perhaps loom larger in the revitalized interest in Zamrock, but Africa, Amanaz’s only release, is the album that struck me the most. Amanaz is an acronym for “Ask Me About Nice Artistes In Zambia.” It seems like acronyms were the thing to do in 1970’s Zambia as their compatriots in WITCH (“We intend to cause havoc”) use one also, albeit a somewhat less innocuous one.
Africa in many ways feels like mainstream rock of the 70’s. It has a guitar driven groove and can go amps up to 10 or scale back to a ballad. There are certainly African elements involved, but structurally, these are rock songs and that is what crosses over from this being an exercise in multi-cultural interest to it simply being a rock record.
American and British rock at the time almost all felt like it was built for arenas and stadiums. It’s hard to imagine hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple or pop-oriented artists like Paul McCartney or Elton John being able to fit their sound into a small, intimate club. Amanaz, and Zamrock in general, is not like that though. The playing is looser and less polished. The production is amateur. In fact, the reissue of Africa is a double record with the standard and reverb mixes of the album (originally released as separate albums). Even so, when deciding which to play, you have to choose between a bit too much guitar versus a bit too much drums. The ideal mix would probably split this somewhere down the middle. The ideal performance might have come about with some more time in the studio.
So, why bother listen to Amanaz or any other Zamrock bands? Well, because their imperfections make them more intimate and genuine. There is a raw genuineness that British and American rock giants could not achieve. British and American kids rebelled against the bloat of the 70’s with punk, but that didn’t happen in Zambia. Maybe falling copper prices and AIDS cut everything too short too quickly. Or maybe Zamrock never needed it.
Released: 1975 (re-issued 2015)