Amanaz – Africa

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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)

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

3 thoughts on “Amanaz – Africa

  1. Chuck

    It’s funny how sometimes the story behind the music is more compelling than the music itself. Those stories are why my record collection has gotten bigger and bigger over the years, despite my commitment to continually cycling things out of my pile. I’m not getting rid of any of those Francois Kevorkian records or those old Trojan reggae comps or those Gamble & Huff collections, because even if I don’t listen to them much, they’re great stories.

    Of course, house and reggae and disco are all loves of mine, so those records are more than just stories. I listened to a few tracks of Amanaz and if there was no story — Zimbabwe or copper or the spirit of rock finding its footing on a continent where rock is foreign — I wouldn’t think twice about this record. Hearing Zimbabwean interpretations of Cream and Deep Purple may make for great stories but I just don’t care that much about the music, so I’m not sure I’ll dig any deeper.

    All that to say, We Intend to Cause Havoc is possibly the best band name ever.

  2. bobvinyl Post author

    I heard “I Am Very Far” waiting for bands to come on at Ottobar a few years back, so I loved this without the story. I don’t think it is just Zambian interpretations of Western rock music. Deep Purple and Cream are great, but also distant and that is a big part of what draws me into this album. The story is important, but Amanaz is still in fairly regular rotation for me a few years after first hearing it.

  3. Chuck

    I’ll try it again knowing that, because it matters that you loved this without the story. I do also know you’re more open to that flavor of rock (not to mention prog) than I am. When we tried listening to Deep Purple many years ago, I made it through like 2 albums before I bailed. I tried to get through their “great” albums a few months back and it was torturous to even get through one. So i think I have a resistance to this style of rock as a whole that makes me less patient with the nuances.


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