Following independence and the end of colonial rule by the Bristish in 1964, Zambia was subject to an economic boom bolstered by its copper-mining industry. It boasted the 2nd highest GDP in Africa, and its government began to allocate funds to cultural development, with the aim of helping establish a national identity. Due to its popular appeal and increasingly easy dissemination music was key to this, and in the 1970s president Kenneth Kaunda would come to order that 95% of the music on radio stations such as the Zambian Radio Service had to be Zambian.
Left to right: Witch road manager Billy J. Ndhlovu, Violet Kafula and Shaddick Bwalya in Lusaka
The construction of national identity through music was complicated by the migration brought by economic growth. The musical horizons of Zambian people were expanded by encounters with music from across the globe. For Zambian music this resulted in its traditional elements- its languages, its drums (such as the ngoma and vimbuzza) and its stringed instruments (such as the babatone)- being mixed with various aspects of Western Pop and Rock.
A movement in Western popular music which made waves in Zambia was the psychedelic rock of Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Social tensions in the post-colonial nation were exacerbated by the oil crisis of 1973-4, and gave rise to connections being made with this glamorous and anti-establishment music. The counterculture encapsulated by Woodstock was a powerful image that could be incorporated into Zambian musical culture. It presented a world where people who felt marginalised by the state found strength in numbers and whose care-free lives were a far cry from those of miners in the Zambian Copperbelt. This sentiment can be felt in Black Power, from the eponymous album by The Peace released in 1975.
One of the seminal figures in Zambian Rock‘n’Roll was Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda (Jagari is an Africanisation of “Jagger”), lead singer of the Witch, whose name stands for “We intend to cause havoc”. Witch blew people’s minds with tracks like “Lazy Bones” and “Black Tears”. By fusing the pop sensibility of the Rolling Stones, the fuzzed-out guitars of Cream and homegrown Kalindula rhythms, Witch toured all over Southern Africa.
Paul Ngozi and the Ngozi Family were a similarly potent force in expounding Zamrock. Ngozi means “danger” or “accident” in the IsiXhosa language, and Ngozi lived up to his name in aggressive and radical concerts in which he engaged with rock’n’roll performances like playing the guitar with his teeth and, ultimately, breaking it in two. His song “Size Nine” is a protest directed towards a mother-in-law, imploring her to stop interfering in her daughter’s business.
Economic hardship and an influx of piracy made Zamrock unsustainable, and it met its demise with the end of the 1980s. Despite being such a striking and dynamic moment in music, it is poorly documented and has fallen into obscurity. New directions in Zambian music were aligned with disco and reggae, and today R’n’B and hip-hop stand out as the prevalent styles- check out Zone Fam, Slap Dee and pop diva Mampi. Now Again Records is a recently established label dedicated to reissuing Zamrock classics and breathing new life into the genre.