ALTHOUGH it is no longer as popular as it once was in the late 1970s, Zamrock is making a comeback led by the Albatross Band, a Band that was founded in 1974 known as the Black Stones then, in Mufulira.
Zamrock is a musical style that has recently grown in popularity among young people who have been rediscovering it. The genre, which combines Western rock with the distinctive Zambian musical style, captivated the country for almost two decades.
Zamrock was influenced by artists like Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer, and the Rolling Stones, among others. It is a blend of psychedelic rock, funk, afrobeat, and other elements.
We must travel 57 years in the past to comprehend how this movement came to be.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, founding member of the Zambian Band The WITCH, Jagari Chanda, highlighted the rise of Zamrock shortly after the country got its independence.
“By the end of the decade, this resulted in a boom in the economy. As a result, Zambians had increased purchasing power and could afford to spend money on amusement. The British higher class residents in Zambia were also bringing in rock music from well-known performers of the day, like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, James Brown. Because of this, an entire generation grew up listening to these bands. Some of them began playing instruments and mimicking their idols. The song ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix was especially well-liked by Zambians learning how to play the guitar,” said Chanda.
“These young musicians soon discovered there was even an audience for what they had been enthusiastically doing when they formed cover bands like the Lusaka Beatles or Rev 5 (the Rolling Stones cover band). The country’s young labour force had money to spend on concerts, so these bands began playing at miners’ taverns and hotels. They soon came to the conclusion that this was a much more satisfying way to make a living than what the job market has to offer”.
When Zambia gained independence, a political decision made by President Kenneth Kaunda required Zambian stations to play 90% Zambian music, which gave the nation’s burgeoning music scene a significant boost. These young people had the ideal chance to begin creating their own music because publishing an album was correlated with gaining radio play.
In the 70s, the album “WITCH: Introduction,” which was done by the WITCH, was a frantic garage rock album, and was the first Zamrock release. It, however, could only be made in Nairobi, Kenya because it was the closest location with a record press. Many additional bands, including Ngozi Family, The Peace, Musi O Tunya, Salty Dog, and Amanaz, among others, were able to follow in WITCH’s footsteps.
Paul Ngozi, real name Paul Dobson Nyirongo (1949-1989), reached the pinnacle of Zambian music in the 1970s and 80s. The “Ngozi Family,” a group that made a name for itself as a top local rock band and was among the first to identify its genre Zamrock, is where he initially gained notoriety. He was the band leader of this group. He developed a reputation as a “sharp” social commentator since the themes of his songs were frequently highly relatable to society’s daily life and so easy to relate to. Ngozi created a number of record singles, including “Vina bwela mo chedwa”, “Tikondane”, “Bauze,” that have achieved widespread popularity to date.
Unfortunately, the Zamrock movement began to lose momentum, and a shocking turn of circumstances brought it to an early end.
Records and concert tickets were no longer as inexpensive as they once were due to the economic downturn caused by the collapse in global copper prices, which accounted for 95 percent of the nation’s export revenues.
The genre thus slipped through the cracks and was in danger of being lost to history without a market for the music and without the musicians to maintain their records.
The Albatross band, which had been absent for almost 40 years, made a comeback in 2012 with its original two members. The Original Band was established in Mufulira in 1974; currently, only one original band member lives. The original band was known in Mufulira as the Blackstones.
When it was first established in 1974, it performed for three years before going dormant. The reason for this was that some of the original members discovered they wanted to pursue higher education, others discovered new occupations, some went into hibernation, and some later made a comeback in 2012.
The band’s earliest members consisted of two brothers Webby Wake lead guitar, Whiteson Wake rhythm guitar (vocal), Nevers Chibwe lead vocal (Tambourine), Dickson Kabandama bass, Silungwe Wake drums.
In an interview, founding member Wisdom Silungwe Wake said the band used to perform at the country boating club in the 1970s in Mufulira, among other places, until they went into hibernation.
Wake said the band was inspired by Rock Legend Jimmy Hendrix, among others.
“The Black stones did original songs and cover copies as well. The original songs which they authored which still play today would include ‘Which Way’, ‘Dancing Day’, and ‘Helping Hand’, these are songs which were composed in the 70s back then and are very much played even today. The band used to play cover copies of Western Rock as well, songs by bands such as the Eagles, Jimmy Hendrix, Santana, Black Sabbath, AC DC. Jimmy Hendrix was such a huge inspiration to the band members including other artistes such as Carlos Santana, the list is quite endless,” Wake recalled.
“We learnt to play musical instruments by listening to Western Rock. Indeed, bands had sought after their own heroes, the Witch would have bands which they tapped into. We were a primary band, we didn’t have members coming from the established bands. We came on the scene as at the same time as some of the bands which came on to make fame”.
Wake said many new members had joined the group since 2012 in an effort to keep it alive and grow it.
He said the band decided to return to music in 2012 out of sheer desire.
The Band now consists of nine members; with Webby Wake as the only surviving member from the original Blackstones Band.
Wake said the Band would soon produce an album that would include some tracks which were never released in the 1970s.
“We are going to produce an album, we have been writing songs. We have also been trying to create our awareness and spreading the evangelical news that Zamrock is back, it shouldn’t die. We have brought in younger members to outlive us and carry on with Zamrock so that it stands toe to toe with Western Rock, it stands toe to toe with Rhumba, it stands toe to toe with Rhumba Music,” he said.
“You may be aware that Reggae music and Rhumba have been given accolades of protected musical genres by UNESCO and I think that is where we trying really to push Zamrock so that as a country, it being our heritage, lives on forever. So we do have a recording studio and a place where we play from but we have been exploring and playing at all sorts of venues. Yes, challenges here and there, the management team has come on board timely and lighten our burden”.
Wake said he was optimistic that Zamrock would still be appreciated despite a new genre of music that had occupied the country since the 80s, 90s, and the 2000s.
“There has to be a revolution and the mindset should be positioned in a certain way so as to appreciate that which might be deemed foreign. But bit by bit, as we bring in newer members, younger members, that sort of attracts the younger audience. I remember an old lecturer of mine once said a human being gets to remember that which was taught, you cannot recall something which you were never taught. Similarly if you don’t introduce the younger audience to something foreign or strange, they will never get to know it. It comes at a cost that you have to expect rejection and turn the rejection into positivity,” said Wake.
Meawhile, Band Manager Russell Harawa said Zamrock was part of the country’s history and the band was set to host a show on the April 28 in an effort to revive it.
“Zamrock is part of our history, the whole idea of it is to revive it. There is still a certain generation of people who appreciate it, we want now to introduce it to wider audience. We will believe that it will find its place in the market, that is our hope and that is the ambition. On the 28th, we have a show, it will be at the Albatross Den in New Kasama,” said Harawa.
“We are trying to rebirth the whole Zamrock movement. Friday’s show also includes one of the legends of Zambia’s Music Jagari Chanda of the Witch. Jagari will be featuring with the band. So we shall have an outside bar, cash bar and someone will be cartering with snacks. From previous experience, it is definitely a fun evening, a free flowing evening of live music. We are charging K200 entry fee”.