the return of zamrock

︎Music, Art, African, Zamrock, Article
︎ Tolly Robinson
︎  Tolly Robinson, Gio Arlotta

On a dusty street corner in Lusaka you can buy a piece of music history.

Between the kerbside garages and newspaper sellers, a group of men have vinyl sleeves laid out for sale. On first glance, these record sellers look like they wouldn’t have anything for your collection. But ask correctly and they might just show you the stock held behind closed doors, the albums too valuable to be shown on the street - they might just show you the first pressing of Lazy Bones.

From the first sight of Lazy Bones, you know that you are holding a thing of greatness. The cover features the band, WITCH, standing on a platform in a lunar-like landscape, dressed in varied and surreal costumes. Put the needle to the record and you are transported to another time and place.

“Put the needle to the record and you are transported to another time and place.”

The album is the bands third in a career which saw them produce Zambia’s first ever commercially available album and define the nation’s music scene for a decade. It fuses together African rhythms with the sound of Western Psychedelic Rock music. Released in 1975, it marks the bands heaviest and most funk fuelled phase. But it also serves as a fine example of Zamrock and the high calibre of music the Southern African country was putting out at the time.
Along with bands like Amanaz, Mosi-O-Tunya, The Peace and Salty Dog (short for We Intend To Cause Havoc) provided the soundtrack to a newly independent country at war and under autocratic rule. As a newly independent country committed to the emancipation of its neighbours from their colonisers, Zambia was constantly under threat from attack from Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and his ally, Apartheid South Africa.

Being a rockstar in such a climate was difficult, and the situation can be heard in the music. Zamrock is often dark, fuzzy and fast: the sort of music that suited crowds who were locked into venues from 1800 to 0600 due to defence blackouts. But not everyone loved the music and the bands were often at odds with the Zambian Government: WITCH’s ‘October Nights’ was written from a jail cell after the band played too close to a Politician’s hotel room.

But more than any of this it was fun. 1000s of fans would turn out to see the musicians - whether in the booming Copperbelt Region in the north, or down at Livingstone on the Border with Rhodesia. The bands would wear outlandish outfits and gigs would go on for hours.

“Being a rockstar in such a climate was difficult, and the situation can be heard in the music.”

But it would not last. By the 1980s the music scene had all but vanished. Zambia was experiencing a brutal economic downturn when AIDS hit. Many of the musicians died, including all bar the lead singer of WITCH, the band behind Lazy Bones. What little money Zambians had was being spent on food - not records.

Jagari Chanda, WITCH’s lead singer, left the music industry and took up a life as a gemstone miner in the Zambian bush, his former life as a microphone swinging frontman seemingly forgotten.

But he kept hold of the master tapes. 40 years later, after appearing on obscure music blogs and on late night radio shows around the world, the whole of WITCH’s back catalogue has been re-released. With a feature-length documentary due to be released soon, Jagari has taken up the microphone again and has toured the world.

He is still causing havoc. And Zamrock lives on with him and the records that remain.

Further Reading ︎
Listen to a documentary about Jagari on the BBC World Service

The documentary film We Intend To Cause Havo is due out this year.
Produced and directed by Gio Arlotta.

NowAgain Records have recently re-released many Zamrock albums.