Listen: Have Some Zamrock For Xmas!

Diggin’ some rare, er,
crate-diggin’ tunes from Zambia,
Africa, from the ‘70s. Song samples, below.


By Ron Hart


One of the
great lost movements of modern African music finally gains time in the
stateside spotlight in the form of two excellent reissues from Stones Throw
archivist subsidiary Now-Again and the great German psych reissue label Shadoks


recently, the storied Zamrock scene of the mid-to-late 1970s was only prevalent
within the parameters of the nation from which it derived – the Republic of
Zambia, a copper-producing country landlocked by the unsteady climates
surrounding them in Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania and
Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south and
Angola to the west. The country was also rife with poverty and the
then-gestating AIDS pandemic that plagued the lives of several of Zamrock’s
founding fathers.


These dire straits did not make many of the albums
released within the harsh confines of Zambia
all that accessible beyond the few ex-pats who brought their record collections
to Europe and the United
States, where they migrated. Eventually,
though, word got out about this fuzzy, freaky fusion of reverberating, wah-wah
drenched electric rock, which the musicians had heard on Western pop albums
from Jimi Hendrix, Santana and the Jefferson Airplane that were bootlegged into
the country, not to mention being influenced by the high energy funk brought
forth on James Brown’s legendary 1971 tour of Zambia. Additionally steeped in
the indigenous polyrhythms of the music along the Congo plus traditional Zambian
folk, the sound of Zamrock became a sonic delicacy highly sought-after among
the globe’s most serious break hunters.



And there is no doubt that the time is indeed nigh for
this rediscovery spurred by the crate diggers at Stones Throw/Now-Again. Dark Sunrise is a two-CD anthology of
the scene’s first breakout star, guitar wizard Rikki Ililonga, and his band
Musi-O-Tunya. Housed in a beautiful, hardbound book-style package and featuring
a scholarly essay on the evolution of the Zamrock revolution in the extensive
liner notes, Dark Sunrise gathers together
on the first disc Musi-O-Tunya’s 1975 debut album Wings of Africa with a cache of super hard-to-find 7-inch singles
that date back to early 1973, while the second CD houses Ililonga’s two solo
albums, 1975’s Zambia and 1976’s Sunshine Love, which are more rooted in
the bandleader’s affinities for the songwriting styles of Loaded-era Lou Reed and Taj Mahal back when he played with Ry



Then you have Witch,
an acronym for “we intend to cause havoc”, who closely followed in the
footsteps of Musi-O-Tunya on the Zamrock scene. Hot on the heels of the reissue
of Witch’s 1975 masterpiece, Lazy Bones!! (released on QDK Media/Shadoks
earlier this year), Introduction (also on QDK Media/Shadoks),  from a miniscule run originally issued on a
local private press in 1973, is an equally essential document on the influence
of psychedelia on the Zambian music scene. You get a stoned soul safari
punctuated by wild, effects-laden guitar sprawls, scratchy freakbeat organs and
early, stones-flavored electric r&b harmonics, and on songs like “You
Better Know” and “See Your Mama” you feel as though you are hearing lost sides
from a volume of the Pebbles series more than music derived from Africa.


If you are
looking to get into Zamrock for the very first time, there are no two better
places to start than this pair of southern African sound diamonds.



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