This album is proof that you should follow Amanaz's advice to "Ask Me About Nice Artistes in Zambia"
Throughout this journey of exploring world music, Joel and I have both discovered many sub-genres which were previously unknown to us. Today’s sub-genre in focus, so to speak, is zamrock. One might simplistically look at this and question whether this is just rock music that comes from Zambia? On the one hand it may appear to be, but zamrock is much more than that; to me zamrock is a movement. Having declared its independence in 1964, President Kenneth Kaunda decreed that 95% of music played on radio stations had to be Zambian in origin. This wave of Zambian nationalism that encouraged home-grown independence of thought and culture led to the formation of a band that perhaps came to epitomise what this movement was about more than any other – Amanaz.
“... it serves as a musical document for a country torn between moving on from its painful recent past, whilst also trying to honour it and take the best parts of it that it could.”
The band’s name stands for ‘Ask Me About Nice Artistes in Zambia’. This is not only incredibly endearing, it also shows the pride that those within the zamrock movement felt about their fellow countrymen’s musical talent. They believed the world should know Zambian music. Having listened several times to the album I can concur that this is true. Influenced heavily by a range of styles, namely psychedelic rock, funk and reggae, the band’s most obvious inspiration is Jimi Hendrix, and duly some of the guitar licks on display are truly phenomenal. This is particularly evident on the tracks Amanaz, Green Apple, and the bluesier Easy Street, which all include lead guitarist Isaac Mpofu’s great sound. However, Mpofu really comes into his own on Nsunka Lwendo in which his solo brings an incredible injection of energy.
Notable features on other songs are wide-ranging. The intro on I Am Very Far sounds almost identical to PJ Harvey’s This is Love released a quarter of a century later. This song contains very powerful lyrics as singer Keith Kabwe belts out the line “I’m very very far to be rich”, in which it sounds like he is not just singing about his personal wealth, nor just that of his homeland Zambia, but also of many other African nations that were only just beginning the long and arduous economic journey of decolonisation. For me, the best song on the album is Khala My Friend, a melancholic yet fast tempo track with a real reggae inflection. The previous track Sunday Morning has a similar, albeit softer, tone to the song, whilst it is followed by the grungier History Of The Man, which is not so much to my taste, but the juxtaposition of these tracks is interesting if nothing else. For the most part this album has a real 1960s rock sound, with comparisons easily drawn between the Zambians and The Rolling Stones on tracks such as Making The Scene and Big Enough.
What really struck me about the album was how Western–inspired Amanaz’s music was, particularly at a time when the country was trying to distance itself from all things colonial. That said, I acknowledge that this could appear to be a lazy accusation as one must remember that rock music's roots originally came from Africa and if we remind ourselves that music is about sharing then it becomes self–evident that Amanaz's sound is no less authentically African than that of other stars of that same era such as Fela Kuti. Even though most of the tracks are in English, two are performed in the Bemba language including the aforementioned Nsunka Lwendo and the title-track Africa, whilst the final track Kale is sung in Nyanja. Africa features a call and response style chorus, perhaps acting as an appeal to their brothers and sisters across the continent who had suffered for too long at the hands of Western oppressors. Meanwhile, Kale apparently tells the story of the continent's journey from slavery all the way to Zambia's independence. On both a musical and lyrical level it acts as the perfect culmination of all of the emotion that had gone into the album. Overall this album is definitely worth a listen, not just for its variety and incredibly guitar skills on display, but also because it serves as a musical document for a country torn between moving on from its painful recent past, whilst also trying to honour it and take the best parts of it that it could.