Music Education

A Short Dive Into the History of Zamrock

The country of Zambia saw it’s population’s culture shift in a such drastic way more than one could imagine at the time and big reason for this was the birth and rise of Zamrock. But what exactly is Zamrock?

Well, the short answer to that question is a genre of music that originated in Zambia during the early 1970s that combines the sounds of local music, psychedelic, and garage rock sounds into the mainstream of the country’s music scene at the time. However, to truly understand the reason for Zamrock’s creation its important to know the history of Zambia during this time.

Official flag of Zambia
The official flag of Zambia

From Liberation to Creation

In 1964, Zambia gained its independence from British colonial rule and was fortunate enough to gain full control of the copper mining industry in the country which led to an economic boom. The first elected president of Zambia was Kenneth Kaunda and in an effort to create a national identity to further itself from its past colonial rule, Kaunda decided to invest heavily into the entertainment industry, specifically, the music industry.

As a result many young Zambians at the time became more and more musically inclined while taking influence from popular bands at the time like Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles.

Also, its worthy to note that during this time, all Zambian radio stations were required to play at least 90% Zambian music as this was an order given by Kaunda himself.

This gave many musicians an incentive to create music as making a song or an album essentially meant getting airtime on the radio. Thus, Zamrock was born with its first ever release in 1972 being “Introduction” by W.I.T.C.H.

Zambian rock band WITCH in concert (2021)
Zambian rock band W.I.T.C.H in concert (2021)

Notable Bands/Musicians

  • Salty Dog
  • W.I.T.C.H (We Intend To Cause Havoc)
  • The Boyfriends
  • Paul Ngozi & and The Ngozi Family
  • Amanaz
  • Rikki Ililonga
  • Musi O Tunya
  • Keith Mlevhu

The Decline of Zamrock

Unfortunately, Zamrock did not last long after its creation as the country went into a decline in many ways. First, it was the global decrease of the copper industry at the end of the decade which was 95% of Zambia’s export at the time. This was a major blow to the economic state of the country and sadly this wasn’t the only problem Zambia faced.

In 1984, an HIV/AIDS epidemic took place in Zambia. This event killed a significant amount of the adult population and this included many musicians. This not only was a huge loss for the general population of Zambia, but it ultimately was a large reason for the end of Zamrock.

Zamrock From Today’s Perspective

The music from Zamrock did not gain much traction outside of the country until much later on. Recently, thanks to the likes of Eothen “Egon” Alapatt and Now-Again Records, many bands and songs have been rediscovered by many all across the world through re-released and compilation albums of many Zamrock bands.

Zamrock has even managed to influence recent artists such as: Yasiin Bey (fka. Mos Def), Travis Scott, Yves Tumor, and Madlib through the use of samples.

On a Final Note

Looking back, The story of Zamrock is certainly a special one as this is something many people today not knowledgeable about it wouldn’t believe after first hearing about it. Seeing as how Zambia is a South Central African country who had not gained it’s independence up until relatively recently.

A picture of Victoria Falls
A picture of Victoria Falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe

Nonetheless, Zamrock is an event that deserves to be remembered and seen as more of a movement than a genre as it served as a great part of Zambia’s liberation story.

Thanks for reading and learning with me!

– MJ :p