Fireballs was founded by rhythm guitarist Michael Kafula in Kitwe and originally featured his nephew Jeff Mulenga as its frontman. Hailing from Wusakile, the original lineup rubbed shoulders with WITCH and Peace on the local scene and held equal sway. After recording a single with the band, Mulenga decamped to Lusaka and performed and recorded as Jeff & The Explosives, later releasing Journey to Kasama on executive producer Goodson Nguni's Flying Bird imprint in 1976. Fireballs managed a solitary LP release in the 1970s by way of the Zambia Music Parlour album On the Mountain in 1975. The set was recorded at Malachite Studios and featured Mike Kafula on vocals, rhythm guitar and organ alongside John Mulenga on lead guitar, Friday Mwile on bass and Brower Machuta on drums.
The band Oscillations was formed in the early 1970s among a group of schoolmates at Chililabombwe High School under the leadership of Victor Kunda Kasoma and went on to release a solitary album entitled I Can See It Coming on the Teal label in 1977. A self-taught guitarist, Kasoma was born in Wusakile in 1957. With the unexpected onset of partial paralysis at the age of 10, Kasoma was diagnosed with polio and progressively lost the use of his legs. Demonstrating a natural talent for music, he was encouraged by a teacher who successfully lobbied the school to provide the necessary equipment for his budding teen band.
By the mid-70s, the Oscillations had become a force to be reckoned with on the Kitwe live music scene, performing at community halls, mine clubs and agricultural shows alongside Keith Mlevhu-led rivals The End. Interested in virtuosity and showmanship, Kasoma explored performing while rolling on the ground and was accomplished at plucking strings with his teeth. With polio having mildly affected his arms and fingers, he developed a signature lead guitar technique that drew creativity from his disability and cemented his position on the shortlist of Zamrock’s greatest guitarists. Moreover, his original compositions presented on I Can See It Coming showcased the breadth of his unique abilities.
Recorded at Malachite Studios, I Can See It Coming features Emmanuel Masele on rhythm guitar, Sylvester Mwape Ngwira on bass and Christopher Juggie Tembo on drums. With a 4-minute guitar intro for the album opener “Request to God,” Kasoma’s instrument is firmly established as the driving force of the album and his guitar work is nothing short of astonishing. Notable too is the album’s illustrated cover evoking a warrior goddess archetype and the folk tale “Kapande” that tells the story of a hunter’s encounter with a monster in the forest.
With the momentous shift to independence energising and drawing attention to their neighbouring country, WITCH looked to Zimbabwe (then still Rhodesia) as a new frontier in early 1980 and took on a residency at Mockey's Hotel in Bulwayo, the country's second largest city. It was here that Tembo was inspired to resurrect a composition that he had written a couple of years earlier about the independence struggle in Mozambique. Reflecting the political moment they were bearing witness to, WITCH added "Freedom Fighter" to their setlist with an English intro and new lyrics in Shona, Zimbabwe's most widely spoken language. Following a successful show at Bulawayo's Happy Valley Hotel alongside Zimbabwean rockers Wells Fargo, WITCH were invited to appear at a music festival at Gwanzura Stadium in the Rodesian capital. The event was part of the build-up to the official independence ceremony on 18 April 1980 that would showcase an appearance by Bob Marley & The Wailers at Rufaro Stadium.
It was at Gwanzura Stadium that "Freedom Fighter" would be responsible for one of WITCH's most memorable live appearances. When the song was played, a euphoric Zimbabwean crowd responded to the Shona lyrics by storming the stage and absconding with lead singer Tembo to conduct a spontaneous victory lap around the sports field on which the concert took place. The band held the rhythm until Tembo's return, whereupon he sang it from the top for good measure. WITCH took the opportunity to capture the zeitgeist and lay down the song at a studio in Harare but Tembo had to attend to work responsibilities at home in Kabwe and was unavailable for the session. As such, drummer Boyd Sinkala stepped in as vocalist on the recording. Released in Zimbabwe with Bwalya's B-side "Funky Reggae" catering to the enthusiasm for the Jamaican sound generated by Marley, the WIT 3 single along with ZIM 134 ("Tendayi" b/w "Vandigumbura") would be the last WITCH releases under the management of Teal. However, WITCH would continue to record in Zimbabwe and the cutting-edge Shed Studios of engineers Steve Roskilly and Martin Norris would be their HQ for crafting their final two independent releases.
Occupying a no-man's land between the WITCH's Zamrock and disco periods, "Freedom Fighter" is the missing link of the WITCH story and has not been anthologised until now. Unlocking the mystery of how the WITCH shifted shape at the beginning of the 1980s, the transition from the Prog sensibilities of their final rock offerings to the synth-licked beats that would characterise their boogie albums is documented here at 45RPM. Marking its 40th anniversary, a 2021 SHARP-FLAT reissue of "Freedom Fighter" is a welcome addition to the incredible efforts that have been made to restore and share the legacy of Zambia’s most cherished band.