KEITH KABWE // The Story of Drive Unit

Here is the short story of the Drive Unit band. The formation of the group began when Amanaz disbanded just after recording our only album Africa and some members of the band decided to go their own way. John left for Mufulira where he met a businessman who asked him to help form a band that was later called Who's Who in the Zoo. Isaac took the road that has no end and ended up a subsistence farmer. Jerry, Watts and I refused to bury our heads in the sand and recruited Ricky Banda on guitar and Webby Kausa on second guitar (from Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively). We connected ourselves to an Indian businessman called Mr. Tata, who owned a local retail shop with vinyl records who helped us record the singles "Watch Out" with "Dala" on the flip side and "Honest Woman" whose flip side has slipped my mind. The singles were played on the air frequently but alas what happened to Amanaz also happened to Drive Unit. History repeated itself and immediately after recording, Ricky and Webby went on their way. Jailos Mukubonda replaced them on guitar and we reverted to Amanaz for a month-long tour of Luapula Province and a few local shows sponsored by the social welfare department of the Ndola City Council. After the tour, the last page of the history of Amanaz was written. Watts and I jammed in other bands in Lusaka for a few gigs but I mostly turned to the business of repairing office machines, supplying stationery and providing secretarial services in the central arcade. I was there for 25 years and was successful. It was there that I was saved and called into the full time ministry of preaching the good news to the lost. I am doing the same today.
- Keith Kabwe, May 2020

The Story of Zamrock! The Zambian Rock Sound 1972-1978

A snapshot of the social and political backdrop of Zambia's rock music scene in the 1970s and a companion documentary to the eponymous 8LP vinyl boxset of May 2020. This short film weaves together interviews with ten artists and music industry professionals from the era and provides anecdotal insights into the creation and production processes of Zambia's burgeoning 1970s recording industry. The Story of Zamrock! puts a face to some of Zambian rock's most cherished songwriters, presenting interviews with surviving members of Amanaz for the very first time and introducing the eccentric A&R executive Billie David Nyati of the independent Zambia Music Parlour label. Also featured are Zambia's first female recording artist Violet Kafula of Crossbones and physically challenged guitar wizard Victor Kunda Kasoma of Oscillations. Eschewing voiceovers or academic exposition, this short documentary is a refreshing insider window onto one of the 20th century's most compelling outsider rock scenes.

CROSSBONES // An Interview with Violet Kafula

Music came from my parents because my mother was a singer and my father used to play in a band called the Black Voice Quartet. When I was in primary school, my teacher thought I had a beautiful voice and encouraged me to sing. We had community clubs where children would go and exercise their talents. Every time I went, I told my mum that I was going to play netball but I would go to where the band was. I started rehearsing and singing and my mum didn’t know about it until one particular occasion when she knocked off from work. As she was passing the club, she recognised my voice. She gave herself away because she came in shouting, “She should not be singing! She’s just a young girl! She’ll never be married! She’ll never finish school!” Somebody warned me and I ran like nobody’s business, out the window of course, and disappeared home.

In 1971, after my national service, I joined Mwaiseni Stores in Lusaka. There was a group called Born Free and I used to hang out with them quite a lot. After work, I would follow them wherever they were and they asked me to sell tickets. I told them I could sing but they didn’t believe it until much later when Born Free merged with Crosstown Traffic (which was another rock band) to form the Crossbones. That’s when Nicky Mwanza said, “Ok, we’ll give you an opportunity to sing.” I was told to take three polished songs to perform at the Woodpecker Inn. I got the songs from the person I admired most when I was young - Miriam Makeba. So I chose “Malcolm X,” “Iphi Indlela” and “Pata Pata” and from then on I never looked back.

In early 1974, President Kaunda declared that he wanted mostly Zambian music to be played by our broadcasting services so we went into the studio. I was told, “You come up with two tracks. You can’t just be on backing vocals. You’re also a lead singer.” So I came up with “Mweba Lume Bandi” and “Say That You Love Me.” I remember when we were recording I was so embarrassed but the engineer, Nikki Ashley, encouraged me and said that the song was going to be a hit. Nikki and Graham Skinner at dB Studios said we should produce “Mweba Lume Bandi” first because the song would sell the album later on. And in two weeks, it sold about 14 000 copies. And it’s always been a hit. Up to now, it’s still a hit. That’s what made me the first female artist in Zambia because there were no female musicians on the scene.

Around 1975, there was an incident at the University of Zambia that I’ve never forgotten. They had been studying Leninism and Marxism and when I went there I sang “Malcolm X” and all hell broke loose. They wanted to pull me from the stage and the band had to stop playing and help me. They unzipped my boots so the crowd took my boots and I got away. On another occasion, “Mweba Lume Bandi” was playing on a jukebox and this guy shouts, “Look! She’s here!” The owner of the bar had to lift me up and throw me over the counter to save me from the crowd. I couldn’t work for three weeks so you can imagine what my mother was feeling. She kept on saying, “I told her this is not the line to go.”

Being part of Crossbones was a beautiful experience. They didn’t look at me as a female and I didn’t look at them as men (or boys at that time). I was one of them and we used to share jokes and adventures. When the WITCH came to Lusaka from the Copperbelt, they stayed in my house. We toured together and at a certain point we decided to be adventurous and form Crosswitch. I recall when we went to perform in Botswana, we stayed at Polytechnic College and the first show was at the University of Botswana. I never used to drink but the guys tricked me. They said that milk stout was not alcohol and gave me a can. Half way and I was drunk. I still had to perform and I managed to sing but when we got back to the college where we were staying, we found the guard was sleeping and we waited for almost 45 minutes. Then I said, “I will climb! I did national service!” It was a really high wire fence and they told me I wouldn’t manage but I said, “Wait and see!” So I climbed up nicely but when coming down I cut myself and still have a scar as a souvenir. When I went to shake this guy up, he was so shocked that he almost hit me with his baton. He knew he was alone there and couldn’t believe that anyone could climb inside. So that’s how naughty I was.

Wise Man holds a lot of sweet memories. From the time we were rehearsing to the time we went into the studio, the togetherness of the Crossbones band was marvellous. When we were recording, we were a group of six. Now almost everybody is gone. It’s just me in Lusaka and lead guitarist George Mlauzi in Livingstone. We are the only surviving members of the Crossbones. When I received the phone call from Jason Connoy of Strawberry Rain in Canada saying he wanted to reproduce the record, at first I was a bit hesitant. I said, “This is Zambia! Canada? How did you get the music?” And he explained his research and I thought it was a great idea. It’s so amazing and so touching because we never dreamed that our music would be recognised abroad. Maybe even Zambians will rediscover it now because Zamrock is forgotten and not really appreciated in Zambia. I’ve talked at length with George Mlauzi and what we would like to do is bring other musicians of the 70s on board and rehearse the music we were playing to see if we can do a tour. I think that would be beautiful.

Interview conducted by Calum MacNaughton in Lusaka in August 2013

"WHY ARE YOU BLOWING MY MIND?" // Southern Africa Fuzz Funk Fishing Mission 1966-1982

Vintage vibes from Zambia, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe & South Africa:


This is “Zamrock!!” // Crossbones

While carving a place for women in the music industry, Violet Kafula hit the mark with one of her contributions to the Crossbones band’s sole release and proved that Zambia had an appetite for local pop. “I came up with ‘Mwebalume Bandi’ and in two weeks, it sold about 14 000 copies. Up to now, it’s still a hit. That’s what made me the first female artist in Zambia because there were no female musicians on the scene.” 

Read More: Violet Kafula of Crossbones (Digital Liner Notes)

CROWD-PULLERS // A Zamrock Mix by MoSS


SALT & THUNDER // The Mind-Altering Rock of 1970’s Zambia

Bassist Norman Muntemba of SALTY DOG in 1976

“For those who don’t know Africa much, we were not living in isolation here. The hippie time, the flowers, love and everything, Woodstock, we were part of that culture too. This was a country that had just gained independence and there was much more optimism in the air” – Rikki Ililonga

A couple of blocks off Lusaka’s Great East Highway, Chachacha Backpackers is a breezy crib for a documentary filmmaker on the trail of a decades-old music story. The sky is blue, the scorched skin of foreign med-school interns is on display at the pool and the bar is churning out a steady supply of Mosi, Zambia’s national lager with its emblematic image of Victoria Falls splashed and splashing across the label. Mosi is short for Mosi-oa-Tunya, a Tonga phrase that translates as “the smoke that thunders” and the original name of what is considered the world’s largest waterfall. While Zambians are not prone to axe-grinding when it comes to confronting their British colonial past, the name is a proclamation of independence as the beer’s “Truly Zambian” tagline attests.

Guitarist Jackie Mumba of SALTY DOG in 1976

“That era was influenced a lot by Western music, which was rock in those days, and bands used to do a lot of covers by rock groups in the UK”, says Musi-O-Tunya drummer Brian Chengala. “We used to listen to Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Cream so it was that kind of thing. But then slowly, musically, we drifted away from that. Not entirely though but just the realisation that there was this other music, our own music, which was kind of forgotten”. For a band that rose from the ashes of the Earthquakes and Crosstown Traffic, remembering their Zambian roots was what steered Musi-O-Tunya’s course. “Psychologically, you’re influenced by what you’re called so you create music that will suit that kind of name”.

SALTY DOG co-founder Norman Muntemba in 2013

“As much as we wanted to play rock from the Western world, we are Africans”, says Jagari Chanda, vocalist of the band WITCH, a rock outfit whose acronym declared that ‘we intend to cause havoc’ and whose discography from 1972 to 1977 tracks the evolution of their Afrocentrism. “So the other part is from Africa – Zambia. So it’s Zambian type of rock – Zamrock”. Coined by Zambian DJ Manasseh Phiri, the term Zamrock was a meaningful affirmation but also just another word set adrift in the escalating lexicon that described progressive mutations occurring in rock music the world over. The fact that it was African didn’t make it unique. Eastern Nigeria boasted an exuberant rock scene in tandem with their more famous Afrobeat brethren. South African jazz legends Dudu Pukwana and Louis Moholo channelled African vibes through rock with Assagai, a group that released a pair of albums that rubbed shoulders with Black Sabbath on the UK’s Vertigo label. Zamrockers were aware and deeply inspired by the Pan-African juggernaut Osibisa, who proved that Africa’s contribution to rock could make waves internationally.

Brian Chengala of MUSI-O-TUNYA in 2013

What made Zamrock unique was that it was Zambian. Forged by a particular set of national circumstances, it channelled an idiosyncratic array of influences that set it apart from its African peers. It’s a sound that’s difficult to nail down, self-consciously nodding to rock’s progenitors while obscuring their influence with ardent subjectivity and bending rhythms to an immoveable Zambian feel. It was also characterised by fiercely innovative guitar stylings with a penchant for wah-wah and fuzz, exposing its link to the tradition of guitar wizardry started by Zambia’s mining town troubadours in the 1950s. Insomuch as it sought to engage the world of rock on its own terms, Zamrock was the soundtrack of Kenneth Kaunda’s socialist ideology of Zambian Humanism. In fact, Zamrock owed much of its existence to the nation’s first president and founding father. A guitar-picker who took great pleasure in song, Kaunda was behind a policy that promoted local music via a quota system imposed on broadcasters. The legislation spurred entrepreneurs like Zambia Music Parlour’s Edward Khuzwayo into motion, sprouting a myriad of record labels and catapulting Zambian music into the industrial age. While popular music inhabited a live music circuit in hotels and bars in the 1960s and leant strongly on delivering covers, the 1970s marked the beginnings of a recorded music catalogue of truly Zambian originals with Zamrock as their template.

“President Kaunda declared that he wanted mostly Zambian music to be played by our broadcasting services so we were pushed into the studio”, says Violet Kafula, female vocalist of the Crossbones at the time and now revered as the godmother of Zambian pop. While carving a place for women in the music industry, Kafula hit the mark with one of her contributions to the band’s sole release and proved that Zambia had an appetite for local pop. “I came up with ‘Mwebalume Bandi’ and in two weeks, it sold about 14 000 copies. Up to now, it’s still a hit. That’s what made me the first female artist in Zambia because there were no female musicians on the scene”. While the runaway hit affirmed Kaunda’s vision for music, the country’s economic policies buckled when the price of copper, the export upon which Zambia’s wealth was precariously balanced, took a nosedive in the mid-70s. Coupled with the alienating geopolitics of an ardent struggle supporter landlocked in liberation-era Southern Africa, Zambia plunged into hardship with Zamrock documenting the social ramifications of the economy’s demise.

CROSSBONES vocalist Violet Kafula in 2013

“It was tough. Life was hard and the country was young. We had gained independence but there were fewer schools and fewer jobs”, says Norman Muntemba, who played bass and shared vocal duties in the Zamrock three-piece Salty Dog. “The good part was that with our independence there was renewed faith in the fact that this was a country that would go on and that we are people who would go on. The music was just fantastic because it also helped us explore our sense of independence and our sense of reaching out”. Muntemba’s take on music as a social tool informed the group’s self-titled release of 1976, an eclectic Zamrock outing in which Salty Dog responded to the country’s battles with an album steeped in stoicism and hope.

“We used to listen to Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Cream so it was that kind of thing. But then slowly, musically, we drifted away from that. Not entirely though but just the realisation that there was this other music, our own music, which was kind of forgotten” – Brian Chengala

At the core of Salty Dog was the childhood friendship of Norman Muntemba and the late Jackie Mumba, an inseparable pair of creative spirits who were more than happy to entertain willing ears with their home-spun banjos. “People in the neighbourhood would gather and encourage us to come and sing to them”, says Muntemba, recalling a time when bands just sprouted up organically. “Eventually, word spread around that there were two nice young musicians and somebody would come along and offer to buy equipment. Once you started rehearsing, other people would hear there’s a band being formed and come along to offer their talents”. Muntemba (bass) and Mumba (guitar) cut their teeth on a variety of mutations that culminated in Way Out Impression with Alex Mwilwa on drums. The three-man unit provided the perfect vehicle for their heavy-metal leanings, dipping into the sounds of Led Zeppelin and modelled after the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Rikki Ililonga (MUSI-O-TUNYA) with Jagari Chanda (WITCH) in 2012

When it came to record an album, the band toned down the rambunctious and did some soul searching. Confronted with Zambia’s post-independence hangover, they decided to craft a manifesto for the times and hang it on a new name. Salty Dog was neither nautical nor a nod to the 1969 album by England’s Procal Harum. Built on the band’s understanding that the phrase was slang for sperm, Salty Dog was a substance capable of giving birth to new ideas that would develop and change the lives of people around them and a razor-sharp articulation of their new vision. Responding to the ubiquitous silhouette paintings found in African markets, Muntemba elicited the contribution of illustrator Trevor Ford for their self-titled album’s cover. So it was that a peeved mutt wearing a paisley tie and smoking a cigar graced the sleeve with an enormous solar orb licking the horizon in the background.

“The band had a very wide range of music that we used to like and listen to”, says Muntemba. “If you listen to the album, you can find it represented many genres”. Examining how the album is bookended gives credence to Muntemba’s insight. The album opener “Fast” tethers psychedelic fuzz improvisations to bold bass loops with menacing intensity while “Lullaby” closes the set with just Mumba picking out a whimsical tune on electric guitar with sustain bathing the song in a meditative hum. What happens between these tracks unpacks the album’s substance via reggae, blues and folk. The standout track “See the Storm” conjures an eerie dystopian landscape in which Muntemba’s vocal calls for everybody to stay calm while the sun disappears and lightning strikes across the sky. “That’s on account of what we were passing through. In essence, we were saying that the storm is going to pass and we have to go and shine afterwards”.

The album’s single was less veiled in metaphor, evoking the type of belt-tightening that would have been experienced by most Zambians with the country mired in a debt crisis. “’Down in my Shoes’ is about a guy who was not getting paid much money and he’s talking about 50 kwacha”, says Muntemba, emphasising the absurdity of the wage. “He recognises his lot but he’s resolved that he has to carry on and get through. That’s the beauty of it. We weren’t talking about these hardships in a negative way. He had to feed a family and the landlord was always knocking on his door because he was late with the rent. Those were the realities and we were saying that we have to get up and fight and move on until we sort these things out”.

Norman Muntemba and I spend an afternoon together at the offices of Goman Advertising, the marketing and communications agency in Lusaka that he presides over. Muntemba’s work as a graphic artist produced a string of memorable Zamrock album covers for his musical peers and I detect the same mind behind a company banner in the lobby with the image of two ants carrying an enormous purple apple. As the information age dusts the neglected corners of global rock, Salty Dog’s album has found its way into the hands of Canadian LP and CD reissue label Strawberry Rain Music. It’s a fortuitous home for a rock nugget as label-owner Jason Connoy ardently pursues audio and artwork fidelity and has rooted his enterprise in the ethics of legitimate licensing and fair deals. There’s even a partnership with 70s label Zambia Music Parlour (ZMPL), whose vaults have yielded a treasure of analogue reels on the verge of extinction. While I puzzle together the story of Zamrock in word and film, Strawberry Rain is restoring and archiving its soundtrack. With releases by Salty Dog, Harry Mwale Experience and Keith Mlevhu in circulation and with Crossbones, Blackfoot and a documentary on their heels, Zamrock has another storm brewing.

I meet Norman Muntemba, Rikki Ililonga, Brian Chengala, Jagari Chanda and Violet Kafula in a Zambia of developing-nation contrasts. It’s a travel destination of backpackers and exclusive wilderness retreats and little in-between. Shopping malls have mushroomed on the fringes of the nation’s capital and draw swanky SUVs into attendance. Yet, with over 60% of the nation living below the poverty line, the type of rock that Salty Dog produced in the 1970s has much to address about the country’s present circumstances. “I’ve got my guitar and I play at home quietly to myself but I do intend to give some of my songs to young artists to record”, says Muntemba, eager to pass the Zamrock mantle to a younger generation. “We’ll see where we get with that. Veterans never die so I’m still around”.

Originally Published in The Lake #005 (August 2015)
Writing | Photography © Calum MacNaughton
Archive Images Courtesy of Salty Dog

This is “Zamrock!!” // Blackfoot

Issued by Zambia Music Parlour in 1976, Blackfoot’s Millie (ZMPL19) joined a prestigious catalogue that included releases by Tinkles, Emmanuel Mulemena, WITCH, Peace, Amanaz, Rikki Ililonga, Born Free, 5 Revolutions and Ngozi Family. In the two years since its debut, Edward Khuzwayo’s Zambia Music Parlour had established itself as a principal exponent of the burgeoning Zambian recording industry. The Foot Steps (ZMPL28) followed in 1978, securing Blackfoot’s place in Zambian rock history. 

Read More: Tracking Blackfoot (Digital Liner Notes)

SMOKE & THUNDER // A Zamrock Mixtape Vol. 1


This is “Zamrock!!” // Jagari & Rikki

Take a trip to psychedelic Southern Africa with veteran rockers Jagari Chanda and Rikki Ililonga as they prepare for a journey to France to perform the innovative Afro-Global musical brew they created in the 1970s to an international audience for the first time.

Isso é “Zamrock!!” // Jagari & Rikki (Legendado em Português)

Embarque numa jornada psicodélica pelo Sul da África com os veteranos do rock Jagari Chanda e Rikki Ililonga enquanto se preparam para uma turnê pela França para apresentar para uma plateia internacional pela primeira vez o musical inovativo Afro-Global que eles criaram nos anos 1970.

This is “Zamrock!!” // World Festival Première

The short documentary This is “Zamrock!!” // Rikki & Jagari touches on themes of age and creativity, heritage and modernity as well as Africa’s little-known contribution to global rock. It premières in the Zambian capital on Monday 2 September 2013 at Manda Hill Mall as part of the Lusaka International Film and Music Festival.

Posted: August 1, 2013