The Story of // AMANAZ - Africa


In the mid-70s, vocalist Keith Kabwe received a call from disbanded Mabeth bassist Jerry Mausala, who pitched the idea of starting a new band. Former Wrong Number guitarist Isaac Mpofu was enlisted and rhythm guitarist John Kanyepa was so impressed by the trio's early take on Wishbone Ash that he left the Black Souls to join as well. Watts Lungu filled the drummer's seat and the band moved to Mfwila to hone their chops at the local country club before joining the competitive live circuit in Ndola. Mpofu's guitar antics made him one of the band's big draws but vocalist Kabwe was not easily outdone, taking on a creative approach to costumes and stage gimmicks. Having seen Alice Cooper perform with a python wrapped around his body and taken by David Bowie's glam persona, Kabwe came up with unannounced and often shocking stage outfits. His pièce de résistance was a coffin on stage from which pounced to open the show in a skeleton costume.

Taking a queue from WITCH, the band name Amanaz (pronounced Amanazee) stands for “Ask Me About Nice Artists in Zambia.” The group's solitary release Africa in 1975 carries a good dose of concept album gravitas, challenging hegemonic narrative with “History of Man” and lamenting slavery and colonialism with its title track as well as the album closer “Kale.” The tone of the record was set by a cover displaying a photo session of the group in hippie regalia (including bell-bottoms, platform shoes, puffy scarves and floppy hats) while posing in front of the thatched houses of a traditional African village.

The story of the making of the album bolsters its mythological status as vocalist Keith Kabwe confesses that only three days were dedicated to the writing and preparation of the material that was recorded. Moreover, the band as well as Zambia Music Parlour A&R Billie David Nyati who oversaw the sessions were unconvinced by its unusual sound and lathered an alternate edition of the master in reverb to try and improve it. Little did they know that both versions of Africa would go on to be equally admired and that the album would be rightfully identified as an African rock masterpiece when the first wave of Zamrock reissues was introduced to the rest of the world in the 2000s. Amanaz reshuffled after the release of Africa, bringing Ricky Banda on board and recording a pair of singles as the Kabwe-led outfit Drive Unit while Mpofu went on to launch and record as the Heathen.

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