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Advent of Zambia’s music industry

HENRY HIMOONDE, Lusaka
THE end of colonial rule automatically meant the end of British dominance. However, in the music arena, this was not the case. The advent of Zambian music was heavily influenced by British and American imitation.
The 1960s was the decade in which rock, funk and soul music had engulfed North America, Europe and the Oceania regions and influenced Zambian lyrics before independence and soon after.
These strong winds, fanned by renowned British groups, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, did not spare Zambia. The music industry in Zambia started developing in the 1960s with folk singer and broadcaster, Alick Nkhata, backed by the Lusaka Radio Band standing tall.
The Lusaka Radio Band, which later changed its name to the Big Gold Six, performed mostly traditional songs that were broadcast for Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS) radio audiences where Nkhata worked.
The 1970s can be said to be the birth of Zambian music with a lot of recording bands largely concentrated in Lusaka and on the Copperbelt. In the early 1970s, popular black American artist, James Brown, visited Zambia and held a series of shows in Lusaka and Copperbelt.
Brown, widely regarded as the “Godfather of Soul”, also performed privately for high ranking dignitaries at State House where it is said he declared President Kenneth Kaunda as Soul Brother Number One.
Brown’s visit had a long lasting effect on the local scene in terms of stage performances and dressing. Zambian bands played music heavily influenced by rock trending in the 1960s. The lyrics were mainly English with an accent that mimicked the rock stars of the US and Britain.
Band members spotted long afro hair styles, tight bell bottomed trousers and high-heeled shoes and the James Brown-style stage antics characterised their performances.
One band that hit the ground rocking was the Great WITCH which was formed in the early 1970s in the mining town of Kitwe.
The WITCH, an acronym for “We Intend To Cause Havoc,” comprised Jagari Chanda, Chris Mbewe, Bob Mumba, Boyd Sinkala and John Muma. This is a crew which took the music industry by storm and is credited with shaping Zambia’s music landscape.
The band later moved to Lusaka to record its debut album titled ‘Introduction’ in 1973. The album was tainted with a lot of rock and soul melody and was later followed by ‘Lazy bones’.
Other bands and soloists that came on the scene and rocked the 1970s were Tinkles, the Five Revolutions, the Mosi-o-Tunya Band led by Rikki Ililonga, Keith Mlevu, Emmanuel Mulemena, Crossbones and Black Foot.
Alongside Zamrock, some artists in the likes of Nashil Pichen Kazembe with his Super Mazembe Band and Peter ‘Tsotsi’ Juma stuck to the traditional roots.
The budding music industry brought about the need for recording and marketing companies and the formation of Peter Musungilo’s DB Recording Studio, Teal Record Company and Zambia Music Parlour responded to this need.
Edward Khuzwayo’s Zambia Music Parlour, with branches in Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola focused mainly on music promotion and marketing. Teal Record Company was more of a producer and distributor with DB Studios recording the bulky of the bands.
Khuzwayo’s eye for talent contributed immensely to the development of Zambia’s music industry.
In the late 1970s, President Kaunda decreed that 95 per cent of the music played on radio should be Zambian in an apparent effort to promote music with a more Zambian cultural touch. The result was a proliferation of bands in the early 1980s which gave rise to what has come to be known as Kalindula.
Pioneering the new trend of Zambian Music were bands such as Junior Mulemena Boys, Masasu Band, Peter Kalumba (PK) Chishala, Oliya Band and Amayenge, which was formerly called The New Crossbones.
One of Zambia’s great guitarists, Paul ‘Ngozi’ Nyirongo, who had left the Mosi-o-Tunya Band, maintained his rock genre but incorporated local language lyrics in keeping with the President’s order.
Kalindula music is characterised by lead guitar rhythm accompanied by a recurrent bass guitar with the drums completing the set.
Whereas one could perhaps easily count the number of bands in the 1970s, the 1980s was a decade of ‘music boom’ as more than 100 bands and soloists took to recording studios or performed as resident bands at hotels, pleasure resorts, night clubs and other venues.
Bands that graced the 1980s included Uweka Stars based in Lusaka’s Misisi Compound, Mashabe Band, Mufulira-based Shalawambe and Teddy Chilambe, Smokey Haangala and John and Joyce Nyirongo with their Super Vina Band.
The music boom also saw bands sponsored by defence forces like the Zambia Air Force-sponsored Air Power, which is famous for its ‘Azaniyondesa’  and ‘That’s the way we get by’ famous tracks.’ In addition to this is the Zambia National Service-sponsored ‘Green Labels’ of the Kawale fame.
In the late 1980s, Zambia experienced an economic downfall which did not spare the music industry.
In 1991, Dr Kaunda called for early elections. The MMD won the election and immediately liberalised the economy resulting into the closure of Teal Record Company and Zambia Music Parlour around 1993.This gave way to the unprecedented demise of Zambian music leading to a silent era.
To fill the void of local music, Zambians took to rhumba with a storm. Congolese Rhumba was so embraced by the Zambian public that the country became an attractive destination for Congolese rhumba stars. Kalindula and other genres were rarely heard on radio stations and night clubs.
Congolese Rhumba stars, Pepe Kalle, Kanda Bongoman, Bozi Boziana and Tshala Muana among others drew large crowds each time they held shows in the country.
Mr Musungilo of DB studios has virtually worked with just about all the bands of the Zamrock and Kalindula era and reflects on the period that Zambian music begun to decline.
“Around 1993, a lot of rhumba cassettes cheaply found their way on the market. This meant the Teal had a licence to sell genuine cassettes could not compete with pirated music.
“Recording for Zambian music slowed down, and record companies could not pay for bands to record their music because they had less revenue. This strangled Zambian music until Teal Record Company closed down,” he said.
Zambian music went comprehensively into oblivion until around 1999 when Mondo Music Corporation came on the scene to awaken the sleeping industry.
The ‘resurrection’ of Zambian music, however, did not take the form of Kalindula. One of the forerunners of Zambian music resurgence, Daddy Zemus, adopted ragga style, probably arising from trending Music in the US at the time.
Other groups on Mondo cards, like the Black Munthu called their genre as Kalifunku, a term suggesting that their music was a mixture of Kalindula and Imfunkutu, though in reality sounded more of ragga.
Mainza Chipenzi, Joe Chibangu, Jordan Katembula (JK), and Shatel were among the pioneers of the current wave of Zambian music.
Later joined by the likes of Nasty D, Danny and Exile, the music scene was to be besieged with a myriad of singers, thanks to technology that enabled the mushrooming of computer-aided recording studios even in the backyards.
The current crop of musicians has come under fire from music pundits who contend that many of them have drifted from Kalindula in preference for Rhythm and Blues (Rn’B).
Nevertheless, one would not be wrong to speculate that Kalindula still remains popular as evidenced by the popularity of the Glorious Band that came on the scene in the 2000s and whose 1980s Kalindula style shot them to fame although their reign was short-lived.
The Amayenge is also one of the most sought-after bands whose diary bookings stretch as far as six months in advance.
Many may argue that the lack of originality is the major reason Zambian music has failed to make a mark on the international music stage, citing countries like Congo and South Africa that have retained their roots in their intercontinental acclaimed music. Mr Musungilo has no quarrel with the new age Zambian musicians but feels there is a lot that needs to be done to develop the industry. He says the fact that songs can be produced without one needing to play any instrument is taking away creativity and quality from music productions. The veteran Music Producer further points out that most producers are in a hurry to release music that is often half-baked.
Needless to say, there are some contemporary Zambian artistes in the likes of Marky II, Afunika and others who have tried to blend the old Kalinduli with the new Zambian music to preserve the country’s heritage.
Songs like Mama Rebbeca by Macky II and Careless DJ are some of the few examples of this fused old and new version of Kalindula.
The country’s identity should be reflected in music that represents the culture and way of life of the country.
Like one line in our National Anthem goes, ‘let us stand and sing of Zambia proud and free.’ After-all the whole essence of independence was to find our identity.

Tender

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