In the early '70s, the Southern African nation of Zambia was mired in political instability and dire poverty with little if any outside assistance, so the mere fact that the country had a rock music scene is remarkable, let alone that any recordings have survived of Zambian rock bands of the era. Amanaz were a five-piece combo from Lusaka who traveled to Chingola (one of Zambia's biggest cities) and recorded an album titled Africa in 1973; almost 40 years after the fact, their sole album has finally made its way to the West. On first listen, what's most surprising about Africa is that most of it doesn't sound especially "African"; this music is based in deep, bluesy grooves (anchored by bassist Jerry Mausala) with a strong psychedelic undercurrent and thick layers of fuzz guitar from Isaac Mpofu and John Kanyepa, and though flashes of traditional influences can be heard in Watson Lungu's drumming and Keith Kabwe's vocals, it's clear that American and British rock of the late '60s and early '70s was what fueled Amanaz's imagination. (Three songs are performed in the African language of Bemba, but the rest are in English.) If the flaws in the recording and mix tend to send the guitars into the distance and flatten out the sound of the rhythm section, Africa does confirm that Amanaz were a talented band with a unique and powerful style; "Amanaz," "Making the Scene," and "Big Enough" are tough, primal rock tunes full of raw and fuzzy lead guitar, "Khala My Friend" recalls Jimi Hendrix's more introspective moments, and "Sunday Morning" and the title cut turn down the tempo without sacrificing the emotional force of the music. Amanaz were a group that eagerly embraced the music of the West, but just enough of their own sound and perspective comes through to make Africa compelling listening as well as a fascinating artifact of an almost unknown rock scene. It's good enough to make the band's short lifespan seem like a sad, almost tragic waste of talent and potential.
by Mark Deming