Welcome To Zamrock: Africa’s Psychedelic Rock Scene

August 4, 2023 | Jamie Hayes

Welcome To Zamrock: Africa’s Psychedelic Rock Scene

Zamrock came out of a very specific time and place. When Zambia declared independence, President Kenneth Kaunda—a musician himself—declared that 95% of the music played on the nation's radio stations had to be of Zambian origin, in an effort to promote national unity. In other words: It was a great time to be in a Zambian band.

Welcome To Zamrock

By the 1970s, a vibrant music scene had developed—and it just so happened that the most popular genre in the country at the time was imported Western rock music like the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. This is how Zamrock was born.

By the 1970s, the Zamrock scene featured bands such as WITCH (short for “We Intend To Cause Havoc”), The Peace, and Amanaz, along with solo artists like Paul Ngozi. These musicians blended the psychedelic sounds coming out of the West with their traditional African music, and their lyrics reflected the political turmoil of the time.

Miles Davis factsWikimedia Commons, Hannu Lindroos / Lehtikuva

Gimme Shelter

Sadly, it couldn’t last forever. Though Zamrock began in an idealistic age, hardships in the country dealt the scene blow after blow. Political conflict led to blackouts that affected bands’ ability to perform, while economic instability meant that fewer young people could afford luxuries like records.

But it’s hard to overstate the devastating effect that the AIDS epidemic had in bringing Zamrock to an end. It’s estimated that over a million Zambians have died of AIDS since the epidemic began, including many pioneering Zamrock musicians. Every founding member of the band WITCH lost their life to the disease except for one.

Go Listen To Zamrock!

Thankfully, Zamrock has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, which at the very least has allowed surviving artists like WITCH’s Emmanuel Jagari Chanda to tour and record new music, and brought the once-forgotten psychedelic sounds of Africa to people all over the world.

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