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Exploring Psychedelic African Rock Music

Zamrock, the African Rock Music of a generation embracing new changes and sounds.

Image from WITCH music album "Lazy Bones" Imagine swarms of young men and women in colorful clothes dancing to a thrumming bassline and a raging guitar solo. The drums capture the audience with a steady beat and the lyrics are raw and direct. This could easily be any club in London, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco, but it’s actually Lagos, Nigeria in the 1970s. In fact, during the '60s and '70s Nigeria was home to the most significant rock scene in Africa. Often referred as "Zamrock'', the genre had its roots in the 1970s in Zambia, and was given the name by Zambian DJ Manessah Phiri. It is a combination Western rock sub-genres such as psychedelic rock, garage rock, hard rock, blues, funk with aspects of acid rock, heavy metal and folk music. All these elements were mixed with distinct styles of traditional African music and the result was some of the best music ever created to this day.

Bombino Band During the mere decade between the late 1960s and 1970s, Nigeria and most countries across Africa were defined by bright optimism and clashing sensibilities. Nigeria was coming out of a brutal civil war and political frustrations and Zambia came of age in the turbulent first decade after gaining its independence from British colonialism, rising and falling in tandem with the country's economic success, music plunged through the heart of this dynamic time, creating an explosion of musical culture and becoming a powerful tool of expression.

It is important to also give the credit to the then-president Kenneth Kaunda who introduced the slogan, "One Zambia, one nation" to promote unity in the country. This criteria of unity was then translated to the idea of Zambia being an economically independent nation, in fact Kaunda decreed that 95% of music played on radio stations had to be Zambian in origin. This opened infinite doors and possibilities for Zambian musicians who found themselves thriving like never before in the artistic African world. Most Zamrock musicians drew inspiration from Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and James Brown, especially for the sound effects of the guitars, but were also influenced by the heavy repetitive riffs of bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, and Cream.

The inspiration behind the psychedelia effect of African rock music came from a heritage of spirituality, traditional music, political discontent, and the inevitable impact of the American flower power movement.

While America was going through the turmoils of the Vietnam War, which heavily influenced the music and state of mind of the time, the Igbo musicians in Nigeria fled to Biafra during the war and endured life in a brutal combat zone. Their sound drastically transformed into a rugged, raw, incomplete sound as the musicians struggled to find instruments and played as soldiers (Ikonne, NPR, 2016).

When these musicians returned to Lagos, they entirely transformed the Nigerian rock scene. They brought back a raw, chaotic, heavy, and grungy sound that conveyed the experience of war while at the same time attempted to ease the pain they had endured, giving the genre a more psychedelic and experimental sound (Kogbe 2018).

The Ngozi Family led by Paul Ngozi (center) When it comes to the nation of Zambia, things were initially booming thanks to the copper mines until the prices drastically dropped,causing the economy to crash and the the country found itself surrounded by political turmoil in neighbouring states. New conflicts arose and this led to a rise in anti-establishment messages in Zamrock music. Many radio stations were bombed during the attacks and musicians found themselves playing sometimes in the most hostile conditions. Soon, another big issue emerged, the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which devastated the nation of Zambia and played a huge part in bringing Zamrock to an end. As of today, Psychedelic Rock music is alive and well in Africa and has found a new home among the Tuareg people of Niger and Mali.


Witch (often stylized as WITCH or W.I.T.C.H.) is a Zamrock band formed in the 1970s. They were widely seen as the most popular Zambian band of the 1970s to achieve notice outside Zambia., WITCH is the acronym for "We Intend To Cause Havoc", the band formed during Zambia's post-independence golden days, but by the late-1970s, economic collapse, increasing government authoritarianism and AIDS epidemic saw WITCH, like most Zamrock bands, fading away.

In fact, only one member survived to this day and was able to revive the band in 2012 after reissues of their records became popular abroad.

Witch's 1975 release Lazy Bones is widely considered their finest work. The frenzied rhythms and psychedelic guitar fuzz on tracks like "Tooth Factory" and "Black Tears" has a lot in common with Black Sabbath. NGOZI FAMILY

Paul Ngozi was a Zambian musician who was prominent in the Zambian music scene in the 1970s and 1980s. He first became popular as the band leader of the Ngozi Family, a top local rock group which was one of the first groups to have its music classified as Zamrock. The best tracks on this 1977 release are pure proto-metal, right down to the horror-themed lyrics on "Night of Fear."


The members of Tinariwen came of age in Algeria listening to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix on radio broadcasts emanating from a French military base. They combined those heavy guitar riffs with traditional Tuareg rhythms and melodies to create what some have called desert blues. BOMBINO

Omara "Bombino" Moctar is a Nigerien Tuareg singer-songwriter and guitarist. His music is sung in Tamasheq and often addresses geopolitical concerns in Turag.Bombino is the subject of the documentary film Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion. The success of Agadez attracted many musical stars to Bombino including Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. In June 2012, Auerbach began producing Bombino's second international solo album titled Nomad. Nomad was released by Nonesuch Records on April 2, 2013and debuted at number one on the iTunes World Chart and Billboard World Chart. GUELEWAR

Gambia's Guelewar weren't concerned with crafting bouncing dance-floor rhythms or unleashing waves of guitar noise. Instead the group focused on slow-burning stoner jams. Acid Trip From Banjul to Dakar compiles Guelewar's best sides and the LP abounds with delicate, deeply psychedelic solos.

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