Lazy Bones!! is the recently reissued third album by the Zambian psych-funk quintet WITCH (“We Intend To Cause Havoc”), and it may be best described as marginal, in dual senses of the word. At times, the record just passes the threshold of technical competence. But to call Lazy Bones!! marginal is not to denigrate it. It’s not lack of quality so much as the collection’s position on the periphery of several styles — and of a 70s “Zam-rock” scene that itself occupies a small corner of the niche African record collectors’ market — that ultimately makes “marginal” such a tidy, if reductionist, summation.
WITCH’s sound bears strong influences of both funk and Anglophilic psychedelic rock, but it doesn’t sit comfortably in either style. Seldom do WITCH’s songs — often grooves, really — approximate the sunshine pop- or blues-appropriation of the Sonics or early Beefheart. Instead, they occupy some wah-wah nether-region between Jimi Hendrix’s rock stomps and the J.B.’s’ syncopated loops. Yet with a combination of fuzz guitar, Emmanuel Jagari Chanda’s often stilted, English-language vocals, and thin-sounding, lo-fi guitar and drums, WITCH often achieve an aural effect that does hearken to Nuggets-style psych-tinged garage rock.
Somewhat ironically, given the likely source material for the reissue and technical constraints of recording in 1970s Zambia (where any such capacity was a luxury), much that’s appealing about WITCH is actually surface level — primarily, Chris Mbewe’s searing leads and the gritty marriage of fuzz with off-kilter bass and drums. WITCH are at their best on such tracks as “Strange Dream” — with its wah-wah backdrop and slinky, crisp acoustic guitar-driven groove — and the rhythmically agile “Black Tears,” which begins as eerie, plodding psych-folk but quickly kick-starts into a blistering assault of knees-on-stage guitar soloing. It’s when the group veers closer to pop and straight-ahead funk material — as on “Look Out,” “Off Ma Boots” and the title track — that deeper, nagging deficiencies emerge. The melodies are forgettable if not slightly grating, and they get little help from lead singer Chanda, whose nasal delivery doesn’t have enough gravel or swagger to match his band (when it isn’t overwhelming him) but does have occasional problems with pitch.
It’s hard to argue with crate-digger DJ and reissues extraordinaire Egon — who helped coordinate the CD release of Lazy Bones!! and wrote its new liner notes — when he says these are good times for new old African funk releases. Still, few recordings from Zambia’s first full decade of independence from British colonial rule have managed to surface among western collectors (or on their obscurantist music blogs). Fortunately, there are now at least enough such time capsules to give Lazy Bones!! a whiff of context. Those looking for something like Afro-beat in Zambia should look to Paul Ngozi, and a more compelling introduction to Zam-rock can be found in the bass-heavy trances of Amanaz or the blissed-out, almost southern-American roots rock of the Peace.