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Amanaz - Africa

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Artist: Amanaz

Album: Africa

Label: QDK Media

Review date: May. 5, 2010

In recent years, reissues of obscure African LPs have been sprouting from the shelves of in-the-know record shops around the globe. Turned on by the blend of acid-soaked guitar pyrotechnics and traditional grooves, collectors have giddily forked over cash for recordings by artists from the continent who, during the late-1960s and early-’70s, had their dials tuned to broadcasts of American and British blues, psych, soul and funk.

In many ways, it makes sense that the African take on these genres would prove attractive to the ears of contemporary followers of such sounds; the song structures and playing styles, schooled on Hendrix, James Brown and Cream, and frequently English lyrics may sound more at home to Western audiences than other, wilder breeds of International rock from the era. However, ease of digestion should not be seen as the only reason why these records are so rabidly devoured.

The period’s particular combination of timing, location and influences created some rather stunning sounds. A prime example of this fortunate collision can be found in the work of Zambian bands such as Ngozi Family, Chrissy Zebby Tembo, WITCH and Amanaz. Whether combating government, poverty, pressures of youth or just wanting to score chicks, these and other Zambian groups were responsible for a “Zamrock” sound both identifiable and individual.

Amanaz, who hailed from Kitwe, Zambia’s third largest city, released their sole LP, Africa, in 1975. While often hailed as a lost stoner classic, the album’s charms are far deeper than spliff-smoked riffing. The band — composed of Keith Kabwe, Issac Mpofu, John Kanyepa, Jerry Mausala and Watson Lungu — less hop genres than mould them into a warm, buzz-inducing brew. Benefiting this, the sound quality on the 2010 CD reissue of Africa, which was organized by noted digger Egon’s Now-Again label, is crisper than previous additions — a welcome refinement for those used to hearing these recordings via inferior bootlegs. Those into wax can try their luck locating a copy of the beautiful, and wickedly expensive, LP version courtesy of Shadoks Music.

The album opens with the instrumental “Amanaz,” which establishes a general M.O. of seamless grooves locked underneath furry electric leads. “I Am Very Far” rolls slow and lazy, chugging along on a muddy blues progression. Highlight “Sunday Morning” approximates the sound of later-day Velvets, had Lou and friends spent some quality time in the sun.

The record sports nine tracks sung in English, and three in Bemba, the group’s native tongue. While the English cuts are more immediate, their traditional counterparts are often more transporting. The title track, which opens Side 2 of the LP, features a loping melody and animated harmonies that could easily be absorbed for far longer than its four-and-a-half minute length.

What ultimately is so impressive about Amanaz is the sense that one is listening to a band perfecting a new sound without laboring to do so. It is this delicate balance that makes Africa not only a record of two worlds, but one well deserving of a place in the rock ‘n’ roll canon.

By Ethan Covey

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