April 22, 2019
Under British control for decades, in 1911, Zambia was merged in with other South African countries to form Northern Rhodesia. For most of the colonial period, Zambia was governed by an administration appointed from London with the advice of the British South Africa Company. Zambia was rich with copper mines and there was an economic boom that carried into the 50s and 60s. This boom, combined with westerners moving into the country as missionaries and expatriates, allowed for Zambians to hear a lot of western music, including gospel, rock, and soul. There are 72 languages spoken in Zambia, so bands there would sing in English, which most people understood as it was the 'official' language
By the 60s, as rock music was reaching more and more people, Zambian rock bands were forming, playing mostly covers of Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, the Rolling Stones, and others. A lot of the music seemed to be hitting the country all at once, like an injection of 15 years of rock and soul all at one time. These bands became so popular that all white establishments started allowing them to play.
Independence came in 1964 with Kenneth Kaunda becoming its first president. Kaunda eliminated all other political parties by the early 70s and when elections were held in 1973, and for at least the next decade, he was the only candidate. As far as authoritarians go, Kaunda was pretty good, for a while.
Zambia has one of the worst education systems of all the former British colonies. In 1964, they had fewer than 100 native-born college graduates. Kaunda setup a university in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital and instituted a policy of free notebooks, pens, and pencils for all students, regardless of how much money their parents made. Kaunda was also an outspoken critic of Apartheid, which raised ire on most of Zambia’s border’s, where white minorities were in control of countries like Angola and Zimbabwe. Hostilities at the borders added to an economic burden that was already out of control - these countries were Zambia’s main trading partners.
Kaunda instituted a nationalist ideology called Zambian Humanism, which combined loyalty to Africa, and Zambia in particular, a focus on African values, along with state control. Part of this policy, enacted in 1970, required that 95% of the music played on the radio had to be of Zambian origin. Because of that policy, Zambian rock bands had to change what they were doing. They had to start writing their own songs. That was the birth of Zamrock, and that’s what we’re talking about today.
A lot of the research for this episode came from the book "Welcome to Zamrock" which goes with two absolutely essential Zamrock compilations, which have the same name. Both the book and compilations were released on Now-Again Records which is an incredible label.
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