For the past five years or so, around the time that platinum records went near-extinct, record labels have been increasingly putting nearly as much effort, if not more so, in reissuing and repackaging existing albums as developing new artists. This is how we end up with three different versions of, say, Chromeo’s last album, or a wide variety of options when it comes to which edition of Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power to pick up. While some labels have put most of their effort into redundancy, however, others, like the always impressive Now-Again, have turned toward obscure world classics that, otherwise, most of us would have never even heard of, let alone heard.
Having already released a handful of excellent compilations of African music, Now-Again recently took to reissuing the sole album by Zambian psych-rock band Amanaz. Africa, while released the same year as Fela Kuti’s Expensive Shit, has a lot less to do with Afrobeat or funk and a lot more to do with psychedelic rock. In fact, there are strong influences from both American and British psych-rock bands of the 1960s, with vintage fuzz guitar sounds blazing throughout. In fact, an upbeat rocker like “Big Enough,” with lyrics in English, no less, isn’t too far removed from the likes of Blue Cheer or Cream, if not quite as heavy.
Amanaz were part of a movement in the ’70s known as “Zam-rock,” a pretty remarkable if short lived period of creativity that was stifled by the rampant poverty and political unrest in the country during the era. The band-Keith Kabwe, Issac Mpofu, John Kanyepa, Jerry Masaula and Watson Lungu-balanced noisy rock numbers and stoned, groove-based blues numbers with sinewy basslines. It’s on those bluesy numbers, like “Easy Street,” in which the band shows a slightly more pronounced connection to Nigerian or Ghanaian highlife, though those moments arrive between more heavily fuzzed out rockers like “History of Man,” a super cool standout with a disorienting, fuzzy mix in which the guitar sounds almost lower than the bass. “I Am Very Far,” meanwhile, is a more straightforward pop track with a little bit of Byrds jangle, and “Making the Scene” has a sinister enough groove to soundtrack a vintage police drama.
The unearthing of an artifact like Amanaz’s Africa is always an exciting thing, primarily because its relative obscurity makes it something that few outside of the band’s native Zambia will have heard. Frankly, it’s kind of amazing that an album of its kind was not only recorded, but survived for this long in spite of the history of its country of origin. Most importantly, though, it’s an artifact that makes for a highly enjoyable listen, offering a great balance of laid back grooves and fuzz rockers alike.
Various Artists – Nigeria Rock Special
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum