Zamrock Goes Disco: WITCH's 'Movin' On' & 'Kuomboka' LPs

Zamrock group WITCH goes disco in their later LPs, reissued by Now-Again Records.

Two years ago Now-Again, a label which has become as well known for its forays into global grooves as it was during its inception for soul and funk, compiled an essential 4CD/6LP set of Zamrock group WITCH's burgeoning years spanning 1972-1977. Last week, the label issued another double disc set of later WITCH material from the early 1980s. Between these six discs lies a comprehensive, if not complete collection, of the Zambian band's work.

Different personnel comprised WITCH during these very different stylistic years of Movin' On and Kuomboka. Aside from new band members, the changing of the Western world's musical landscape brought an entirely different sound to these two albums. One major reason was the availability and affordability of synthesizers, which replaced the fuzz guitars from the group's previous recordings. The sound is what you'd expect from the 80s, certainly dated but not necessarily any less fresh.

[audio:|titles=WITCH "Movin' On"]

>>>Stream: WITCH "Movin' On"

A shift to disco and boogie had been brought about by a widening of influences from the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & The Gang. For a limited time, Now-Again is offering a download of the title track from Movin' On (streaming above) on which you can hear how they employed the techniques of their heroes. WITCH's newfound bass stepping and horn arrangements, as well as the band's jam midway through the track, are an obvious homage.

Disco itself was a popular mainstay in Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, whether it was in Western Africa (see: Lagos Disco Inferno) or in its southern reaches like Zambia. A number of compilations have been released over the last decade thanks to labels like Now-Again, Strut, and World Music Network (the Rough Guide purveyors).

[audio:|titles=WITCH "To Be Felt"]

>>>Stream: WITCH "To Be Felt"

Strict African influences aren't nearly as recognizable, at least in large quantities, on these later WITCH albums as they were on their earlier, more popular material. Instead, American and European styles rule these records except for tracks like "Jah Let The Sunshine," with its off-kilter keyboard arrangement. Still, Movin' On and Kuomboka are remnants of an important musical chapter of the group and serve as relics of disco's reach within the continent. Thanks to the digging of label heads like Eothen "Egon" Alapatt, we get to hear rare albums like these two from 1980 (Movin' On) and 1984 (Kuomboka) that have been rarely heard, even within Zambia.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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