By Alex Roberts

On International Jazz Day, in a basement rapidly rising to sweltering temperatures underneath Alliance Francaise in Kampala, Mumba Yachi bounds onto to the stage. Dressed in a circular-gold patterned suit and wrap around reflective sunglasses that made his eyes seem framed gigantic against his slight stature and thick dreads, he quickly gains the attention of all of the idle youths of the Alliance Francaise fringe conversing towards the back of the room.

Zamrock was on the docket, but most of the crowd remained unfamiliar with the Southern African fusion sub-genre. Now coming through the East African circuit, Yachi is trying to bring his sound to a broader audience.

A couple of weeks out from his album dropping on May 17th, the tour is in full swing going from Uganda to Lusaka and then onwards to South Africa- Yachi is out to tell stories on stage and connect with other artists.

His new album is called ‘The Zamrock Flood’ and represents traditional Zambian music with heavy rock flourishes thrown in, a throw back to the 1970s music scene in Lusaka. “It’s kind of a growing, resurfacing genre,” explains Yachi, “sometimes I feel like it has to have influences from your local place, so the listener can find it easier. I don’t think I’ve created something new, it’s always been there, I’ve just resurfaced something and tried to make something unique. It’s my first attempt at a rock album, but I don’t really settle at one type of music, as long as I can play my guitar in it.”

The album could be considered a risk, with Yachi describing the Zambian audience in particular as being a bit reticent to listen to what is unfamiliar to them, and the unique style of sound being as Yachi admits, “a bit niche.”

He doesn’t see it that way however, as the album is just another exploration of what is possible when accepting to bend genres. Now, when on stage, those sentiments coalesce, all things make a bit more sense when all the elements confluence, when the sound mix gets dialed in, the levels come correct, the haunting voice of Yachi comes in over the top; when the band members can articulate a chord shift through the slightest of nods.

Hailing from Mokambo, a border town in Northern Zambia bordering the DRC, the confluence of influences is on display. “Music was almost every day in our home, and I think I’m a pilgrim in music” says Wachi, “for me music is music, I call it folk music. It has a lot of inspirations, a lot of influences. With those influences, people find themselves in my sound, people can identify it more.”

For Mumba, most things are a combination of another, and music doesn’t really need an explanation. Rock is rock, and Zamrock is no different; the same as Bob Marley used to describe his own music (calling what the audience knows as reggae ‘trench town rock’). As such, there’s a distinct lack of linguistic barriers in Yachi’s music, singing across dialects, largely in English, Bemba, Nyanja and a couple of songs (at least on stage, in KiSwahili).

Now, with guitars falling and rising in arpeggios, Mumba is at the mic, and even the biggest cynics are steadily falling into beat, swaying gently on kitenge patterned tires while eating (slightly) overpriced spring rolls and rolex and sipping on whisky sours.

The concert itself seems to be telling a bit of a story, with the two guitarists, Omega Peter and Mr. Chanx, duelling each other deeper into the pocket amongst the higher frets of their respective six strings. The energy is building up, and all parties involved are in sync to the point, you would have thought they have been some sort of traveling collective backing Yachi since he started his career formally in 2009- but it seems he was right, music is music and doesn’t need explanation, this band has come together in the days before the Alliance Francaise gig.

As Yachi said with a smile, earlier in the evening post soundcheck on the graffiti-tagged roof of the Alliance, “Even if I’m jamming even with Kings of Leon, I won’t tell them what to play, they’ll just pick up and we play. It becomes Afrorock, Zamrock.”

Within the album of ‘The Zamrock Flood’, the goal isn’t just to bring back a sub-genre, but again to tell a unique story. “The album’s theme is about a flood, it’s the story of a flood, a lot of people disappeared, but a musician was saved because he climbed up a long tree, and stayed there for some time, and when the flood was done, he and his wife had been saved, but they couldn’t stay together,” says Yachi, “but the entire album is a metaphor, I wanted to talk about what’s happening in Zambian music, because a lot of those rock musicians, they died, almost at the same time because of diseases. So in this album I tried to pay tribute not to those who died, but those who survived. Most of the time we pay homage to those who departed, but it’s also good to pay tribute to those who haven’t.”

The entirety of the new 10 track LP (a sort of concept album with a tribute back) is a loud call to remind the listener for something that had somewhat gone away, the ghosts of musicians long before their time and those who remained in relative obscurity after the flood of it all.

The tragedy Yachi describes came to its own somewhat self-fulfilled prophecy, keeping Zambian rock from gaining a wider audience across Southern Africa and beyond.

The resulting notes coming forth are some sort of amalgamation of rock, rhumba and benga; with occasional dips into other influences, as far flung as bonga flava. The lack of boundaries hold the sound in place- creation also needing structure. The entire band had damn near gone into a musical fugue state by the time Ugandan singer Ali Deki joined on stage to rouse the crowd and make darting runs into the audience with Yachi, who was quick to adapt to his new mic partner for a rousing set of songs towards the end of the middle third of the show.

By a song about the Tazara train, Yachi, long since doused in sweat but the his voice still cutting through the din (and having lost the shades)- the audience was fully bought in, new converts to Zamrock.

There is one thing that can be said for Yachi’s show- it rang true that night, music is music- the new album just proves out the thesis a bit further, a cleverly disguised bending of new genres in a throwback to those who survived the flood.

Check out The Zamrock Flood now on all online platforms.

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