Tired Zambian Disco, Reissued
Witch was a ‘70s band from Zambia in southern Africa that had been influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Their early albums were heavy with fuzz guitar and made a huge impact on what was then known as “Zamrock”. Later, however, the band split up, new members came in and the music radically changed. If you need any evidence that disco, in all its spangled, falsettoed glory, ever made it to Africa, look no further than Movin’ On and Kuomboka, a pair of late albums from the band, now released on a single album so as to provide twice the, um, fun. The sound quality here is pristine, and the performances are fine, but the fact remains that this is a relic of the disco era, and as such its interest is limited. It’s not a terrible release, but it is a mighty slick one, and listeners hoping for something in the rock/funk strain are apt to be disappointed. There’s not a fuzz guitar in sight.
“Movin’ On” gets things started, helped along by a snappy bassline but hampered by cheesy synths and saccharine vocals. Things don’t get much better for a while, as “To Be Felt” and “I’m Coming Back” both continue to pile on the synths, the drum-machine-like percussion and the repetitive vocals. Again, as dance music goes, it’s not horrible, but neither does it stand out in any way. “It Was You Boy” introduces piano into the mix, along with a slower tempo, while “My Desire” sounds like a lost Motown track from the ’60s, possibly an outtake from a lost Jackson Five album.
Kuomboka, which comprises the final eight tracks of this 16-track release, is a slightly funkier affair. “Erotic Delight” brings back the bouncy bass, while keyboard lines do more than just add layers of cheese. The percussion is livelier, and the vocals sound more muscular, with chanted choruses adding some percussive oomph. “I Can Do Without You” is a bit of a step back into disco land, but with lyrics that contain a bit more irony and edge than previously (along with some seriously slamming bass).
The tune “Kuomboka” brings some horns into the equation, but otherwise adds little to the formula, which is disappointing, despite the flourishes of traditional percussion and lyrics that crop up in the last minute or so. That last minute is far more engaging than the four that preceded it, but it’s too little too late to salvage the song. As a pointer to where Witch might have headed, though, it’s compelling.
That’s it for anything terribly interesting. “Come Together” is slick disco of the most tired sort, while “More Sweat Than Sweet” is more of the same: layered synths, unobtrusive guitar strumming, metronomic percussion, processed vocals with plenty of reverb and super-tight harmonies. There’s a neat little bridge, a chantlike rendering of the song title, which is interesting in its interruption of the song’s formula, but nothing more than that.
Album closer “Jah Let the Sunshine” shows the band canny enough to recognize that the disco fad was passing, and they needed to cast their nets elsewhere in order to retain relevance. What better waters to try than the burgeoning reggae scene? If this sounds cynical, well, it’s about as cynical as slapping a reggae number at the end of a disco album, to see how it goes over.
Ultimately, Movin’ On / Kuomboka” will appeal to fans of African disco, and that’s about it. There is a lively audience out there for African retro-funk and pop, but this is a straight-up disco album with very few noticeably “African” musical elements. Much of it sounds like it was recorded in Detroit or Philadelphia. Is that a compliment, or a condemnation? You decide.
// Notes from the Road
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