Zambia Roadside – Music from Southern Province

Zambia Roadside – Music from Southern Province (SWP, 2003)

SWP is a small label doing great work. Quite apart from the mammoth task of compiling and releasing the original Hugh Tracey recordings from the ILAM archives, SWP’s Michael Baird is becoming a very well travelled man, spending considerable time in southern and central Africa recording the authentic sounds of the people he encounters.

Zambia Roadside is a compilation of Tonga music recorded as recently as August 2002. What this collection provides is a contemporary insight into the sounds of ordinary Southern Province musicians, sounds not readily available to us overseas as they do not fall into easily definable commercial categories. We are granted a tempting glimpse into the broad and diverse range of sound emanating from this largely unfamiliar musical area. There is an abundance of styles and line-ups on Zambia Roadside, ranging from the one-man-and-his-guitar combo of Short Mazabuka, to the full-bodied, xylophone accompanied Mukuni Palace Women’s Choir. Personal favourites are any of the three tracks performed by Green Mamba, one of which is acoustic rumba, complete with that unmistakeably Congolese vocal timbre. The fact that these tracks are acoustic by no means detracts from their ability to deliver a punching beat. What is incredible, given the depth and quality of sound, is the fact that most of the instruments are home made (the same applies to the instruments of most of the artists featured). A particular highlight has to be the rumba-based “Busiku Bwanduuma”, for its tight vocal harmonies and teasing rhythmic plays towards the close of the song. This song is right up there with the very best soukous for it irresistibility.

It sometimes pays to step off the main road and venture a little off the beaten track. “Zambia Roadside” bears testimony to this.