Music of Zambia

Last updated
A musician performs in Zambia. A Musician Performs in Zambia.jpg
A musician performs in Zambia.

The music of Zambia has a rich heritage which falls roughly into three categories: traditional, popular and Christian.

Zambia republic in southern Africa

Zambia, officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in south-central Africa. It neighbours the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, Namibia to the southwest, and Angola to the west. The capital city is Lusaka, located in the south-central part of Zambia. The population is concentrated mainly around Lusaka in the south and the Copperbelt Province to the northwest, the core economic hubs of the country.


Traditional music

Traditional Zambian music is rooted in the beliefs and practices of Zambia's various ethnic groups and has suffered some decline in the last three decades. Traditional Zambian music once had clear ritual purposes or was an expression of the social fabric of the culture. Songs were used to teach, to heal, to appeal to spirits, and for mere enjoyment. Despite the decline of traditional music, its influences can still be heard in many of today's Zambian musical forms. The ubiquitous African "call-and-response" can be heard in almost every Zambian song no matter what the style. Traditional drum rhythms and polymeters are evident in many different kinds of Zambian music. Contemporary popular forms such as Zambian Kalindula also exhibit traces of traditional music in the finger-picking style used by guitarists.

Kalindula is a kind of bass guitar which gives its name to a style of popular music in southern-central Africa. It originated in the late 20th century and is popular in Zambia and is also found in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Some people claim it originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo but this cannot be fully supported by the evidence. It combines features of 20th century popular music with rhythmic and metric elements.


Traditional Zambian instruments include a variety of membranophones, both stick-struck and hand-struck. Drums are essential for most traditional dances. Ngoma is the generic central Bantu term for drum but Zambian drums come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and purposes and have specific names depending on their tribal origins and functional roles. The budima drums of the Valley Tonga, for example, are used specifically for funeral ceremonies. Budima drums have a goblet shape and come in sizes ranging from large to small. One of the most interesting of drums is the so-called "lion drum" (Namalwa in Tonga) used at traditional funerals. This is a friction drum which is not struck at all but which has a stick inserted through the drum head that is rubbed. The silimba is a large 17-note xylophone from Western Province.

A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.

Ngoma drums

Ngoma are musical instruments used by certain Bantu populations of Africa. Ngoma is derived from the Kongo word for "drum". Different Bantu-inhabited regions have their own traditions of percussion, with different names for their instruments. In Kikongo, "ngoma" is used by extension to signify specific dances, social occasions and rhythms.

Friction drum class of musical instruments made with stick poking through a membrane stretched over a pot

A friction drum is a musical instrument found in various forms in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. In Europe it emerged in the 16th century and was associated with specific religious and ceremonial occasions.

Chordophones and aerophones are less common in traditional Zambian music but exist nonetheless. The Valley Tonga play instruments made from animal horns called nyeele . Nyeele are played using an interlocking technique with individual musicians each playing a single horn and interlocking with other musicians who have nyeele of different pitches. A chordophone called a kalumbu was traditionally played by young men to signal their desire to marry. Called a 'musical bow' by ethnomusicologists because of its bow shape, the kalumbu is struck by a stick. Like many other central African countries, Zambia once had a vibrant tradition of so-called "thumb pianos," each with a different name depending on tribal origins: the Tonga kankobela is one such thumb piano, the Mbunda "kathandi", the Lozi "kangombio", the Lunda "chisanzhi", the Nsenga "kalimba", etc. Although the use of traditional instruments has declined in recent years, they can still be heard in rural areas of Zambia.

Chordophone class of musical instruments that makes sound by way of a vibrating string or strings stretched between two points

A chordophone is a musical instrument that makes sound by way of a vibrating string or strings stretched between two points. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.

Aerophone class of musical instruments

An aerophone is any musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.

The kalumbu, or kalumbo, is a traditional instrument of the Tonga and Ila people of Zambia and Zimbabwe. A single metal-stringed bow played with a stick is lashed onto a calabash gourd that acts as a resonating chamber. The kalumbu player manipulates the resonance of the instrument by moving the gourd toward and away from his or her chest. Though now quite rare in Africa, the kalumbu is considered the predecessor of the Afro-Brazilian berimbau used in Capoeira performances.

Recordings of traditional Zambian music were made in the mid-twentieth century by Hugh Tracey and Arthur Morris Jones, both well-known ethnomusicologists of African music. Tracey recorded all over Zambia in the 1950s, but also specifically recorded in the Zambezi Valley in 1958 at the request of anthropologist Elizabeth Colson before the creation of the Kariba Dam and Jones did his at Mapanza in Zambia's Southern Province. Catholic missionaries, J. J. Corbeil and Frank Wafer have also contributed to our knowledge of traditional Zambian music. Father Corbeil collected and documented the instrumental tradition of the Bemba in Northeastern Zambia. Frank Wafer, a Jesuit priest located at Chikuni, has collected and preserved Batonga music. A community radio station dedicated to promoting Batonga music and culture is also part of the Chikuni Mission Station. They organize an annual festival of Batonga music which attracts as many as 10,000 visitors according to the organizers. Recent ethnomusicological work has been done by native Zambians such as Mwesa Isaiah Mapoma, Joseph Ng'andu, John Anderson Mwesa and others. Recent field recordings made by native Zambian Michael Baird in Southern Province have been released on his SWP label, as well as producing two excellent compilations of Zambian hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Hugh Tracey ethnomusicologist

Hugh Tracey was an English ethnomusicologist. He and his wife collected and archived music from Southern and Central Africa. From the 1920s through the 1970s, Tracey made over 35,000 recordings of African folk music. He popularised the mbira internationally under the name kalimba.

Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980), was a missionary and musicologist who worked in Zambia during the early 20th century. He was stationed at St Mark's School in Mapanza, a community in the Southern Province of present-day Zambia. He is best known for his ethnomusicological work, particularly his two-volume Studies in African Music. He made an important contribution to the literature with his work in African rhythmic structure.

Kariba Dam dam on the Zambezi River

The Kariba Dam is a double curvature concrete arch dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The dam stands 128 metres (420 ft) tall and 579 metres (1,900 ft) long. The dam forms Lake Kariba, which extends for 280 kilometres (170 mi) and holds 185 cubic kilometres (150,000,000 acre⋅ft) of water.

After independence in 1964, the most important source of popular music was the Zambia Broadcasting Service and affiliated bands like Lusaka Radio Band who soon changed their name to The Big Gold Six. Record companies soon formed, with most recordings made at Peter Msungilo's DB Studios in Lusaka, and records pressed in Ndola by the Teal Record Company.

The 'Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation' (ZNBC) is a Zambian television and radio station, formerly state owned, now owned by Zambians. It is the oldest, widest and largest radio and television service provider in Zambia It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1987, which was passed to transform the Zambia Broadcasting Services from being a Government Department under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services into a statutory body called the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

The northern, copper-producing area of Zambia was known for singers like John Lushi, William Mapulanga and Stephen Tsotsi Kasumali. Their guitar-based music grew gradually into Zamrock, which used mostly English lyrics in rock songs. Bands included the Machine-Gunners and Musi-o-tunya. The most popular band in Zambian history soon emerged, Jaggari Chanda's Witch.

In the late 1970s, President Kenneth Kaunda ordered that 95% of the music on the radio had to be Zambian. He hoped to encourage the formation of a Zambian national identity. Rather than using their folk roots, however, Zambians attempted to become pop stars. By the mid-1980s, the result was kalindula music. Bands included the Masasu Band, Serenje Kalindula and Junior Mulemena Boys. Amayenge is considered one of the best kalindula bands of the past twenty years. Another top artist is Brian Chilala who, together with his band Ngoma Zasu, continues in the electric kalindula tradition. An annual concert of traditional bands (not just kalindula) was recently begun by the Chikuni Radio station in Chikuni in the Southern Province. Two of the most popular bands from that festival are Green Mamba and Mashombe Blue Jeans. In addition, artists such as Alfred Chisala Kalusha Jr. based their compositions on "Imfukutu" - Bemba folk music.

In the 1990s, economic problems caused the collapse of the Zambian music industry. Unfettered by rules promoting Zambian music, the airwaves were covered with imported ragga and reggae from Jamaica and hip hop and R&B from the United States.

The most successful record label currently operating in Zambia is Romaside entertainment, Sling beats, Blaza, G-sounds, Alpha Entertainment and X.Y.Z Entertainment. Their stable of artists includes J.K., Slap Dee, Macky 2, Chef 187, joe chibangu, Jay Brown (Son of the most High), hamoba, Ty2, Bobby East, Zone fam and Jay Roxer, J.o.b, Stevo, Muzo aka Alfonso, Petersen, Izreal, Corta Nac_City, Danny, Shatel, Black Muntu, pilato, Mampi, Tommy Dee ,South African based chilu lemba and the Algerian based rapper T.I.D.Y and not forgetting the Pylot African Sun . Sound clips of each of these groups can be heard at their website (see below). The Zambian entertainment industry recognizes popular musicians such as these at its annual Ngoma Awards. The Ngoma Awards amount to a Zambian version of the all-Africa Kora Awards. At the moment K'Millian, Marky 2, Slap dee, Chef 187 are the very popular artists. A unique hybrid form of Zambian music is found in the so-called "banjo" tradition. The Zambian "banjo" (pronounced 'bahn-jo') is essentially a homemade guitar. A wide variety of such instruments can be found in different sizes and with varying numbers of strings. Most are played using a two or three finger picking style and the tuning of each instrument is unique to that instrument. The body is made in various shapes from wood or sometimes tin cans, and the strings or 'wires' often come from discarded radial tires. Zambian banjos are used in kalindula bands throughout Zambia.

Christian music

Popular influences can also be heard in the newer repertory, some of which is borrowed from urban contemporary gospel, some from so-called "contemporary Christian music" from the United States, and some from Zambian popular idioms. The use of electronic synthesizers and guitars has also made its way into the church. The flow of influence between church music and the popular realm can also be heard in recordings by groups such as Lumbani Madoda, Zambian Acapella, Lota House and Hosanna Band which has been disbanded.

The influence of Euro-American hymnody is also evident in the music of many Zambian congregations. Hymns from British and American hymnals continue to be part of the musical fabric of many churches, and many harmonic practices are derived from Western hymn influences. Among the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a unique system of notation called Tonic Sol-fa is used to transmit hymns. Invented by John Curwen, the system was imported into Africa by the British in the nineteenth century. The Heritage Singers Choir and Heritage Brothers of the SDA church helped popularise this form of harmonious music worldwide.


New Version of Zambian Music

Early 2010, Zambia started to witness the birth of new artists who came up with different music styles. Artists like Runell, JK, T sean, T bwoy ,Dambisa, DJ Cosmo, King Kayo, General Ozzy, OC, Ruff Kid, Afunika and Davaos introduced styles like ZedHipHop, Zed Dancehall, Dunkadunka, ZedMusic which are now popularly known as "Zed Beats" and are receiving good reception in Zambia. Also African music promoter DJ Erycom, contributed a lot to the rise of Zambian Music by playing it in clubs, distributing it online and promoting Zambian music outside Zambia. However, the not very clever usage of drum computers in most of these productions makes them sound too much the same, but the message in the songs makes them carry different flavors.

 In 2011, the music from the Northern part of zambia became so popular it was called the Chiunda music, from artists like [mozegeta], and the [Oranje babies] and many other artists just to mention a few.

Music Awards in Zambia

Currently there are three recognized awarding ceremonies in Zambia that recognise and award Zambian artists in different music categories annually. These awards have also redefined the Zambian Music Industry and has added so more good competition.

Related Research Articles

Music of Africa Overview of musical traditions in Africa

The traditional music of Africa, given the vastness of the continent, is historically ancient, rich and diverse, with different regions and nations of Africa having many distinct musical traditions. Music in Africa is very important when it comes to religion. Songs and music are used in rituals and religious ceremonies, to pass down stories from generation to generation, as well as to sing and dance to.

Music of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean music includes folk and pop styles. Much of the folk music incorporates mbira, Ngoma drums and hosho. Music has played a significant role in the history of Zimbabwe, from a vital role in the traditional Bira ceremony used to call on ancestral spirits, to protest songs during the struggle for independence.

The native folk music of Mozambique has been highly influenced by Portuguese forms. The most popular style of modern dance music is marrabenta. Mozambican music also influenced another Lusophone music in Brazil, like maxixe, and Cuban music like Mozambique.

Sub-Saharan African music traditions

African music traditions exhibit so many common features that they may in some respects be thought of as constituting a single musical system. While some African music is clearly contemporary-popular music and some is art-music, still a great deal is communal and orally transmitted while still qualifying as a religious or courtly genre.

Languages of Zambia languages of a geographic region

Zambia has several major indigenous languages, all of them members of the Bantu family. English is the official language and the major language of business and education.

Education in Zambia

Lower education in Zambia is divided into three levels; primary, junior, secondary and upper secondary. Higher education in Zambia has improved in the recent years due to the increase of private universities and colleges. The biggest university is the public University of Zambia, which is located in the capital Lusaka. Then there are many other smaller universities, some public others private including Copperbelt University, Zambia Open University, European University Zambia Zambia Catholic University, Cavendish University, Zambia Adventist University, Northrise University, University of Lusaka, Lusaka Apex Medical University, Woodlands University College, Copperstone University College, University of Africa, Information and Communication University, Mulungushi University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Education and there are various Health training Institutes offering Diplomas in clinical medicine, Registered Nursing.

Amayenge is a popular Zambian music group. Started by Kris Chali in 1978 in Choma, the band was originally called Crossbones, one of many Zambian acts that had sprung up to do gigs based on rock. Later the band became known as the New Crossbones, after a change in direction, sponsorship and management. The musical style of the group is called kalindula, a distinctive Zambian popular style with traditional African roots. Chali died 30 May 2003, but the band has continued with Fraser Chilembo as their leader. Amayenge has received worldwide attention from WOMAD in London to Asia and the Americas. In the words of one author:

Mashombe Blue Jeans is one of a number of kalindula ensembles from the Southern Province of Zambia. Like other kalindula groups, they sing and play a style of Zambian music that blends traditional with modern musical materials.

Outline of Zambia Overview of and topical guide to Zambia

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Zambia:

Zambia, officially known as the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west. The capital city is Lusaka, located in the southeast of the country. The population is concentrated mainly around the capital and the Copperbelt to the northwest.

Queen Marimba is a folk hero whose accomplishments have become part of the folklore of Africa. As is customary in most African cultures she is considered to be a god and was one of the immortals. There has been scant research done on her and presently the most notable source for information on her life comes from the writings of Vusa'mazulu Credo Mutwa. Various renditions of his book have been published since the late 60's, including "My People, My Africa", "Indaba My Children" and "Africa Is My Witness."

Yvonne Mwale singer and songwriter

Yvonne Mwale is a Zambian Afro-Fusion, Jazz and Blues singer.

Siame O'Brien, better known by his stage names OC Osilliation or OC, is a recording artist and producer from Lusaka, Zambia. He is also the CEO of recording studio Obama Records and Entertainment; which has produced four studio albums. OC has also released several top selling singles, including "Folo Folo", " Wangu ni Wangu", "Wacha Wachema", "Rafiki", and "Last Forever" which continue to be fan favorites and most requested.

Zambian cuisine

Zambian cuisine is heavily centered around nshima, which is a food prepared from pounded white maize. Nshima is part of nearly every Zambian meal. In addition to nshima, Zambian cuisine includes various types of stew, cooked vegetables and different types of beer. Dried fish and insects are also eaten.

Mulenga Kapwepwe Zambian author, play writer and co-founder of the Zambian Womens History Museum

Mulenga Mpundu Kapwepwe is a Zambian author, co-founder of the Zambian Women's History Museum and is the daughter to Simon Kapwepwe Zambia's former vice-president. She is also known for building libraries in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, to help young children educate themselves.

Mwila Musonda, more widely known by his stage name Slapdee is a Zambian hip hop and rap musician.