Paul Ngozi warns at this beginning of this early Zamrock disc, recorded in 1976 in a brief flowering of Zambian prosperity, about a decade after independence and before plummeting copper prices plunged the country into depression. Ngozi and his band — Chrissy Zebby Tembo on drums and left-handed bassist Billy Sithenge — are playing live in front of what sounds like a large, unruly crowd. They cheer on each phrase of the intro, roaring as the heavy metal guitar chords bracket lines about sinners going to hell, Christians to paradise. “What do you think about it, people?” Ngozi asks, and this title track devolves into a shuffling, shambolic funk-rock beat with fuzz guitar rolling out over it in waves.
Ngozi Paul Nyirongo had been kicking around in various Zambian bands for six years when this album was recorded, developing a wild Hendrix-influenced style that found him, sometimes, picking out notes with his teeth. He had done a stint with MOSI-O-TUNYA, a Zambian band based in Kenya, just prior to Day of Judgment, then returned to reunited with Zebby Tembo (who had been in his old band Scorpions). His music was heavily influenced by British and American hard rock and metal, mixed with James Brown-style funk.
You have to listen pretty to detect much of traditional African folk styles in most of these tracks — that’s best heard perhaps in “Bwemeawe”’s soft harmonized vocals atop rattling, hypnotic drums. But there is something very African in the way that Ngozi and his bandmates make use of whatever’s available — battered instruments and amps, whistles, sirens and car engines, as well as riffs heard on 1970s radio and replicated with the most primitive materials.
As a result, you can hardly hear “Kumando Kwa Bambo” without thinking of “War Pigs” or “I’m On My Way” without flashing on “Smoke on the Water,” or “Hi Babe,” without picturing Ngozi wearing out a tape of Electric Ladyland. And yet there’s an intriguing telephone-game quality to all these songs, as you can hear familiar riffs subsumed into heavy funk. Most of these songs have an extended rhythmic break at their center where Zebby Tembo finds mesmeric repetitive grooves. Most of them have fuzz guitar solos that erupt out of the mix, amplified to the breaking point and obliterating all other sounds (a couple of these sounded very similar to Ron Asheton’s work on the first Stooges album). These songs are not subtle or delicate, but have a certain primitive power to them.
A good half the songs are about women, mostly troublesome woman, a fascination for heavy rock bands everywhere. Of these, I like “I Wanna Know” the best, with its sprawling, all-over-the-neck electric solo and shuffling syncopations, which tighten and coalesce near the end into a hypnotic groove. “Hi Babe” is more hedonistic, all Hendrix in its guitar work and vocal phrasings, but almost a throwaway in its good-time vibe. But the best songs are oblique political calls to arms, the anthemic title track, the strident “We Were Not Told.” Neither of these tracks gets very specific about issues or complaints, but both rally listeners to action, solidarity, resistance. There’s a fire in these cuts that doesn’t burn through the romantic ones.
Day of Judgment captures Ngozi and his cohorts as they defined a visceral style that mixes metal and funk and hints at socially-engaged afro-punk. The recording quality is terrible, and you have to listen a few times to get past that, but once you do, it’s astonishing stuff.