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Ngozi Family - 45,000 Volts (Now-Again)

22 January 2021

Late Zamrock legend Paul Ngozi was a busy dude in 1977, releasing four records, one under his own name and three with his power trio Ngozi Family. The Zambian combo’s third album, 45,000 Volts was included in that spurt of creativity. Armed with a versatile rhythm section and a fuzz-encrusted guitar tone, Ngozi added a jolt of proto-metal zap to his continent’s thriving musical culture. At a time when the dominant African pop sounds were Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, Ebenezer Obey’s miliki and King Sunny Adé’s jùjú, Ngozi’s roiling rock was less jazz and James Brown and more Jimi Hendrix.

Tracks like “Nizakupanga Ngozi,” “I’ll Be With U” and “Every Thing is Over” field a heavy blues shuffle that will sound familiar to Western ears. But “familiar” doesn’t necessarily mean “similar,” and even Ngozi’s most straightforward grunge still adds Zambian flavor, with distinctively African vocal melodies and a looser sense of groove than even American funkateers tend to adopt. “House of Fear,” “Hold On,” the more traditionally Zambian “Tichenjele” and the chant/funk rock blend “Timwenge” break out of blues rock standards and point toward something different – groovier, more communicative, more soulful. 45,000 Volts may sound conventional at first, but listen more closely, and you’ll realize that the recent wave of African-influenced groove rock – Goat, Here Lies Man, the Budos Band – wouldn’t exist without Ngozi Family.