THE Amayenge-ASOZA Cultural Ensemble is probably Zambia’s most glamorous outfit that has survived fierce storms in the last four decades to undoubtedly become the mother of all local bands.
Building on the original foundation laid down by the Cross Bones in 1973, transforming to the New Cross Bones, before christening itself Amayenge Cultural Ensemble around 1979, the band is now unstoppable.
While it was feared that the Amayenge could face an immediate extinction following the death of front man Chris Chali in 2003, that fear was turned into a strong fighting spirit that saw the outfit hit new levels that made them even more formidable.
Amayenge are among the most exposed bands at international level, having toured countries such as the United States of America(USA), Canada, China, North Korea, United Kingdom(UK), Russia, Canada, Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia among them.
The former Zamrock band’s performance helped to build Zambia’s image abroad and foreign fans never refused to sway to popular songs like, Ba Helena, Zambia-Zaire, Ten Kwacha, A Phiri, Matenda, Amasonokela and more recently, Batata Baliya, a dedication to the late Chris.
Amayenge has been outstanding on the Zambia music scene scooping 10 of the 14 Ngoma Awards in last decade or so, and also emerging the best band in the last two years under the Zambian Breweries (ZB) sponsored music awards.
According to band manager Frazer Chilembo, Amayenge has now become even stronger than ever because it has managed to fend off the fear of the unknown cast by the death of its mentor and founder, Chris.
“It is true you know, that fear was real. But that also gave us the strength to rebound and we are now more strong than ever,” Chilembo said in an interview.
Chilembo who is Chris Chali’s nephew, says the band’s lead vocalist and Chris’s widow Alice, is now on another level adding the impact to the band in which she started as a singer in the 1980s.
“There is now a very big difference and the band members have increased from the original 12 to 20.This shows that we are determined to continue and maintain our position as Zambia’s best band,” Chilembo said.
With Alice at the helm as lead vocalist, the band has Sam Chiluba on bass, Jonathan Ntanga and Darius Kalaba (lead), Staliano Mulenga (rhythm), Chris Hamaunda (keyboard), Chabala Kamfwa and Davy Munthali (drums) and Frank Thomas Phiri on percussion.
Alice is flanked on vocals by Chali’s nephew Obert, Mary Mwelwa, Anedi Kawele and Maria Tembo.
Initially, the band surfaced as Cross Town Traffic in 1972 propelled by the late Nicky Mwanza who was on lead vocals, George Mlauzi (lead), George Tembo (bass) and Hassan Assan on drums.
In 1973, the band then playing Zamrock music, merged with the Born Free to form Cross Bones and quickly lured into its ranks a 17-year-old song bird, Violet Kafula to take up the lead vocals.
There were a few changes coming with that merger roping in Henry Nkhata on rhythm and Richard Sakala coming in on drums after Assan left.
The band also attracted guitar wizard Paul Ngozi Nyirongo, who came from the Three Years Before, on second guitar, before trekking to Kenya to join the Mosi Oa Tunya, then Zambia’s exports to that country.
Cross Bones had to its credit songs like, Mwe Balume Bandi, Wise Man, Lizzie and Real, all which exhibited the band’s rare talent in Zamrock music.
But in 1978, Violet quit the band and the departure was too glaring for the group to find the missing link and problems emerged thereafter, unsettling the outfit with most of them leaving in frustration.
That rift somehow, gave advantage to Chris Chali who by then was just appearing as a guest performer, to take charge.
Chali also hanged around the Great Witch Band before coming to the Cross Bones where he also performed alongside former Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS) now Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation(ZNBC) announcer, Timmy Mvula and first Republican president’s son Masuzyo.
Chali then took the band to Kalundu Motel in Choma in 1979, where it clinched a deal and this is where the group’s name changed to the New Cross Bones.
Chali took over the lead vocals, while Darius Mwelwa who had just come from the Black Jesus Band in Luanshya, became the lead guitarist.
A Zambia Army officer Major Maison Manga was on bass guitar with Zambia National Service (ZNS) performer Loveness Kumwenda recruited as a dancing queen.
The same year, the band released an album called Amayenge, which was a block buster influencing the team leadership to change the outfit’s name to the Amayenge Cultural Essemble, the name that lives up to today.
Amayenge released hit songs which won it great applause from fans across the country, prompting the former UNIP government to purchase a set of instruments for them.
The band and UNIP were inseparable and got more involved in the former ruling party’s campaign trail up to its exit from government in 1991.
Amayenge’s loss of Chali on May 31, 2003, though shocking to the band and fans alike, was not the end and his widow Alice with the rest of the group, have managed to maintain the status quo to this day.
The band has also put together a new album called Chifuchi Cha Zambia (Zambia’s Independence) which will be released later this year on October 24, to coincide with the Golden jubilee celebrations.
Chifushi Cha Zambia is in high praise of this country’s freedom fighters that have gone down in history as our liberators.
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