Popular Zambian Music

popular zambian music

Michael Baird’s album Zambia Roadside – Music From Southern Province features tribal drumming and women’s choir singing as well as breakneck guitar-based tracks about hunting and one that praises chiefs.

These styles were formed following Zambia’s independence, when President Kenneth Kaunda ordered that at least 95% of radio music should come from homegrown composers in order to build national identity and promote national pride.


In Zambia’s 1960’s and 70’s were years of profound change. After its independence from colonial rule, modernization took hold rapidly with young people finding employment while discovering rock music through bands like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Inspired by these legendary rockers’ influence, Zambian musicians formed their own bands, producing an altogether unique form known as Zamrock that combined traditional instruments with psychedelic fuzz guitar psychedelia as well as James Brown-inspired rhythms to produce this new sound that has endured until this day.

Although Zamrock was short-lived, its popularity spurred a generation of young Zambians into music genres that span from covers songs in miners’ taverns to dedicating all their time and efforts into it; bands like Paul Ngozi’s Musi-O-Tunya and Rikki Ililonga’s WITCH became influential and continue to be heard today.

Zamrock was immensely popular, yet eventually its golden era was quickly dismantled due to economic issues. Copper prices declined, making recording studios and concert venues prohibitively costly for bands performing it. Furthermore, AIDS epidemic was at its height, impacting many Zambian musicians involved with playing Zamrock music as many became sick with it.

Over time, much of this music was lost or dispersed; however, in recent times there has been renewed interest due to music lovers from the West discovering this music’s heritage. Music blogs and YouTube uploads helped revive it further while record labels began digging up old vinyl records to reissue. Thus artists like Emmanuel Jagari Chanda and Rikki Ililonga could tour America and Europe again.

Today, Zambian music remains immensely popular around the globe. Inspired by other countries’ cultures while remaining uniquely African-based. This music showcases Zambia’s remarkable musicians’ talent.


Zambian music can be divided into a number of genres. These include rumba, kalindula, ngoma and batonga which all draw influence from African traditions as well as European and American hymns. Furthermore, many Zambian musicians also belong to churches where they perform their music at church services.

Kalindula music is distinguished by the use of Zambian banjos, homemade guitars fashioned out of materials such as wood, metal and tin cans. They feature multiple tuning options and can be played using two or three fingers; further variations exist that feature up to six strings on the instrument.

Kalindula music is often performed for sundown serenades or social evenings after harvesting or attaining success, reflecting Zambia’s cultural diversity. It can be heard playing in taverns, homes and at local ceremonies; its emotional resonance makes kalindula an integral part of Zambian culture.

Kalindula’s immense popularity gave birth to additional musical genres. Its use of different languages and its ability to reach a wider audience fostered a sense of national unity in Zambia, while also encouraging its culture of Zambian folklore to flourish. Kalindula quickly become the most beloved form of dance music from 1970s-1990s.

In the 1980s, a hybrid form of kalindula known as Kweli or township kalindula emerged. Artists such as Oliya Band, Masasu Band, Serenje Kalindula Band and Junior Mulemena Boys helped popularise Kweli across South Africa.

While Zambian kalindula movement was once popular, Congolese rumba eventually overtook it in terms of musical popularity by the mid 1990s – becoming the main musical genre found at taverns and other venues. Still popular today in rural and urban settings alike, kalindula remains popular thanks to its emotive lyrics, catchy rhythms, and its perfect qualities for danceability.


Rap music’s arrival has altered Zambian popular music. While older people may lament its absence, others enjoy exploring new genres. While this movement has brought some economic success, Zambian artists must become more creative and flexible to stay afloat; many now rely on part-time jobs or guest performances as sources of income; this trend has resulted in less popularity for traditional genres such as Kalindula or Zamrock.

Hip-hop music and other emerging styles have inspired a new generation of Zambian musicians. Influenced by popular American, Jamaican, and Congolese styles as well as their own personal musical styles developed their own distinctive sounds which have found success on local markets such as Zambia. Fans have coined this new sound “Kopala Swag”, and some notable acts include Chef 187 and Macky 2.

Although Kalindula music’s popularity has fallen over time, it still exists and some original artists continue to produce new songs and perform live shows primarily within the Copperbelt region.

Traditional Zambian music may have declined in recent decades, yet it still plays a crucial role in Zambian culture. The genre’s rhythmic, lyrical themes have long been used for ritual and spiritual purposes as well as ritual cleansing rituals. African drums and polymeters are frequently featured in Zambian songs while modern versions often incorporate vocal chants and call-and-response patterns into contemporary compositions.

Zambia experienced severe economic struggles during the early 1980s due to a decline in copper mining. This economic turmoil resulted in many of Zambia’s established musical groups disbanding and foreign influences becoming prominent within many bands formerly dedicated to Zambian music being adopted instead. Radio stations became overwhelmed with reggae from Jamaica as well as hip hop and R&B from America that intruded onto Zambian radio waves without restrictions designed to promote it.

Mondo Music production company played a vital role in revitalizing Zambian music during the 2000s. They identified and introduced many talented new artists – such as Shatel. For several years these performers dominated the music scene until a new wave of Zambian hip-hop artists emerged.


Reggae music combines elements from various musical genres such as calypso, rocksteady and rhythm and blues; traditional African and Caribbean music; as well as heavy backbeating rhythms characterized by the percussion falling on beats 2 and 4 when in standard 4/4 time signature – unlike jazz or classical. Reggae typically employs bass instruments rather than keyboards or guitars when performed.

Reggae music is defined by themes of love, sexuality and spirituality. Additionally, its songs often address political topics as well as being socially and environmentally aware – reflecting its roots within Jamaica’s Rastafarian movement that originated with belief in Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as Messiah. Over time and popularity, reggae music has continued to develop over time.

Zambian musicians of Zambia’s traditional genre are becoming more prominent and embedded into its culture, but are currently facing stiff competition from western popular music, especially among younger listeners who may prefer American or British artists over local talent. Furthermore, success doesn’t always translate to financial prosperity for musicians so some must find other means of income generation.

Zambian artists have made waves on the international reggae scene. Larry Maluma is an Australian-based musician renowned for his reggae work; he has released multiple albums and supported touring acts. Larry is highly esteemed within Australia’s music community for his contributions to its reggae scene.

Milz is another noteworthy artist. His songs draw their influence from Zambian sounds, featuring dancehall and reggae elements. Milz enjoys smoking marijuana to achieve a more relaxing state while performing his music live.

Maiko Zulu is one of many talented Zambian musicians who has released music for more than two decades, drawing influence from Western and Zambian musical styles in her politically charged music, which she performs alongside several international artists as a guest performer.