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THE Zambian music scene of the 1970s was anchored around classic bands whose impact has continued to echo throughout the last four decades.
Great bands such as the Great Witch, Amanaz, Salty Dog, Explosives, Peace, Mosi-Oa-Tunya, Five Revolutions and Born Free for example, really shaped and made the Zambian music industry what it is today.
Among such bands were the original Cross Bones where the Amayenge Band’s roots could be traced to.
But the only difference is that, the Amayenge do not play the original Cross Bones Zambrock music and have instead drifted to Kalindula sounds.
Initially called the Cross Town Traffic, the band was formed in 1973 by the late Nicky Mwanza, who was on lead vocals, George Mulauzi (lead), George Tembo on bass and Hassan Assan taking charge of the drums.
This was after Nicky had left another rocking band called the Born Free which had in its rank and file the likes of Mike Nyoni who played lead guitar, Chris Mbewe (not the former Witch lead vocalist) on bass and Harold Kabangwe (rhythm).
The band was behind the release of a fantastic album called Born Free which had songs like Mukazi Wa Chingoni, I don’t Know (how to Love a Girl) and Namwali among them.
A year later, the Cross Town Traffic Band members and those of the Born Free merged to form the legendary Cross Bones, a band that lived to the people’s expectations.
The band comprising the best artistes the country boasted of, lured the then 17-year-old song bird Violet Kafula into their ranks and took the local music scene by storm.
By then Mike Nyoni and a few others had already left the band leaving Nicky on lead vocals, Mulauzi on lead guitar, Joe Tembo (bass), Henry Nkhata (rhythm) and Richard Sakala on drums.
At one point Paul Ngozi then of the Three Years Before, briefly joined the Cross Bones on second guitar but left afterwards to link up with the then Zambian music exports to Kenya, the Mosi-Oa-Tunya Band.
“That was my turning point when I joined the band. I was 17 years old then and I was working for a State-owned Mwaiseni Stores in Lusaka,” Violet said.
The coming in of Violet made a big impact on the band, joining other female artistes like South Africa-based Dorothy Masuka, Zimbabwean born Yvonne Nobambo and Letta Mbula among them who took centre-stage on the local scene.
With all the chambers firing in all directions, the Cross Bones became almost untouchable exhibiting some of the rare talent whose stage gimmick and style will never be matched by any other band of the Zamrock era.
In 1973 the group entered DB studios to record its maiden album, Wise Man on Zambezi label, attracting fans to songs like Wise Man, Lizzie, Mwe Balume Bandi and Real.
Nicky duetted with Violet in the hit song Mwe Balume Bandi which brought some controversy among households.
The band was compelled to come up with Mwe Balume Bandi (Mwamona Namunsula) as a single and by then, it had spread all over the country commanding sales of more than 14,000 copies within the first few weeks of its release.
The song went on to hit the country’s Top Ten charts for several months and was the anthem of the national radio airwaves.
“It was actually the idea of the recording engineers at DB studios, Nicky Ashley and John Skinner who advised us to release the song as a single,” Violet said.
The band’s fame took it to almost all the towns in the country where bands like the Broadway Quintet, Five Revolutions, Big Gold Six, and Los Comorados among them asked her to perform with them.
However, cracks in the Cross Bones began to show when their dependable song bird Violet quit in 1978, leaving visible instability in the band.
Others also started leaving and in the process, Chris Chali who hanged around the Witch took advantage and joined the group with former Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS) now Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) announcer Timmy Mvula, first president of the Republic of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda’s son, Masuzyo, also joining, while playing for a band called the Frog.
Chali was enthusiastic and took the band to the next level, switching base to Choma’s Kalundu Motel where he changed the name to New Cross Bones.
The old faithful, Nicky was still with the band comprising Chali on lead vocals, Darius Mwelwa on lead guiter, an Army officer Maison Maanga on bass while, a former Zambia National Service (ZNS) sponsored dance troop performer, Loveness Kumwenda came in as a backing vocalist and dancer.
It was in Choma in 1979 that Nicky and others influenced the coining of the name from the New Cross Bones to Amayenge, the name that still thrives up to now under the late Chali’s widow, Alice.
Nicky, who died last year in Lusaka, leaves only Mulauzi and Violet from the original Cross Bones while, the rest have passed on.
Until his death, Nicky played drums for a band called J.J. which performes at the Pamodzi Hotel every weekend with veterans Zacks Mazumbo on Saxophone and Henry Banda on rhythm.
Nicky’s plan was to round up all the veterans, come up with a band that could have revived Zamrock music.
Violet still wants to come back into music given chance but, the current scenario where there is no reliable recording studio in Zambia, hinders her.
Thus was the shocking end of the once glamour band the Cross Bones, that criss-crossed the whole country in pursuit of recognition and respect which it still commands even in absentia.
SOURCE: Times of Zambia by Ben Phiri