Ebba Chitambo founded Wells Fargo in 1973â€”he came up with the bandâ€™s name from a stagecoach in a cowboy comic book. Ebba and Josi Ndlovu co-wrote the revolutionary anthem of the time, a song titled â€œHave Gun Will Travel,â€ which included the provocative line: â€œWatch out/freedom is coming/have gun will travel/you better hold on.â€
The song accomplished what the racist Rhodesian government feared most: it brought together young whites, blacks, and mixed-race supporters of the independence movement. Wells Fargo concerts attracted fans from all walks of life. The song became a revolutionary anthem on the front lines in the bush and at home in the townships. The government decided it had seen enough interracial unity. As told by Ebba here, police repeatedly raided Wells Fargo concerts and music festivals, beating concert goers and band members. Josi was eventually arrested by government agents for playing the song with his new band Eye of Liberty.
The Special Branch, Rhodesiaâ€™s internal security force, recognized the songâ€™s influence, too. They began placing informants at Wells Fargo concerts to spy on the crowd and to ask questions about the politics of Ebba and other band members.
As pressure mounted, Ebba responded entrepreneurially: He decided to switch the lyrics to coded language that their fans would recognize. Instead of â€œfreedom is coming/have gun will travelâ€ in the chorus, the lyrics were changed to â€œbig storm is coming/thunder and lighting.â€ The songâ€™s title was also changed to â€œWatch Out.â€
Fans knew that the â€œbig stormâ€ was the revolution, and â€œthunder and lightingâ€ meant bombs and gun flashes. But when band members were interrogated by secret police, they kept their story straight: the â€œbig stormâ€ was Wells Fargo, and the song was about the band bragging how great their music was.
By the mid-70s, Wells Fargo was arguably the most popular band in the â€œZim heavyâ€ rock scene in Rhodesia. The liberal white Rhodesians who operated Afro Soul, a subsidiary of South Africaâ€™s Teal Records, believed they might be able to get the Rhodesian Censorship Board to approve the coded version of â€œWatch Out.â€ The prospect of profits was great enough for them to risk government retaliation, so they recorded and released the song.
But Rhodesian authorities were well-acquainted with the song by then, and they banned it from state-controlled radio. But underground radio loved it, and according to Ebba, the â€œWatch Outâ€ single was a big seller by heavy rock standards, estimating the record sold at least 15,000 copies despite the official blackout. Entrepreneurs prevailed despite government attempts to silence them.
When Ian Smithâ€™s Rhodesian government eventually fell, a celebratory concert was held on April 17, 1980, in the capital city of Salisbury, headlined by Bob Marley who performed â€œZimbabwe.â€ Zimbabweâ€™s official independence from the United Kingdom was marked by the attendance of 32-year-old Prince Charles, who saluted the Union Jack as it was lowered for the last time in Africa.
Unfortunately, the fight for freedom was not won then. The successor government led by Robert Mugabe did not fulfill the promise of the revolution. Musicians turned their attention to Mugabeâ€™s abuses, reflected in the protest music after 1980. One such star, Thomas Mapfumo, creator of chimurenga music, was forced to leave Zimbabwe in 2000. He migrated to the United States and now lives in Eugene, Oregon, and continues to perform internationally.
â€œWatch Outâ€ can be heard here. Listeners will note the heavy influence of Jimi Hendrix. In June 2016, more than 40 years later, Wells Fargoâ€™s recordings were released for the first time outside Zimbabwe. Vinyl Me, Please, describes the album as â€œthe kind of full frontal revolution rock that would have made flower children squeamish and Jimi Hendrix weep.â€Post published in: Entertainment