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The story of Wells Fargo is a refreshing taste of music’s transcendental qualities: Rhodesian boys, influenced by the streaks of Elvis and Hendrix and Marley, band together thousands of miles apart from their idols to soundtrack the revolutionary efforts of their lifetime. It’s classic in a sense that’s almost film-like, with their music being powerful enough to get the Rhodesian government to censor it and the secret police to forget their mission and vibe out. *Watch Out! *is a classic case of upbeat, unflinching heavy rock that serves as a tool to motivate its listeners to struggle.
There’s plenty of struggle tucked underneath the rhythms, but they rest more in the implicit considering how damn good the vibes are. This album bleeds funk, rock ‘n’ roll, and a bit of reggae to do what politically-charged records do best: provide a snapshot of the time and give power to whomever craves it dearly. Every record carries a near-irresistible anthemic quality, the kind of poppiness that easily shoulders the weight of the world around it. It feels almost effortless, the way Wells Fargo glides song-to-song in the heavy rock quality that’s designed to be in arenas one moment and on the battlefield next.
Watch Out! served as a jarring experience for me, given how the story is as thrilling as the songs it inspired. It’s the type of shit that gets Paul Giamatti or Giovanni Ribisi cast as the type of Ian Smith that’d make life a living hell for the boys who won’t take segregation at face and use their music to rebel. I’m surprised some vinyl-obsessed Hollywood scoundrel hasn’t taken a crack at casting a light-skinned Black actor as Ebba - look at how they’re doing Nina - or inserting the random white provocateur who “discovers” Wells Fargo and takes them to the big time while giving the boys Cadillacs instead of record royalties. We’ve seen those stories before, but unfortunately they repeat themselves: white Rhodesians running a label called Afro Soul pressed the initial “Watch Out” single, moved over 15,000 units, and the band didn’t see a damn thing from it.
But they saw change. They had a war anthem on their hands. They moved past the cover circuit and got enough fans to cheer them on at those racist-ass talent competitions where white bands won no matter what. Nyamanhindi’s Resort was bigger than fucking Woodstock and Rhodesian color lines dissipated if only for a weekend. Come to think of it, I doubt Hollywood would go out of their way to suggest melanated people can utilize a white-coded (African-rooted) art form to become the bearers of their own revolution. Look at how they still do hip-hop on screen…
Returning to the coded idea, the Watch Out! Collection is a textbook example of how appropriation of culture can maneuver across boundaries, whole continents, in a graceful manner that pays respect to the origins of the context while constructively building upon it in the new one. Wells Fargo is a collective that maneuvered through time, utilizing contemporary waves abroad as vehicles for their own dialogue. Before the band was the band, they ran the gamut of Elvis covers to please their audiences. When rock ‘n’ roll was the American wave for anti-establishment power, Wells Fargo seamlessly transitioned to heavy rock in the middle of a war. When rock ‘n’ roll became more cliche, they incorporated more reggae into their sounds at the call of Bob Marley, who dedicated his “Zimbabwe” record to the struggle Wells Fargo was all too familiar with.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.