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Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

WITCH makes a comeback with Zango album

WITCH makes a comeback with Zango album
courtesy Desert Daze

“Like the story of the Phoenix, the bird from the ashes, Zamrock has resurrected from its decades of slumber,” Emmanuel Chanda sings on the final song of his first project in 46 years. With the release of Zango, The ‘Beatles of Africa’ have returned. The album is the culmination of a beautiful story, captured by Gio Arlotta’s 2019 film We Intend To Cause Havoc. The project not only documented the history of the band, but the project propelled it towards a profoundly moving reiteration. The band’s story is one of friendship, brotherhood, death, stardom, freedom, hard labor, wrongful imprisonment. However, at its core it is a story of the human spirit and its beauty, prevailing through music. 

The legendary band WITCH (We Intend To Cause Havoc) are pioneers of the Zamrock movement. They played a leading role in creating the beloved music scene in Zambia that combines Western psychedelic rock of bands in the ‘60s like The Rolling Stones with traditional Zambian rhythms. The band rose to prominence in the early ‘70s, shortly after Zambia gained independence from the UK, accounting for WITCH’s British musical influences. “Rock is normally a European concept: rock music,” said Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda, the band’s frontman. “It’s white man’s concert. We just bought into it, and we added some Zambian attached to that.”

The band faded into obscurity, along with the Zamrock scene in general, in the late ‘70s. By this time, Zambia’s economy had crashed, and there was unrest resulting from the struggle for independence in neighboring countries, still under colonial rule. The president enacted curfews and power cuts from 6 pm until 6 am, rendering bands incapable of making enough money off of live shows to survive. It seemed to everyone, including Jagari, that WITCH was an influential but concluded part of Zambian culture. However, in 2011 Now-Again Records reissued a career-spanning discography, which gained a respectable audience worldwide and captured the heart of filmmaker Gio Arlotta. 

Arlotta’s 2019 documentary follows him as he travels to Zambia to find Jagari and delve into the history of the celebrated band. He brings with him drummer Nico Mauskoviç and bassist Jacco Gardner, hoping to provide Jagari with the musicians necessary to perform once again. In Zambia, WITCH’s enduring influence was clear; when Arlotta interviewed people on the street about WITCH, they would sing decades-old lyrics together, laughing brightly, clearly reminiscing on joyful times. When asked about the band’s famous live performances, a man looked somewhere far beyond the camera and said, “The rhythm section would kill you. You would have something going on, the drummer is rolling there, the bass is giving you everything. And when they’d start dancing, you’d join in too. Now it was you became part of we intend to cause havoc.” It was clear that the band’s influence still lingered in the hearts and souls of Zambians, over 40 years after their dissolution. 

In WITCH’s heyday, entire Zambian towns would pack into auditoriums to experience them live. Jagari’s otherworldly charisma shined at these performances. His antics were famous: he would jump from rafters onto the stage, make surprise entrances through the audience, and do pushups on stage. He often had three or more microphones set up for himself on stage so that he could run and dance between them. Audiences could not get enough; there is a story of a roof being torn off of a venue as fans forced their way in. WITCH concerts would regularly stretch for seven or more hours, ending as late as 4 am. 

When Arlotta arrived in Zambia, he met a different version of Jagari. Nearing 70 years of age, Jagari enthusiastically greeted the group, then performed a beautiful acoustic rendition of a previously fiery and psychedelic song, contrasting the wild persona he carried as a frontman. He still contained the charisma, and his vibrant laugh and intermittent musical outbursts punctuate the documentary. After leaving the band, Jagari worked as a music teacher until he lost his job when he was wrongfully imprisoned for smuggling drugs into the country. His life was turned upside down; he lost his job and his pension, and his family had to squat with other families for a brief period. Following this rough patch, Jagari converted to Christianity and began the labor-intensive work of an amethyst miner. This life was unsatisfactory. His goal was to strike riches in order to fund a musical academy for the underprivileged. “My only regret…I’ve never lived as a musician,” Jagari said in the documentary. “I find myself mining gemstones instead of making music, teaching music, recording music. I have not realized what I should have realized….but who knows? God doesn’t mock. He has something for me, sooner than later I believe.” Fortunately, Jagari was right. He would soon achieve what he and his bandmates had long hoped for. 

After spending two weeks filming at his home, Arlotta, along with Nico and Jacco, encouraged Jagari to start performing again. However, all other original members of WITCH, who Jagari still refers to as his ‘brothers’, had passed away due to AIDS. “Eventually I was left alone from the original setup of the band,” Jagari says in the documentary. Arlotta offered to bring Jagari to tour Europe, which the band had long hoped for. Jagari, along with Nico, Jacco, and keyboardist Patrick Mwondela (who was in the band for a brief period in the ‘80s after Jagari left) embarked on a successful and extensive tour of Europe, including at the Liverpool international festival of psychedelia. They also notably performed at the Desert Daze music festival in Joshua Tree National Park, California. Committed to living up to the band’s iconic live reputation, Jagari operated on the viewpoint that “If I wasn’t sweating after two songs, I wasn’t working hard enough.” WITCH’s resurgence and widespread touring has fulfilled a longtime dream of Jagari and his late bandmates. “We always looked forward to the opportunity to be exposed in Europe and America,” said Jagari in an interview with The Guardian. “But it never came back then.”

In 2023, the lineup of WITCH that had been touring together released Zango. They recorded it in DB Studios in Lasuka, Zambia, where their 1975 masterpiece Lazy Bones!! was recorded. The studio serves as a Zamrock time capsule, as it contains the same analog equipment as it did almost 50 years ago. Working on Zango, the band, along with the studio’s engineers, were able to fix enough of the equipment to record the album with the band’s vintage sound. Their commitment to staying true to the customs of Zamrock contributed to a great album, on par with the rest of WITCH’s venerable catalog. 

Zango builds its identity through layering hard-hitting, psychedelic guitar riffs over a base of hand-held percussion and with smooth basslines. WITCH also collaborated with some of Zambia’s most notable musicians, including rapper/singer Sampa the Great (“Avalanche of Love”) and Zamrock legend Kieth Kabwe, who was the lead singer of Amanaz (“Nshingilile”). 

The opener, “By the Time You Realize” alternates between heavy guitar riffs and sections of spoken word (in both English and in Bemba, a language spoken mainly in northeastern Zambia that Jagari speaks regularly throughout WITCH’s catalog) with the bass providing a groovy undercurrent. “Waile” is rhythmically complex, built on an interesting percussive line and another fantastic bassline. It employs Zamrock’s prevalent usage of call-and -response style backing vocals. “Waile” invokes visuals of Zambia’s expansive and sun-scorched plateaus. It is cinematic and anthemic, and would fit extremely well in a movie soundtrack. 

Another highlight is “Nshingilile”, an epic and psychedelic cut, performed completely in Bemba. Its lyrics reflect Jagari’s relatively recent embrace of Christianity. Translated to English, they say “Who can untie me / from Satan’s fire / It’s Jesus son of God.” The instrumentation matches the intensity of the lyrics, culminating in another enchanting experience. 

Occasionally, WITCH trades the psychedelic whirlwind for more mellow tunes, like the melancholy and heartfelt “These Eyes of Mine”, where Jagari addresses heartbreak and loss amid a wash of reverb. “The Streets of Lasuka” is similarly heartfelt. In homage to the people of his hometown, Jagari sings “They are peace loving people / They are welcoming people / Along the streets of my town / Along the streets of Lusaka town.” The album concludes with “Message from WITCH”, where the band directly states some of the themes that are present throughout Zango, and the rest of the WITCH catalog: 

The word or message is love

Taste it

If you don’t like it, pass it back

To Jagari, Gio, Patrick, Jacco, Nic, Stefan, and Jan

They will definitely give it to someone else

Whose heart is ready to receive it