The history of music is always being written and rewritten, and in its latest draft, the Afro-rock pioneers WITCH are legends, with a fan base growing beyond the borders of their home in Zambia 45 years after their debut record. The lead singer and sole survivor of the original lineup, Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda, is heading out on WITCH’s first European tour, which will be featured in a documentary about the band’s rise and the tough times that followed for its members.
Chanda grew up in a Zambia that became independent from Britain in 1964, listening closely to the radio that played artists like the Who, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The latter were especially influential on either Chanda or his fans, because early in his musical career he took on the nickname “Jagari,” an Africanization of Sir Mick’s handle. It’s a fitting nickname for the lead singer of a band that created a British-influenced rock ‘n’ roll that was distinctly Zambian.
WITCH, whose name started out meaning just the broomstick rider and was later reconfigured to stand for “We Intend To Cause Havoc,” released the first commercial record in the young country’s history in 1972. They became the biggest band in what became known as “Zamrock,” Zambian polyrhythms fused with Deep Purple-esque fuzz. They played gigs that lasted up to six hours, complete with stage diving and costumes, and released more albums. But both the band and the country were in for rough times as the ’70s proceeded.
The government began instituting a strict curfew, which made live music a tougher proposition. Chanda ended up leaving the band, which went on to make two more records that were influenced by disco, before calling it quits. In the 1980s, Zambia was hit by economic turmoil and also the AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of the other four founding members of WITCH. An understandably distraught Chanda would eventually find work as a gemstone miner and become a born-again Christian.
But in the 2010s, the music of WITCH has caught on with curious listeners. European fans of WITCH have offered to accompany Chanda, along with Patrick Mwondela from the “Disco WITCH” on his new tour and the whole experience is being turned into a documentary that, ideally, will be released in 2018.
They were unknown legends in their own time, but it looks like WITCH is getting its due. Let’s hope an American tour soon follows.
Until them, see them here:
September 18 – Amsterdam (NL) Paradiso Noord
September 19 – Nijmegen (NL) Merleyin
September 20- Paris (FR) Espace B
September 21- Gent (BE) Dok
September 22- London (UK) Moth Club
September 23- Liverpool (UK) International Festival of Psychedelia