ROCK, REBIRTH AND RESILIENCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH W.I.T.C.H

by BRIAN CONEY

It’s nothing short of a privilege to welcome Zamrock pioneers W.I.T.C.H (We Intend To Cause Havoc) to this year’s festival. Formed in Zambia in the 1970s by frontman Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda and others, their take on psychedelic garage rock – which fused Western rock and rhythm & blues with traditional African sounds – saw them become one the most popular and influential Zambia band of the decade.

Thanks to a reunion and several timely reissues, the band’s first-ever U.S. tour, featuring Jagari and other musicians, revolves around their appearance at this year’s festival. Ahead of what is set to be an unmissable from the latest incarnation of the band – which includes none other than Jacco Gardner on bass – Jagari talks to Brian Coney about the power and political backdrop of Zamrock, W.I.T.C.H’s extraordinary DIY M.O., the rebirth of the band and what it means to play this year’s festival.

‘I have always believed the music industries in both Europe and America are still alive and vibrant. To be part of Desert Daze is an amazing opportunity for me.’

(Brian Coney) At the heart of your approach as a band was a DIY approach that was born out of necessity. You had to make it happen for yourself, against certain odds. Looking back, did you enjoy the whole process of making those albums happen from scratch, having to travel to get them printed of your own volition and, with that, ultimately spearheading a whole scene?

(Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda) More than anything else, it was an exciting experience – as pioneers of the genre though we had no experience regarding the recording studio expectations. The fans at large were equally happy and appreciative of my bands’ effort to make a first local commercial record by their own home born and bred outfit – instead of the foreign influences they heard on radio and records.
There was a strong sense of glee on the part of the band, and pride on the part of the music fraternity more than what was going on socially and economically. Going to Kenya to make stamps and vinyls was also fun and encouraging because whatever number was brought in from Nairobi was sold by ourselves and would be gone within a few days – they were “hot potatoes”

Listening back, what do you think defined W.I.T.C.H’s distinctive sound in the 1970s, setting you apart from other acts such as Musi-O-Tunya and The Blackfoot?

Two things distinguished the WITCH from other bands of the era: We really worked hard and took our music career seriously e.g. we worked Monday through Thursday (because Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were our gigs) – we rehearsed covers from 09:00hrs to 13:00hrs; one hour breaks and resumed with own compositions in the afternoons – 14:00hr to 17:00hrs – we never allowed girlfriends and groupies in rehearsal rooms in order not to split attention between music and romantic relationships.
And secondly, we usually tested the waters by introducing one or two new compositions during our gigs and gauged the audiences’ responses – usually it was 70% fans approval and 30% our taste/choices – those are the songs we would include on our next recording for example.
We endeavored not to sound like the other band.

Like many great genres, Zamrock rose to the surface during social unrest. In the case of Zambia, it was a lot to do with the exploitation of ore from the Copperbelt region, notably the 1973-74 oil crisis. Do you think the genre – and W.I.T.C.H specifically – could ever have came to be during a more peaceful time?

(EJC) The band was formed and based on the Copperbelt (copper mining towns) despite all economic down trend – all miners got paid their meagre wages on time and attended our gigs in large numbers – that is what mattered more to us. In a better economic and ideal social scenario Zamrock would have thrived even much more – people were receptive to this genre – the young generation, like ourselves, were proud to identify themselves with Zamrock.
The only time Zamrock bands performances were badly affected was during the front line states started supporting political freedom fighters in the neighboring Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Angola. Curfews and black outs were declared as a measure to protect Zambian citizens from colonial masters in those countries who were pursuing and bombing refugee camps within Zambia. Otherwise, peace still resigned in Zambia and social life went on undisturbed until then.

In the 1970s you, of course, developed a large following in Zambia and played stadium-sized shows throughout the continent. For you personally, what are your proudest and most vivid memories of those years?

Fond memories of my band’s peak time were many, its difficulty to pin point or single out one or two – we were like trendsetters – musically in Zambia. During annual International Trade Fairs and Agricultural/Commercial Shows -performances, plus the joint tour (WITCH and Mosi-o-Tunya Band) were some of the most memorable times in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi audiences were big pluses for me and the band.

Over the last few years, reissues and compilations tracing the sound and genealogy of Zamrock have been released. How crucial do you think that has been to introduce people to your music? And why did it take so long?

Sometimes the longing for the original band outfit the showcasing what used to happen during our gigs crosses my mind and I wish the opportunity arose during the bands hey days but I can’t reverse the time – those are bygones in reality – better late than never though,  at least the world has an opportunity to taste the almost distinct genre and I have been given a new lease on my music career – I am ready to represent the Zamrock remnants around the world – Thanks be to God Almighty who has allowed this.. It took so long for this to happen because God’s ways and plans are different from ours – I have no control over my life’s fate actually. Only He knows why now and how far I will go with this.

For you personally, how does it feel to still have an audience, scattered across the globe, in 2019?

It is a great feeling to have fans as well as new friends and business partners around the world. I have met great guys who have added new meaning to my life. I do appreciate and cherish their relationships – I pray that this will grow and last.

Finally, tell us about the current formation of W.I.T.C.H (who is involved, are you working on new material?) and what it feels like to be travelling to California to play Desert Daze.

The new WITCH compromises Jacco Gardener on bass, Nick Mauskovic on drums, Stefano Lilov (second guitar), Jan White Field (first guitar) Patrick Mwondela on keyboards now with Michael Rault (guitar on this tour – Jan will be busy) and myself as a frontman.
We have been working on individual compositions but as soon as we find a promoter/label, we should be able to put some songs together and test the world market – especially in places and countries we have performed.
I have always believed the music industries in both Europe and America are still alive and vibrant – also judging by the positive responses we have had since the current formation. To be part of Desert Daze is an amazing opportunity for me.

W.I.T.C.H play the Block Stage on Friday night (October 11th) at 10.30pm.