.WITCH Brings Zamrock to Moe’s Alley

Nearly 50 years ago, the Zambian group merged African music and psych-rock to create something new

Thrown off by the 10-hour time difference, I wake Jagari at 4am Zambia time. I can hear the sleep in his voice. I apologize profusely, and offer to call back at a later time.  

“No, no!” Jagari perks up as if he is suddenly infused with strong espresso. “Let’s talk now.”

The exchange represents Jagari as a person and musician—his passion is genuine and ever-present, whether awake or half-asleep. Emmanuel Chanda, aka Jagari—the Africanization of Mick Jagger’s name—explains that a musician never stops being a musician.

“When does a pilot stop being a pilot?” he asks. “When does a doctor stop being a doctor? Do they retire? Musicians don’t retire.” 

“It shows you who Jagari is as a person,” says Italian filmmaker and WITCH manager Gio Arlotta.

secure document shredding

Jagari and his band WITCH are the dominant force behind Zamrock, a little-known musical genre born in the early ’70s in Zambia, Africa. Zamrock melds the traditional rhythmic backbone of African tribal music with psych, garage rock, blues and funk, resulting in something familiar and completely different from anything else. WITCH albums were reissued in 2010, igniting a renewed adoration for the band and the Zamrock genre—the Beastie Boys’ Mike D included a WITCH tune on his “favorite all-time songs” playlist alongside John Lennon, Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder. 

The traditional music in the village of the mining towns where Jagari grew up and the songs he heard from U.K. bands on the radio—the Rolling Stones, the Kinks—informed the WITCH frontman and unofficial Zamrock leader.

“People from South Africa, Tanzania, Congo, Malawi and Rhodesia came to work in the mines where I grew up, so on the weekends, there was a cross-culture of activities and music,” Jagari says. “Those were things influencing me, but I was not conscious of.”

All the musical influences that impacted Jagari would come out during school dances and other social events. Classmates encouraged him to find a band to join. But before he had the chance, Jagari was invited to join the rising Zambia band Kingston Market. Kingston Market became Footswitch, then Switch, and eventually Witch, as in a woman with magical powers who flies around a broomstick. With the name change came a four-year record contract equivalent to 15,000 euros today. Lazy Bones was the first record released under the new contract. In three weeks, an unprecedented 7,000 copies were sold.

“People were excited to have their own band—a local band doing so well,” Jagari says.

Lazy Bones was unlike any other music at the time; traditional African rhythms fused with heavy organ riffs and early psych/garage-rock sound of Love, Vanilla Fudge and Thirteenth Floor Elevators.

“We didn’t know what name to give [the music],” Jagari says. “Then, a radio DJ called it ‘Zamrock.’”

WITCH paved the way for a barrage of Zamrock bands which formed during the ’70s, including The Peace, Amanaz, Chrissy “Zebby” Tembo and Paul Ngozi and his Ngozi Family.

Thousands attended WITCH concerts every time they played; Jagari became known for his physically demanding onstage antics—think Eddie Vedder climbing the scaffolding during Pearl Jam’s early ’90s Glastonbury show.

“I don’t plan what I want to do on stage beforehand,” Jagari says. “I let the music drive my movements. If I feel something nice, that pushes me to do whatever I want. As the frontman, you have to interpret the music you’re playing; sometimes, people cannot understand what you’re playing until they see your movements or hear words in the songs. I try to relay that to the fans and find a way of making it interesting. They will just go home if they don’t like what you’re doing.”

The music simultaneously blended the rhythms of various African regions and Zambia’s 72-plus ethnic groups with the harmonies of Western music. Jagari says some of their rhythms were inspired by the music of customary funeral rites that encouraged miners to mourn the dead. Whether the Stones were aware of it, “Sympathy for the Devil” uses the same rhythmic pattern.

After hearing Lazy Bones, Arlotta was compelled to jump on a plane to Zambia and make We Intend To Cause Havoc, a documentary showcasing WITCH and Zamrock.

“This incredible music felt both familiar and very exotic at the same time,” Arlotta says. “Once I met Jagari, his persona and attitude towards life inspired me and taught me you should never give up on your dreams because you never know when they will become true.”

But it wasn’t easy. Jagari and Patrick Mwondela (keyboards) are the only original members who remain, and it had been over 40 years since WITCH performed live. 

“There was this gap when the [Zambian] music industry sort of died, and HIV and AIDS took a lot of people,” Jagari says. “Many live below the poverty line and fend for themselves by doing small businesses.”

In addition to the onslaught of AIDS and poverty, Zambia was rife with violence, leading to countrywide curfews and blackouts. It became impossible for WITCH to perform live anywhere in the country, and that was their primary income source.

“I had to find something else to live on,” Jagari says. “That’s how I find myself mining gemstones.”

The documentary was released in 2019, but the pandemic prevented any touring until last year. Jagari and Mwondela were joined by bassist Jacco Gardner, drummer Nico Mauskoviç and guitarists JJ Whitefield and Micheal Rault for dates spanning the West Coast, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver and SXSW. They return to the West Coast this summer, then head to Europe in August, and in October, WITCH will make their East Coast debut. 

“Music is like wine,” Jagari says. “The older it gets, the better it becomes.”

The humble Zambian musician isn’t looking for fortune or fame. He wants to open a music school in Zambia and a recording studio that would attract people to record within the country. 

“That is my dream,” Jagari says as the sun rises.

‘We Intend To Cause Havoc’ is available on Apple TV and Altavod.

WITCH (L’éclair opens) plays Friday, June 10, 9pm. Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $22/$27 plus fees. folkyeah.com.

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Adam Joseph
Before Delaware native Adam Joseph was brought on as managing editor for Good Times Santa Cruz in 2021, he spent several years with the Monterey County Weekly as a music writer and calendar editor. In addition to music, the award-winning writer has covered film, people, food, places and everything in between. Adam’s work has appeared in Relix Magazine, 65 Degrees, the Salinas Californian and Gayot. [email protected]
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