9 Mar 2024

Interview: Jagari of Zambian rock legends WITCH

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 9 March 2024
Witch (Jagari fourth from left)

The new Witch lineup ( Photo: Pooneh Ghana

Witch were the most popular Zambian rock band of the 1970s. Their success helped coin the term ‘Zamrock’, but by the end of the decade various factors, including government crackdowns on venues, saw the band finish.

In 2012, original singer Emmanuel "Jagari" Chanda started a new version of the band. They released a new album in 2023, and will be playing several dates in Aotearoa this week. 

Jagari’s pseudonym originated from their Western influences: originally he went by ‘Jaggery’, in tribute to the Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. 

He left Witch in 1976 to pursue teaching (the band continued with new singers until 1984), and in more recent years made his living as a gem miner, before the band’s resurrection took flight. 

Now in his early 70s, he’s as charismatic a figure as he was in the early days; sparkling eyes, an easy laugh, and a way of gently unfurling captivating anecdotes.

When asked about the band’s name, an acronym for We Intend To Cause Havoc, he says “musically we caused havoc, it’s true. 

“Where I grew up is called the Copperbelt. There were six surrounding towns, all of them involved in copper mining. 

“In every one of those towns, there was a band or two. When [Witch] came to its peak, and they heard we were coming to their town, some of them cancelled their shows, or postponed their shows. 

“To me that sounded like causing havoc, amongst our fellow musicians.  

Witch Introduction album cover

The cover of Witch's first album, Introduction. Photo: Bandcamp

“Where we played there were riots. A lot of people who couldn’t afford the charge wanted to come in free. Some of them used force to scare the gatekeepers. 

“People would queue up, but when the music started inside the hall, no one wanted to be left out, so everyone was pushing to come in and see the band. 

“So it caused some havoc. The name was befitting.”

 Despite Jagari’s relatively brief tenure in Witch, from 1972 to 1976, he was frequently described as Zambia’s greatest rock star. He chalks it up to hard work, and a passion for the music he heard coming from other countries.

“It’s like hunted/ hunter. We were chasing after the European and American bands. We wanted to be like them. 

“But we proved ourselves. Wherever we played we pulled large crowds. There was an [annual] agricultural show in the Copperbelt, where mining and agricultural products were displayed, and people could buy them. 

“Everyone from those six towns would flock into that place, and there was a space for music: an area where bands came to compete. For three or four years we carried the show.

“We worked really hard. We lived in the same two room house. Every day, if we didn’t have a gig somewhere, we would trek around six kilometres with our guitars, to a place called Mindolo. That’s where our manager was conducting his business: a grocery shop. 

“On top was a storeroom that we used to rehearse. It was good, because we could steal a bit of stuff, like tinned beef, for our evening meal." 

At the time, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi shared one radio station, which broadcast the rock music that would come to influence Witch. 

“We rehearsed covers by the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath. We wrote lyrics as we heard them. We started learning things like “baby”, and “I’m gonna”.

“We started keeping afro hair, bell bottoms, flower power shirts: how we saw Jimi Hendrix and James Brown dress.” 

After Jagari’s departure, Witch recruited new singers, and continued with a disco-infused direction until the mid ‘80s. 

Their early records were reissued in 2011, becoming popular among vinyl collectors in Europe and America. This led to Italian documentarian Gio Arlotta traveling to Zambia in 2014 to meet Jagari, now the only surviving member of the band’s original lineup.

Jagari and Patrick Mwondela

Jagari and Patrick Mwondela Photo: Pooneh Ghana

The resulting film, We Intend To Cause Havoc, included the formation of a new Witch lineup, including musicians from the Netherlands, Germany, and Bulgaria, as well as Patrick Mwondela, the keyboard player who played in the band after Jagari’s initial departure.

“When Gio came to do the documentary, he already knew a few people interested in Zamrock. He brought them to Zambia, and we had a small gig. It started from there.” 

This also led to Witch performing outside Zambia for the first time.

“Thank God, we are well received where we play, especially America and Europe. This will be our first time in Australia and New Zealand. We are really excited to be here, to have a different feel of the audience and the people.”

Witch play Wednesday 13th March - Hollywood Avondale, Auckland

Thursday 14th March - Meow, Wellington

And on the 15th and 17th as part of WOMAD in New Plymouth.