Zamrock legends make comeback with first album in 40 years

By Chris Mfula

LUSAKA (Reuters) – After nearly four decades in oblivion, the Zambian psychedelic rock band WITCH that mesmerised audiences in the 1970s are back with a new album.

The revival of the band is led by its 71-year old lead vocalist Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda, who wants to make the little known Zamrock music genre famous in the rest of the world.

Interest for Zamrock rose in the 2010s in the West, thanks to the internet and crate-digging producers as Los Angeles-based Now-Again Records re-released several albums of WITCH and other Zamrock artists.

“It created interest and curiosity in people, especially in America and Europe,” Chanda said at an old studio in the capital Lusaka.

Following their comeback, WITCH – which stands for We Intend To Cause Havoc – are now introducing their new album “Zango” with concerts in the United States and Europe.

Chanda says the band was largely influenced by music radio and sought to play contemporary Western music at the time, which came out like a Zambian version of rock-n-roll.

“It’s a fusion of traditional music, African music, funk, blues, jazz – it’s a fusion of many genres,” Chanda said.

Zamrock had all but died by mid-1980s amid an economic downturn and political turmoil in their country, with the HIV/AIDS pandemic also leaving its mark.

The band moved to Zimbabwe and then to Botswana, where it disbanded in 1985. Chanda left while the band was still in Zimbabwe to first become a teacher, and then a gemstone miner, with hopes of making it big in the music industry nearly lost.

In 2019, Chanda got the band back together with former keyboardist Patrick Mwondela and a few European musicians.

Music producer Michael Linyama, who helped record “Zango”, could not hide his excitement.

“It’s like a dream come true…I have always wanted our music to be heard out there,” he said.

Chanda hopes to make enough money from the new-found fame to one day open a music school and a world-class recording studio in Zambia.

“Can this thing grow to a level where when someone comes to Zambia, says where can I listen to Zamrock? Do you still have bands that are still playing Zamrock? That’s the kind of legacy that I would like to leave,” he said.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka and Catherine Schenck in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Matt McKnight in Seattle; Editing by Bhargav Acharya and Angus MacSwan)