Ever since I heard WITCH (We Intend To Cause Havoc), a legendary band from my father’s country of birth Zambia, I’ve been enthralled by their sound and spirit. So, when the chance arose to see them on Tuesday night, I leapt at the opportunity.
Shoreditch’s Village Underground was the scene, where a full capacity 700-strong crowd piled in to get their fix of chirpy keys, oh-so flangy guitars and rhythm to die for. The Underground itself is a revamped railway coal store and paired with the rocky psychedelic sounds from the band formed in 1972, the evening was a veritable time capsule.
Emerging after the experimental collective Devon Rexi warmed up an already boiling audience (the downside of summer gigs in small venues), WITCH extended an open hand of friendship to their fans, as we trailed them through a fantastic discography. Touring since reforming for live shows in 2012, the new band that includes two original members have continued the group’s legacy as one of Zamrock’s finest acts - whilst the energy of the music itself seems ever age-defying. They filled out their line up with some prestige too, mind.
As we learned through the marvellous tune ‘Introduction’ and informal chatter from stage to crowd, the group was a perfect mould around the aptly named lead Emanyeo "Jagari" Chanda and the slick Patrick Mwondela on keys. It was an international affair, as respected Dutch musician Jacco Gardner plugged away on bass and Bulgarian Stefan Lilov shone on lead guitar. The percussion was a fine mix of the Netherlands and Argentina, whilst rhythmic guitar fell to the duty of German JJ Whitefield.
Taking a crash course through pioneering Zamrock, the energy was infectious and it was hard not to smile throughout. From the steady sun-kissed choruses of the likes of ‘Living in the Past’ and ‘Evil Woman’ to the more upbeat and driven ‘Strange Dream’ and ‘Chifundo’, WITCH struck deep rooted chords with audience members. There was a balance of joy but also, I thought, a somewhat pensive nature as the remaining original band members belted out their hits. Especially in the slower songs, there was perhaps a sense of longing for former members and brothers past – although this newest iteration (active together for five years) gelled so perfectly.
Lead singer ‘Jagari’ Chanda possessed a timeless swagger but as said, a perfected connection to his listeners. On the one hand, there was the traditional dress and dance. Yet, on the other: chatter and high fives with gig goers, the hyping up of his fellow talented musicians and then, the casual eating of fruit. Strawberries, a banana and what comically appeared to be a sour lemon made an appearance as we got a full, laid-back Zambian showing. It was this informality which made us feel as though we were really involved as a unit.
Ultimately, when you consider Zamrock as a whole, you can’t avoid the authenticity. Its in the very visceral DNA of the music. From the reworking of 60s Rock n’ Roll left behind by the British, once independence hit Zambia, the scene had been hand-sculpted and superbly twisted. It now reflected a new and exciting origin of music. Youngsters in the country were supplying a localised flair. Take Chanda’s stage moniker for instance, it’s a Zambified spin of Mick Jagger. This new mix of culture and rhythm, with the grass roots approach of travelling to different countries just to get records pressed, offers a remarkably tangible sound.
From this gig, personal favourites came in the shape of the high-flying ‘Introduction’, ‘Chifundo’, ‘Lazy Bones’ and of course the encore tune of ‘Like a Chicken’. That song was such a high to end on and like the rest there was so much wiggle room for the immensely talented psych rockers to improvise. I’m talking exhausting drum fills, flickering keys and the trippiest of guitar solos. It was a truly wonderful spectacle and the verdict was out on departure. This was up there with some of my favourite shows and with the prospect of new music imminent, I’m hopeful to see them continue fighting the good fight for many years to come.