“WITCH is like the Beatles of Zambia.”
— from the film
In the ’70s, Anglo-American-bred heavy-psychedelic progressive rock flourished, not only in the U.S., the U.K, and on the European mainland — but all over the world. The bands were everywhere: even in Japan (Food Brain) and Israel (Atmosphera), to name a few. Even in the landlocked country of the Republic of Zambia in Southeastern Africa. And the nation’s most famous band was the Rolling Stones-influenced, psych-rock flavored (recalling the band’s 1968 to 1974 Beggars Banquet to It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll era), WITCH, the first Zambian band to record and release a commercial album.
As with Malik Bendjelloul — a Stockholm, Sweden, documentary filmmaker who, upon hearing the music from the two-album career of forgotten Detroit musician Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez for the first time in a Cape Town, South Africa, record shop, became obsessed with discovering what became of the mysterious “Bob Dylan of Detroit” to create the film Searching for Sugar Man — Gio Arlotta — a Milan, Italy-based journalist who, upon hearing WITCH for the first time in 2012, became obsessed with discovering what became of the country’s original-influential “Zamrock” band. So Gio Arlotta, along with fellow fan, Jacco Gardner, a Dutch musician, they set out to Zambia to find their idols.
Their search led to finding the band’s sole surviving member, vocalist Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda (an Africanisation of Mick Jaggar) (the filmmakers also find the band’s original engineer at the still-in-existence studio where they recorded/pressed their albums). As with the Sugar Man before him, Jagari experienced a career resurgence with his first-ever European tour — by a revived WITCH featuring an international cast of fan-musicians (the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland). The keyboardist in the band is Patrick Mwondela, who joined in 1980 — long after Jagari’s departure — and remained with the band until their 1984 demise (he appears on their final two albums; 1980’s Movin’ On and and 1984’s Kuomboka).
The golden-era of the band, in my opinion, are the Jagari years from 1973 to 1976, as the later parts of the band’s catalog transformed from ’70s-styled progressive rock — inspired by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and U.S. funk, James Brown, in particular (and, I feel, to critical disagreements: a pinch of Miles Davis and a soupçon of Santana) — into disco and more traditional Zambian material; bass-oriented Kalindula music, in particular. (You can learn more about the traditional African instruments incorporated by the band at the Atlas of Plucked Instruments.)
In addition to his noted work as a journalist, Gio Arlotta is also a video artist. To that end: Arlotta effectively frames his shots and works as a fluid editor; the film’s animations are equally intriguing with a stellar opening credits sequence (assisted by his co-producer and writer, and cinematographer, Tim Spreng; Spreng made his feature film debut with the Czech Republic romantic-drama, 2013’s All the Lost Souls). Arlotta — as with documentarian Liam Firmager in his earlier celluloid tribute to Suzi Quatro — provides WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc with a not just a run-of-the-mill rock documentary or artist preservation quality: it’s a tale about dreams; a tale of how hard work and never giving up hope, eventually, will return bountiful spoils. And that the gift of music is an eternal one.
As with the absolutely stellar The Changin’ Times of Ike White from last year reigniting a rediscovery of the genius of ’70s soul-fusion musician Ike White, this is another time when you drop your hesitations on watching a documentary for your evening’s entertainment — and watch it, as you learn how political upheavals can affect one’s pursuit of music. You also learn that, regardless of borders, musicians experience the same unrealized careers — and are reduced to giving up music for day jobs to support their family; in Jagari’s case: spending long days digging the African wilds for precious stones.
My only reservations with the film is that the African-accent English (remembering Zambia was once a British territory) is difficult to understand. Hopefully, the theatrical and streaming version — unlike the promotional screener I watched — will provide viewers with captioning; captions which will obviously be available on the film’s eventual hard media release. I also feel the film would have benefited from a tighter edit, even at 80 minutes, the proceedings dragged slightly against the hard-to-follow Zambian English. Those personal opinions, of course, vary from viewer to viewer and in no way detract from the power of witnessing a once lost artist rediscovering his past — and experience his forgotten, creative past becoming commercially accepted by the world stage for the first time.
You can enjoy WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc on July 13, 2021, available as a world premiere, pre-order rent-to-own at Altavod. After its premiere on that platform, as well as Apple TV, the film will be available on other streaming platforms and hard media.
The film was acquired for international distribution by Utopia Media, which also brought the British rock document on Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q, to the international marketplace. Another of Utopia’s award-winning documents is Martha: A Picture Story, concerned with Martha Cooper, a New York-based, trailblazing female graffiti artist and street photographer.
Utopia is headed by Robert Schwartzman — of the band, Rooney, and a writer and director in his own right — who made his feature film directing debut with the really fine comedy, The Argument, released last September. You can learn more about the launch of Utopia Media with this February 19, 2019, article at Deadline.com.
You can find the full WITCH discography on You Tube:
* Released as a two-fer CD in 2014 on Now-Again Records. The label — as well as reissuing the remainder of the WITCH catalog in 2011 and 2012 in digital and vinyl formats — also released the 2012 career-spanning compilation We Intend to Cause Havoc.
You can learn more about Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda and WITCH with “We’re a Zambian Band,” a highly-recommended expose written by Chris A. Smith for the Austin, Texas, publication, The Appendix.
WITCH – Live in London, September 2017
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes film reviews for B&S About Movies and publishes music journalism pieces and short stories based on his screenplays, on Medium.