Jagari with Jacco Gardner and Nic Mauskovic at their first meeting.Screen Shot/WITCH movie
It seems that the 1970’s transmitted more musical styles into the public’s ears than any other in history: disco, punk, funk, new wave, heavy metal, reggae, glam, prog and the beginnings of rap.
One genre that had a small but dedicated following is Zamrock. It originated in the country of Zambia, which gained its independence as a British territory in 1964. The genre blended traditional African rhythms with English-inspired blues rock and psychedelic rock in by performers like Dr. Footswitch, Mike Nyoni, Mukaziwa Chingoni and Paul Ngozi.
But the biggest Zamrock band—the genre’s Beatles or Rolling Stones if you will—were WITCH. Their charismatic vocalist/guitarist Emanuel Chanda even took his stage name “Jagari” from the Stones’ front man (the term also, very conveniently, translates into English as “brown sugar”).
And though they only put out a handful of records with small pressings, the music of WITCH found its way out of the country. Their 1975 release Lazy Bones!! Is usually considered their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Exile on Main Street in the discography.
Italian journalist and filmmaker Gio Arlotta first heard the music of WITCH (alternately called The Witch or W.I.T.C.H.) and in 2012 and soon became obsessed with the band and the music. He tracked down Jagari’s email, and they began corresponding.
“What sent me on the path was that in the music of WITCH I heard something familiar, but also very exotic. I was quite passionate about ‘60s and ‘70s psych and garage rock. And WITCH’s song ‘Strange Dream’ really blew me away,” the director says from his home in Italy.
“And to think it was made in Zambia! I knew nothing about the country, but wanted to find out what made this music happen. As well as the social, economic and personal factors that were involved.”
In 2014, Arlotta visited the singer—the sole surviving member of the classic lineup—while passing through Zambia on an unrelated trip, and started preliminary interviews and filming. Jagari also showed him parts of the region over a few weeks. In 2016, Arlotta returned with two musician friends and a film crew in tow, with the plan to stage a new WITCH show. His resulting 2019 documentary is We Intend to Cause Havoc, the title a popular backronym of the group’s name.
When viewers meet Jagari, he is in his mid-‘60s and working an intense and physically demanding job digging in a deep dirt pit as a gemstone miner. It’s the job he took after the music career fizzled and he was fired as a college teacher after being accused of smuggling drugs (a charge he vehemently denies).
“I don’t believe my talents are in mining. But circumstances forced me to come and do this thing,” he says.
Arlotta’s cameras also capture scenes of the devoutly religious Jagari’s daily life and interviews with his pastor wife, a joyous reunion with “Groovy George” (a drummer in an early incarnation of the group), and visiting the “archives” of the Times of Zambia newspaper. It’s little more than a stone storage room with a bunch of browning bound volume newspapers on the floor.
A trip to the Zambian government film archives to try and find any film of the group comes up empty—though Arlotta does uncover some never-before-seen reels of James Brown performing there. Amazingly, the disorganized and cluttered film room had not been entered by any human being for 17 years—because no one could find the key to the door!
Arlotta hooks Jagari up with friends and WITCH admirers, bassist Jacco Gardner and drummer Nic Mauskovic. And together with Jagari, original Zamrocker Victor Kasoma (the “Jimi Hendrix of Zambia”), and another guitarist, they play an outdoor show in Zambia to a small but enthusiastic crowd of locals.
Jagari seems revitalized, and the entire group is outfitted in WITCH’s trademark mushroom-shaped large colorful hats, based on ladies’ sun hats. Think a variation of what Mush Mouth had on from the Fat Albert cartoons.
That concert, it seems, would make a fine end to the documentary. But the second half kicks in as Arlotta, Jagari, Gardner, Mauskovic and a new group of musicians (which features a member of the latter more dance-related “Disco WITCH” lineup, keyboardist Patrick Mwondela), embark on a hugely triumphant European tour. It’s where the band plays to enthusiastic and adoring almost all-white crowds.
Jagari is simply beaming through it all, with an amazing energy both onstage and after the gig. As the film notes, his physical work in the mines put him in better shape than most men his age for the job.
“In Zambia, the audience was mostly composed of people his age who had maybe seen WITCH in the ‘70s and a few younger people. Once we got to Europe, we sold out most of the places we played to a mostly younger group, and people lost their minds!” Arlotta says.
“Jagari didn’t know what to expect or how audiences would react. And he was amazed and excited. Even when we tour today, he’s started stage diving! He’ll be 70 years old in November!” And the story of WITCH has stayed with Arlotta, who is now the band’s official manager.
As Jagari and Mwondela are the only Blacks, the much younger, white band comes off a bit humorous as they all don the WITCH hats. But their playing and passion is committed.
And at the merch table, fans snap up band reissues put out by Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, whose Now Again Records also reissues other Zamrock acts and new compilations. New WITCH pressings of the ‘70s albums are due to come out soon as well.
“My hope for this film is just that more people get interested in the music and want to hear more of it,” Arlotta sums up. “And there are many different kinds of Zamrock. [WITCH] may be the Beatles or the Stones of Zambia, but there’s also the Kinks or the Pretty Things of Zambia.”
Throughout, viewers also see something of a spiritual struggle as Jagari tries to balance the aspects of his religious faith with playing hard rock and roll music. Ultimately, he says it’s God’s will that has allowed him to have this second chance. And if some of his faith condemn him for his career choices, he simply says “I imagine we’ll meet at the gate between Heaven and Hell.”
We Intend to Cause Havoc has already won several awards and been shown around the world at film festivals. Arlotta hopes that the new streaming distribution deal will give the documentary, WITCH and Zamrock and even larger audience. He also notes the band has just announced a U.S. tour that will begin in March 2022 and may add additional dates, possibly including shows in Texas.
However, rock and roll riches have not quite yet allowed for Jagari to quit his mining job and live off the music alone. Arlotta says that’s because mining gives him more a more safe and usually stable work schedule than sporadic touring could possibly offer.
“For us, it’s sounds crazy. But it’s quite common in Zambia to [work that long] because they have so many natural resources. A lot of people in [the country] are involved with it,” Arlotta explains. “But hopefully, that will change soon, and he can hang up the pick axe and put the guitar back in his hands for good.”
We Intend to Cause Havoc is now streaming on Apple TV and the Altavod platform.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.