Gio Arlotta (director)
02 July 2021 (released)
03 July 2021
I’m very familiar with the late 60’s psych riffs and rhythms that open this illuminating documentary but not so much with Witch and not at all with ‘Zamrock’. Witch were the biggest band in Zambia in the 70’s. They drew heavily, in their early years, on the heavy sounds coming out of the US and the UK pointing out that those sounds themselves are derived from the music and songs that was transported to those countries as a result of the slave trade. This in turn went on to power a scene and music that blended western rock, blues and psych with the African rhythms spawning a vast amount of music that never really got beyond the border of Zambia.
This documentary by Gio Arlotta, who is now their manager sets about taking us through the formative years of Witch, their influences and who the influenced and a resurgence of interest in their music and Zamrock.
Starting in Zambia as is the case with many bands of this era many of the members have passed away with the only original member lead singer Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda now earning a living mining for gem stones. So Arlotta as well as tracing the music of Witch introduces some likeminded musicians to ostensibly hear the music played live again only from them to turn into a full-blown touring band, with Jagari (An adaption of Jagger) reuniting with one of the later members keyboard player Patrick Mwondela, playing their first ever European concerts.
While this is spine of the film the director, in a hotch-potch manner, takes the viewer through a potted history of Zambia, its peaceful independence countered by the effects of the more troubled independence routes of their neighbours. Nothing is dwelt on too long it just provides valuable insight into the development of the country socially, politically and culturally.
The power and influence of faith also runs through as the musicians and their families struggle reconciling the two. It’s an uneasy balance when one is told you can’t do that, if you believe in this.
However what drives this documentary is the music, the musicians and the memories of the scenesters of the time. The latter in particular revel in the stories, live performances and characters that came out. Featured here are Oscillations and their lead guitarist Victor Kasoma struck down by polio at an early age but developing a unique style that he ably demonstrates.
There’s some fabulous concert footage of James Brown discovered in an archive but none of Witch and that is shame. A tour of a recording studio reveals a vast collection of records of the artists that recorded there – and indicating that we are getting just a tiny sample of a huge and varied scene – and a rusting recording desk that would still work but the valves need time to heat up.
As we get towards the tour so the businessmen start to get involved with talks of influences before Witch, licensing the music etc, etc. This is just the nature of the beast and no one will begrudge the band due rewards and respect. Indeed judging by the activity around the merchandise stalls nobody had any complaints which is what can also be said about this documentary.
Witch: We Intend to Cause Havoc is out now at cinemas and on digital.